Lying 300 miles (490 km) north of Yangon is the ancient city of Bagan, home to more than 2000 Buddhist temples (11th and 12th centuries old). The Bagan Archaeological Zone covers a 26 sq mile area, divided into four sites; Old Bagan, New Bagan, Nyaung U and Myinkaba. Towards the North and East sides, the Ayeyarwady River surrounds this incredible ancient city.
There are several ways to reach the city, all of which will see you arriving at Nyaung U. There are regular flights from Yangon, slow trains, or you can take a bus. We opted for the overnight bus with Bagan Min Thar, booked through our guesthouse in Yangon. The bus was comfortable with three rows of single seats, air-conditioning (bring a jacket, as it is quite strong) and a toilet. We have read reports that not all buses have a bathroom, but ours was a fully equipped Japanese bus. It left on time at 20:00 and reached Nyaung U at 05:30 the next morning. The bus makes a few stops on the way too, so you can get some dinner and stretch your legs.
The bus station at Nyaung U is outside the city (officially it is a city, but a very, very small one) and as soon as you get off, you will be met with offers of a taxi or horse carriage. The official price for a taxi is posted on a sign and for Nyaung U it is 5000 kyats (£3). The drivers will tell you this is per person, but we managed to haggle this down to 4000 each. You will be offered a trip to watch the sun rise, but don’t accept this as it is greatly overpriced.
As you come in to Nyaung U, you have to pay entry of 25000 kyat for the archaeological zone, which is valid for 5 days, so have currency with you.
WHERE TO STAY
There are more hotels and restaurants around Old and New Bagan and Nyaung U, the latter being the more budget friendly. As we prefer to be a little out the way, we stayed in Nyaung U itself at the family run Golden Myanmar Guesthouse. Even though we arrived 6 hours before check in, we were greeted warmly and a room was prepared for us. Rooms are quite standard here, but the walls are quite thin. We didn’t have much trouble with this as most people tend to sleep early, then get up to watch the sunrise. Breakfast is also included here with a choice of pancakes or toast and egg. This comes with fruit, juice and coffee. The hotel does have WiFi, although it isn’t fast enough for heavy sites such as YouTube. You can also get your clothes washed for 200 kyat a piece, book onward tickets and hire electric scooters (foreigners aren’t allowed to hire petrol powered machines here).
WHAT TO SEE
The main focus of Bagan is the incredible amount of temples that creates the Bagan Archaeological Zone. Get up early, jump on your e-Bike and climb up one to watch the sun rise over the stunning skyline. If you want a different view, you can take a balloon ride to watch from the skies, although this will set you back $300+ per person.
Again, you will want to avoid the midday sun here, so an early start is good to visit some temples, then break for lunch and then continue late afternoon.
We booked a trip through Urban Adventures and met our guide Zaw, who took us to some lesser known ruins on a horse and carriage, then for a refreshment at a tea shop, before we jumped on a boat on the Ayeyarwady river to watch the sun set. This was a fab afternoon and gave us an opportunity to ask plenty of questions about Myanmar life and culture.
WHERE TO EAT
Our favourite lunch option was Friend’s cafe, which serves both Burmese and western food, smoothies and coffee. Service was of course great and the food was beautiful. If you are craving a burger on your travels, head here and give in to your craving.
We enjoyed dinner at Leo restaurant, which has several Burmese specialities, from curries to our favourite new dish, the tea leaf salad. A curry set, which includes the curry, rice and lentil soup starts at 4000 kyat and our favourite was the pork with soya bean paste. The staff here are also lovely and enjoy chatting with the customers.
Shwe Moe is also a nice place for lunch and dinner, with a good choice of Burmese dishes.
In New Bagan, we recommend Ma Mae Naing (Unforgettable), a good place with a nice budget friendly menu, perfect for escaping that midday heat while you are exploring.
- Wear appropriate clothing when visiting temples, covering legs and shoulders. Footwear to be left outside before entering any sites.
- When booking a hotel for Bagan and arriving early morning e.g. from an overnight bus – make sure your hotel booking date corresponds with your arrival day/time. It’s best to let your hotel know when you will be arriving. We were lucky our hotel allowed us to check in at 6am.
- Hire an e-Bike (petrol motorcycles are not allowed for tourists) – as sites are quite spread out and this way you are free to go at your own pace. Roads can be a bit bumpy and be extra careful driving on sandy tracks. Always check your battery meter and that enough juice to get you back.
- Use your horn on the e-Bike when passing people and vehicles as the bikes are silent.
- Watch the sunrise and sunset at least once, sunrise is definitely a challenge to wake up for but there a fewer crowds and the lighting is great for photos.
- The most popular sunset spot is at the top of Shwesandaw Pagoda, personally I would avoid this temple and look for alternative places to watch the sunset; either a riverboat sunset cruise or go to Taung Guni (South), a small temple near Shwesandaw with the same views but less crowds.
- There are no pavements here, walk carefully at the roadside and use a torch/flashlight at night. People will sound their horns to let you know they are coming.
- Bagan has very dusty roads, combined with the heat and older gas guzzling vehicles, the air quality can be poor in busy town areas.
- The internet can be slow across Myanmar particularly in the hotels over WiFi. We recommend getting a local SIM card and load it up with as much data you can afford to last your trip in Myanmar. The 3G network provided by Telenor was reliable and reasonably fast, you can tether (share your internet connection) with other WiFi devices.
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