The self-drive saga

Our reporter drives left-hand self-drive car for the first time – and things go better than expected.

By THOMAS KEAN | FRONTIER

WE HAD only gone a few kilometres when my travelling companions seemed to have some second thoughts about getting in the car with me.

I’d decided to exit Yangon on No 2 Main Road, which turned out to be a potholed, two-lane stretch not befitting of its name (No 3 Main Road, on the other hand, is as nice as you’ll find anywhere in Yangon).

I was also getting behind the wheel of a left-hand-drive vehicle for the first time, which meant I spent the first hour attempting to check non-existent mirrors and turning on the windscreen wipers instead of the indicators.

As I was grappling with the new features and dimensions, an oncoming truck veered slightly toward us. I moved to give it some room and the wheels on the passenger side slid off the side of the road, causing the chassis to bottom out with a crunch on the bitumen.

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I winced, thinking of the thorough body inspection I had just completed with the staff member from Yoma Fleet, during which we diligently marked off each scrape, dint and crack on the rental contract. I’d tried to read the fine print, but got distracted. What happens when you inflict a little wear and tear, I wondered? Surely the standards in Myanmar weren’t as strict given the condition of the roads.

These questions were why I’d decided to rent a car for our work trip to Mon State – to see how a self-drive rental stacks up against other options, like the bus or renting a private car with driver. (As it turned out, Yoma complained neither about the scrape nor the strong durian smell that we left behind.)

Self-drive is relatively new to Yangon; indeed, despite some Googling I couldn’t find too many alternatives beside Yoma Fleet. Another option is Europcar, and no doubt big names such as Hertz and Avis will eventually find their way into the market.

The results were impressive and I’d certainly consider it again. The price was hard to beat – US$39 a day (plus 5 percent commercial tax) for a 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage. The left-hand-drive aspect that initially seemed like a liability due to my lack of familiarity was a massive bonus on the highway, as it made overtaking easy. The Mirage is quick off the mark and we had no problems passing slower vehicles. It was incredibly fuel efficient – we averaged less than six litres per 100 kilometres and spent under K30,000 on petrol in total. It came with insurance and an excess of only US$300.

There were a couple of drawbacks with our car model – there wasn’t much space, for example, but I knew that when I booked it. You could fit four people comfortably, but with any serious amount of luggage it would be a squeeze. Upgrading to a slightly more spacious model would have cost quite a bit more.

My biggest gripe was with the radio. I find it hard to believe that a car manufactured only two years ago could come with a stereo that doesn’t support Bluetooth or have a USB port. With no CDs or auxiliary cable, we instead listened to music on a tiny Bluetooth speaker that one of us had brought. Although it seems like a minor thing – and is compared to say, the safety of the car – it was still frustrating.

Other than that I had few complaints. The online booking system worked well and I had no problems changing the collection time: I pushed it back from 7pm to 7am the following day, and because the price is calculated based on 24-hour blocks there was no additional charge. For just US$5, Yoma will drop the car at a specified location anywhere in Yangon at a designated time between 7am and 7pm. The staff member arrived on time for both drop and collection.

However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a self-drive rental to everyone. 

For starters, you need a valid Myanmar licence, or a valid licence issued by another country plus a valid international driving permit. You’ll also require a credit card so that Yoma Fleet can hold US$300 for the duration of your rental, on top of the rental fee.

Even if you meet those criteria, if you haven’t driven much in Myanmar or elsewhere in Southeast Asia you might find the going a bit intimidating. There also aren’t many road signs, so you need to really know the way if you can’t speak the language. In those cases, a car and driver might be the better option (expect to pay K80,000 to K100,000 a day for long-distance trips).

But if you have a licence, want the flexibility that comes with a self-drive rental and are confident tackling the roads, then it’s certainly worth giving it a try.

Editor’s note: This review was conducted anonymously and paid for by Frontier

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