The Story Behind … Burma Bus

by Myanmar, The Story Behind

A refurbished, retro-style Hino BM401 from the 80s is causing quite a stir on the streets of Yangon in Myanmar…

The brainchild of Carsten Schmidt, Country Manager for ICS Myanmar, the idea for Burma Bus came to him while stuck in a traffic jam in Yangon. Passing an old Hino bus, he began to dream about making the hectic traffic of Yangon more enjoyable by introducing the romance and fun of being in a chauffeur-driven bus.

That dream soon became reality, when along with a local friend, Ko Saw Keedo, they went to inspect one of these local buses. The transaction was made in cash over tea and snacks in a traditional tea shop – how all the best Burmese business is carried out!

As the previous owner had his own workshop, Carsten contracted him to start the renovation project. Unfortunately that never happened and the guy continued to use the already paid-for bus to ferry staff around the city.

Finding a more reliable mechanic, Thant Zin Win, the arduous task of renovation then began. The bus was stripped back – a more powerful Japanese engine was installed; the bodywork almost completely replaced; new suspension, wheels, windows, lights, etc. were installed; and a much needed, incredibly efficient air con system was fitted.

The paintwork itself consisted of many protective layers – and several colour combinations before the final rich dark blue colour was decided on. Getting spare parts for the 40-year-old bus was also tricky, however Thant Zin Win’s numerous contacts always managed to find them from somewhere.

It was then the turn of the carpenter to transform the interior. Right from the start Carsten envisioned a u-shaped seating area so guests could socialise and interact. One of the hardest challenges was communication, and he was told numerous times this was not possible. Many times fittings had to be ripped out and replaced. But patience and persuasion paid off and the u-shaped seats were finally installed.

Meanwhile Carsten flew to Bangkok to search the markets for decoration for the interior, finalised the logo and put together a business and marketing plan.

Finally complete, it was time to hit the roads. This elegant eye-catching bus caused quite a commotion cruising through the crazy streets of Yangon.

During an outing to Bago, while parked in front of a temple, it attracted the attention of some monks who asked if they could take a look. Of course, Carsten invited them on board. They took many photos, thoroughly approved of the endeavor and gave their blessing.

So far the feedback for Burma Bus has been phenomenal. Passengers have ranged from tourists on sightseeing tours, several wedding parties, and even bar-hopping for local expats. The bus boasts an interior of vintage woods, nine comfortable passenger seats, Wi-fi, a selection of books, maps and memorabilia, and a fridge filled with soft drinks and beer.

So what about plans for expansion? Absolutely – in order to keep the character of these heritage buses alive, Carsten is now dreaming of doing the same in Mandalay, Bagan and Nyaung Shwe.

Please contact us to find out more about the Burma Bus.