The Ultimate Guide to Bagan, Myanmar

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Sunrise-at-Bagan-MyanmarLike few places in the world, Bagan, Myanmar is a living city amidst an incredible cultural site. The sprawling plains of Bagan are covered in temples, small and large, brick and gold-plated, aging plaster and brilliant white. Horse-drawn carts pull travelers from one architectural gem to the next, as others pedal past them on creaky old bicycles, heads turning in every direction to take in the expansive and infinite views.

Like most of Myanmar, it’s hard to know what to expect from Bagan until you arrive. There’s little information online, guidebooks on the country are outdated the minute they’ve been printed, and despite the hordes of backpackers moving through neighboring countries, Myanmar remains off the well-worn path with few able to give you firsthand recommendations. We showed up in Bagan knowing next to nothing, roamed every inch over the past few days, and gathered everything we could to help inform future travelers. Indulge yourself in our Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Bagan. Hope it helps!

 

Planning Your Trip to Bagan: A Recommended Itinerary

 

Backpackers/Budget Travelers

As you can guess, the bucket list destination of Bagan is hardly cheap. The cheapest hotels and hostels still cost more than much nicer spots in neighboring countries, and the same goes for the food. So, we’ve outlined what we consider to be the perfect Bagan travel itinerary for backpackers or any other travelers on a budget.

We’re usually slow travelers, but Bagan was a quick trip. In our opinion the city itself didn’t have much to offer, and as incredible as the temples are, you can only do so many days of seeing one after another (unless you have a very special interest in them). If you’re like us (and most of the backpackers we’ve met), then follow this to get the most out of your time in the city! It’s one of those destinations where you mainly want to get in, soak it up (efficiently) and get out before you and your budget get sucked too far in. Definitely don’t skip it, just make it quick and easy.

Allow 1-3 days.

Those on a tight budget can truly soak it all in in 2 full days, 1 if you really don’t want to waste any time. Three days if you love temples (many will start to feel like it’s “all the same” by the end of day two). Ideally, arrive or leave on a night bus (so you can skip paying for one night in a hotel, yet still get a full day at the temples). By doing this, you could potentially pay for only one night in Bagan but get two full days (or pay two nights and get three full days, etc.).

Take the night bus.

We recommend taking a night bus to Bagan. If just arriving in Myanmar, fly into Yangon then go from there. Night buses depart Yangon around 6pm, you’ll sleep on the bus (hopefully), and arrive in Bagan around 4:30am the next morning.

Those already in Myanmar should take a night bus from wherever you are, aiming to arrive at 4:30am as well. Because many night buses often arrive early in Myanmar (sometimes around 2am), you might want to consider making Bagan your first destination out of Yangon so you can time it strategically (or anywhere a comparable distance away where you know you’ll arrive before sunrise but not at the stroke of midnight-get enough of a “night” on the bus).

Arrive by 4:50am. By the time you get to your hotel and check in, you’ll have just a little time to warm up with some tea, maybe have some breakfast, and walk or taxi to a temple for sunrise (how to get there depends on where you stay- save money on overpriced taxis by staying walking distance from temples, recommendations below). No matter how exhausted you are, everyone’s first impression of Bagan should be sunrise, and it’s so much easy to do right when you arrive then it is to force yourself out of bed the following morning.

See an amazing sunrise, and then can return to your hotel to change/shower/eat/check-in/prepare for the day. They’ll usually let you check in quite early since many arrive and depart at odd hours.

2-Main-temples-at-Bagan-Myanmar

Some nap for a couple hours, others change and head out right away. We managed to stay up and head out and had a very full day, and if you can do it, more power to you. Make the most of it!

You can explore the temples on electric motorbikes, bicycles, by horse-cart or on foot. The best deal is to do motorbikes one day to cover a lot of ground, and bicycles the second day to fill in the gaps. (On bicycles for both days, you’ll need way more than two days to get around- with the high cost of hotels, it makes sense to stay shorter but explore with speedy e-bikes.)

Motorbikes cost 7,000 kyat per day for one person, 10,000 kyat for two people. It’s the same bike. Many people have one person rent for “one person”, and meet the other around the corner. Your call. Worth it either way.

On day one, use your motorbikes to cover the main and best temples. Take a lunch and rest mid-day in New Bagan where food is the cheapest, then continue exploring until sunset if you can. See sunset from one of the popular sunset temples around 6:00pm, then get home and collapse into bed. There isn’t nightlife in Bagan and you’ll be thankful after a sunrise-sunset day. Luckily, it helps you make the most of your time. Those still with some energy for dinner and a drink will find the best prices at restaurants serving only Burmese food, however most cater to Western tastes and prices. On the positive side, draft beers are usually less than $1USD a piece!

 

On day two, rent bicycles. If you are able to do sunrise a second time, go for it. Catch the view from a different sunrise temple. Spend the day visiting any temples you missed on day one, or stopping at whichever pique your interest.

If you finish by the afternoon (many experience the feeling of being “templed-out”), consider heading up to Mount Popa. You can share a car for around 7,000-9,000 kyat per person (cheaper if you have more people). You can read our full thoughts on Mount Popa here and see if it’s something you want to do.

If your next destination is a night bus away, leave on your second evening (check out during your lunch break on this second day).

If you’re not a night bus trip away from your next stop, consider leaving on a 5 or 6am bus the next day. You’ll pay a second night, but many early morning transports to other cities are hotel to hotel, versus bus station to bus station (saving you usually 10,000 kyat or so on two bus station to hotel taxis).

Try to buy your tickets out as soon as you can as spots fill up quickly. (If you’re on a tight schedule with no flexibility, buy your bus tickets out when you arrive at the bus station. They’ll be cheaper and then you don’t have to worry about it while you’re there. Travelers with flexible itineraries might prefer to decide later after you see how much time you want to spend).

 

Sunset-at-Bagan-MyanmarFlashpackers/Higher Budget Travelers

If you read our blog, then you know we’re more of the backpacker variety (though we flip flop into flashpacking sometimes). But we do have some good insights for you regardless!

Take either a VIP night bus so you can see sunrise on your first day (as outlined above in the backpacker itinerary), or arrive by flight early morning (or in the evening) so that you can make the most of your days. If flying, look into the flights that will be arriving during sunrise or sunset. As amazing as the views were for us, we couldn’t fathom what the people in the planes landing in the middle of it saw.

To travel more comfortably, allow 2-3 days in Bagan. We recommend hiring an ox-cart or horse-drawn cart to take you to temples the first day, or a motorbike if you’re feeling adventurous. Explore the main temples on day one.

 

Try arriving for sunrise, explore for a few hours, then take a lunchtime siesta at your hotel/hostel. If it has a pool, you’ll definitely want to go for a swim to break the heat of the day. Spend the afternoon continuing to explore, and don’t miss sunset at one of the popular sunset temples.

On day two, you can hire a driver or motorbike again, or explore the old-fashioned way on bicycles. We loved having the bicycles for one day because it allowed us to stop at every random spot that appealed to us, although it definitely wasn’t an efficient way to cover the ground (why we recommend covering the main spots first on quicker transportation).

Again, consider taking a lunchtime siesta, and get out there for sunset at a different temple.

If you have extra time and want to see something other than temples, consider a sunset river cruise, visit to Mount Popa for sunset, or hot air balloon ride.

Those on a bigger budget at all should absolutely consider doing a sunrise hot air balloon ride on their last day. We say the last day, because we don’t think anything will top it once you’ve seen that view. Rides are $400 USD per person and are definitely something to cross off your bucket list.

 

The Best Temples at Bagan

Hey, it’s all subjective, but these were the most popular temples and a few others that we just personally loved. You’ll likely see many more you don’t even plan to, so use this as a starting point then get happily lost exploring whichever pique your interest as you pass.

Sulamani Pahto: One of the prettiest temples, this was our first and favorite. Walk through the cool brick halls and stunning entryway.

 

Ananda Pahto: Well preserved and easily one of the most impressive, this temple is easy to spot with it’s red-gold top. Make sure to enter from the front for the most dramatic perspective.

 

Gawdapalin: We loved this one because it’s huge, white, and has an incredible silhouette. Not as much to see when you get to it, but the view is striking as you approach.

 

Temples-at-Bagan-MyanmarHtilominlo: Similar to Sulamani, this was a beautiful brick-colored temple. Best secret? Exit the temple to the right and go inside the little brick building. Climb to the top so you can have the perfect photo spot with all of Htilominlo behind you!

 

Shwezigon Pagoda: Lavish and covered entirely in gold, this temple is very close to those staying in Nyaung O. Beware of the vendors in the hall approaching the temple…They will try to help you remove your shoes, then place them in front of their stalls while you’re inside.You’ll be very guilted into buying something when you have to return to their stall in search of your shoes. Just walk through or around the vendor hall, and take your shoes off at the official entrance.

 

Dhammayangyi Temple: This is marked on all of the maps as “one to see” and photos look incredible, but we couldn’t find it for the life of us. There’s another with a very similar name right near it, and we thought we’d seen Dhammayangyi until we realized our name confusion after the fact. Try and knock this out on the first day so you don’t miss it like we did!

Best Sunrise and Sunset Temples:

Beludi: The smallest, this one is closest for those staying in Nyuang O (perfect for seeing sunrise on your first day of arriving from a night bus).

Pyathada Paya: Great sunrise or sunset spot, not as crowded. You can climb to the top terrace for 360 degree views, and none of the temple is off-limits (great views and exploring!). It also had an interior you can wander through, and was one of our absolute favorite temples at Bagan.

Shwesandaw Pagoda: This is the most popular sunset pagoda (or sunrise), but gets very crowded! If you’re determined to see the view from here, come early and explore the grounds. (Heads up: They almost always check your Bagan Entrance Tickets here, don’t forget to keep yours on you!).

 

Gatekeepers

Bagan is known for “gatekeepers”, locals who have taken on the task of sharing the temples and know all of their secrets. Stray off the beaten path and you’ll find them, wandering in or around temples without tourists (the really, really random ones). They’ll often invite you in, pointing you to secret passageways or viewpoints, usually without any explanation. Trust, follow, and see the best secrets of Bagan. It’s always nice to kindly tip them at the end (though the true gatekeepers won’t demand one).

 

Main-temples-at-Bagan-MyanmarWhere to Stay in Bagan

Nyaung U is the cheapest area to stay, New Bagan ranges from affordable (but more than Nyuang U) to mid-range, and Old Bagan is the most expensive (no guesthouses here). Nyuang U spots range from $10-20 per person, New Bagan goes from $20-40ish, and Old Bagan is closer to triple digits.

Since we’re backpacking Southeast Asia on a shoestring budget, our accommodation tips for Bagan are just for others traveling the same way and looking for the cheapest spot to rest their head. If you can splurge a little more, get a spot in New Bagan with a pool for mid-day temple breaks and you won’t regret it.

So, where are the super cheap budget spots in Bagan? As noted above, the guidebooks on the region are totally outdated. We showed up to a “budget hotel” from Lonely Planet advertised at $8 for a single. The owner was offended when we asked if it was a “budget hotel” and told us the cost was $35 for a double room (fyi- this was Eden Hotel).

Pann Cherry still appears to be the cheapest guesthouse in Bagan, around $7 per person per night (sharing a room), but was full when we arrived. Unfortunately, you can’t book online. This is one you’ll have to show up and risk it for, maybe staying for somewhere else for a night and returning later in the day to check for an open room.

We stayed at Winner Guesthouse, with doubles for $20 and triples for $30 (with A/C, breakfast included, WIFI, and the bathroom inside the room). We’ve heard after the fact that they have cheaper rooms with the bathroom outside. This was the PERFECT location, right in front of the road to the temples. Breakfast was awesome and they’ll let you check in super early if you’re arriving on a night bus (we got in at 5am and were able to take our room then).

$10USD per person seemed to be a solid deal, most other “budget” spots were at least $15 per person.

 

Where to Eat in Bagan

Nyuang U is full of Western food at semi-Western prices. But, since you’ll find more Western food than Burmese food, it’s all pretty great so don’t feel too guilty about it and just enjoy your pizza. If you do want Burmese food, you’ll find a few local spots but the prices are still higher than usual and almost as much as the western food.

New Bagan is a great place to stop for local lunches during your temple exploring, and has the cheapest food in town. Unfortunately, if you’re staying in Nyaung U, you’ll have to take a taxi there so it’s usually not worth it for dinner.

Keep in mind that most restaurants here charge 10-20% in taxes and service, which isn’t always explained until after the meal (so calculate that into the cost when picking where to eat).

 

How to Get to Bagan

You can fly, bus or train into Bagan like most everywhere in Myanmar. If you’re coming directly from another country, it’s worth it to check flights, but we found prices were largely out of the backpacker range and buses were best. Trains in Myanmar are certainly an experience and dirt cheap (some long distance trains cost as little as $5USD, whereas the similar bus will be about $12), but often take double or triple the time of buses.

 

Flying to Bagan

Those on a tighter schedule and even slightly larger budget should use Skyscanner or a similar site to compare prices and dates. It’s best to fly in early in the morning or late in the evening so you can maximize your days in Bagan, and minimize your nights in one of the lackluster yet overpriced hotels.

 

If taking an airline like Air Asia, don’t forget to factor in the cost of your bag when calculating the cost of flight versus bus, etc. You pay based on the size, and don’t see these prices until you’ve already selected your flight.

 

1-Main-temples-at-Bagan-MyanmarBus to Bagan

Backpackers and budget travelers (or really anyone traveling around within Myanmar) will find the best value traveling to Bagan by bus. Many people joke about the quality of buses, but for backpackers who’ve gotten around a little bit, it’s comparable to most buses in developing countries. And with a night bus, you save the cost of one night in an overpriced hotel in Myanmar- always a plus.

Usually, VIP buses only cost 2,000-5,000 kyat more than non-VIP, and the difference is incredible. New buses with blankets, comfortable seats, snacks and higher cleanliness standards make it worth it for many.

Hardcore budgeters with experience will be fine on the normal buses, but should bring warm clothes/blankets.

 

From Yangon, the bus to Bagan is overnight (10 hours) and can cost from 10,000 kyat to 20,000 kyat. Ours cost 15,500 kyat. (*Usually tickets are the same if you buy from any random travel agency in town, there are a ton near Sule Pagoda. If you stay at Mahabandoola Guesthouse, don’t buy from the agency next door/downstairs! They overcharge and send you on the worst buses we saw the entire trip. The women selling tickets were sweethearts, but we wouldn’t do it again. There are many others in the area we heard better feedback on).

Hardcore budget backpackers can buy their bus ticket to Bagan from companies directly for about 10,000 kyat. This is a good idea if you arrive at the bus station from elsewhere, or are in the area anyways. If you are already in the center of Yangon, the cost of transport to the bus station and back to buy a ticket outweighs the savings, and you’re better off buying from one of the small travel agencies.

At a travel agency, a bus from Yangon to Bagan should be around 15,000 kyat for a standard ticket, 18,000 kyat for VIP. Keep in mind, you will need to pay for transport from Yangon center to the bus station, over an hour away. Taxis usually cost 8,000 kyat, but you can also take a “bus” (a van crammed with 4 people in each row) for 1,500 kyat per person.

Hardcore budget backpackers can buy their bus ticket from companies directly for about 10,000 kyat. This is a good idea if you arrive at the bus station from elsewhere, or are in the area anyways. If you are already in the center of Yangon, the cost of transport to the bus station and back to buy a ticket outweighs the savings, and you’re better off buying from one of the small travel agencies.

At a travel agency, a bus from Yangon to Bagan should be around 15,000 kyat for a standard ticket, 18,000 kyat for VIP. Keep in mind, you will need to pay for transport from Yangon center to the bus station, over an hour away. Taxis usually cost 8,000 kyat, but you can also take a “bus” (a van crammed with 4 people in each row) for 1,500 kyat per person.

 

Bagan, here you come.

There you have it! Everything you need to start planning your trip to Bagan, Myanmar (Burma) and cross this amazing destination off of your bucket list. Have any other questions or suggestions about how to get there, where to stay or what to do in Bagan? Share it all in the comments below so we can make this Ultimate Guide to Bagan even better for future travelers. Enjoy!

 

 

Source: www.theborderlessproject.com

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