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Bagan to Mandalay by River Boat (Myanmar)

To get from Bagan to Mandalay (or vice versa) you can of course take a day or a night bus, but a more relaxing and picturesque way to travel is to take one of the river boats.
It takes longer (about 12 hours) but you see beautiful scenery along the Irrawaddy / Ayeyarwady River.

Cost:: $35 per person, including breakfast and lunch.

Departure: 5am

I recommend pre-booking a taxi to take you from your hotel to the boat.
If you look at the map, the pier looks like it is walking distance from most of Nyaung U but we found that the maps are not always accurate or to scale. Because the departure time is so early it is just less stressful to take a taxi.

Even though you might be tired and want to go back to sleep when you get to your seat on the boat, stay awake.
The sun rises at about 6 am and it is so worth it to see along the river.








Breakfast is included in your ticket, served from 7am – 10am in the restaurant.
toast with butter and jam
hard boiled egg
coffee or tea




Lunch is also included in your ticket, served from 12:00 noon – 2pm.
Fried glass noodles (vermicelli) with vegetables and an egg fried over easy. Served with a sweet/spicy sauce and a chili/garlic soy sauce.


Views from the boat:









Village stop:
Along the way the boat pulled off to the river bank at a small village, allowing the locals to sell some goods to the boat passengers.
We bought some bananas, a huge bunch of bananas (probably we got 10). The local woman selling them threw the bananas up to us on the second deck of the boat and we threw the money down. Very fun experience.



Sunset is also very beautiful from the boat. Head up to the top deck to see it.




Arriving in Mandalay:
Word of warning, there is NO pier in Mandalay. The boat anchors along the riverbank and the staff lay two wooden boards between the boat and shore and that is how to disembark.
Work on your balance! The boards are only about 1 foot wide.

If you have an extra day, this is absolutely the best way to travel between Bagan and Mandalay!


Bagan, Myanmar

Getting There:
The easiest way to get to Bagan from other cities in Myanmar is by bus.
See my previous post to read about our bus trip from Yangon to Bagan.

Our bus arrived in Bagan way ahead of schedule, at about 5am so our taxi driver took us to see the sunrise over the pagodas (the #1 thing to see in Bagan) before dropping us off at out hotels.

Entrance ticket:
To enter the Bagan Archaeological area (basically the entire city and surrounding area) you are required to purchase passes for $15 per person. You will purchase these at check points along the road as you enter the city. When coming from the bus your taxi will take you here to buy your passes.

The passes are valid for 5 days.

You are supposed to always have these passes with you to show at various checkpoints. We were never asked to show ours after buying them but I would NOT recommend skipping this step. Just buy the pass to be on the safe side.

Sunrise over the Pagodas:
Bagan is home to nearly 3,000 pagodas.

Between the 11th and 13th centuries over 10,000 temples, pagodas and monasteries were built on the Bagan plains and nearly 3,000 still remain standing today.

Of course these pagodas and temples are beautiful at all times of the day but the most well known and most talked about time to see them is sunrise over the plains.
The sun rises at approximately 6am (check with your hotel or online to be sure you have the correct time of sunrise for the time of year you are visiting).

Sunrise can be enjoyed from anywhere across the Bagan plains but the best view is from the top of the largest pagodas. One example is Shwesandaw Pagoda.

Here are just a few photos of the sunrise (we took about 100!).





Hot Air Balloons:
Another option you have to see the sunrise over the pagodas is to take a hot air balloon ride. This experience looks absolutely unbelievable however it is not cheap. One ride (about 1 hour) costs approximately $300-400 per person!
Of course this was NOT in our budget.
Maybe someday.

The balloons do really add to the beauty of the sunrise view.


Renting an E-bike:
And electric bike is really the best way to get around both the city and the pagodas and the prices are very good.
Small e-bike (hold 1 person) $5 per day
Large e-bike (holds 2 people) $10 per day

The bikes are not terribly powerful but Bagan is pretty flat so this was not a problem. Tourists are not allowed to rent scooters so the e-bike is the best option.

Note: most likely there will be a problem with your e-bike. Once we ran out of battery and another time we got a flat tire.
Don’t Panic.
Every bike has a phone number attached to the front of the bike.

Simply call that number and they will send a repair man or a new bike to you at no charge.
Don’t have a local phone. Don’t worry.
The locals are so friendly and helpful. Just flag someone down and they will call for you.

One of the times we had problems a car stopped even before we could flag them down and then a second one stopped. They called the bike shop for us, explained what was wrong in Burmese and stayed with us until the repair man arrived.
You will be well taken care of.





Other ways to get around:
You can rent a bicycle for about $2 per day. This is a very easy and cheap option but you will not see as much because it will take a lot longer to get around.
You can also ride in a horse cart. These fit about 2-4 people. It is a very charming way to get around but is not cheap (I do not have the exact price but it was the most expensive option for getting around the pagodas.

The Pagodas:
When visiting the Bagan plains, there are simply too many pagodas and temples to even come close to seeing them all. Some guidebooks will give you lists of which pagodas you ‘must see’.
I say, don’t bother spending time trying to find these specific temples.
Just rent an e-bike and start driving. Each pagoda you come upon is more amazing than the last. It is best to just explore and see what you find.
By doing this you will also likely avoid most of the tourist crowds allowing you to enjoy visiting the temples and pagodas in peace (and giving you the chance to take many photos without other people accidentally photo bombing all of your amazing photos).





Most of the pagodas are open so you can go in and explore.
You are also able to climb many of them!




The roof area of the pagodas have wonderful views and are amazing photo spots!



Enjoy exploring!

You will also find that locals are at several of the pagodas. Many of them are the caretakers of that particular pagoda (unlocking it in the morning, locking it at night). The government lets them live on the land of the pagoda rent free in exchange for them taking care of the pagoda.



Many of these men (in our experience they were all men) are also artists. After giving you a FREE tour of the pagoda they will likely want to show you their work (of course hoping to sell a painting). Please give them a few minutes. Mostly they are interested in talking with you, telling you about the history and culture and their painting techniques. We found that these artists were not pushy at all so if you don’t want to buy anything it is not a problem.



However, I highly recommend buying a painting. I cannot think of a better souvenir! The paintings are beautiful. They can also handle travel.
The artists paint start with a piece of white cotton, add a layer of glue and river sand and then add paint on top.
These paintings can be folded and ironed (on the back) and the color will not come off.

Some paintings are done in acrylic paint. Others are done in natural colors (made from nature). The colors are as follows:
Red – Marble stone
Yellow – Saffron
Green – vegetables
Blue – Indigo
Brown – tree bark
Black – soot (ash from a fire)
White – limestone

Visit a traditional village:
Another great thing you can do while exploring Bagan is to visit a traditional village. You can find the village nestled among the pagodas near Nyaung U.
Ask your hotel how to get here because the maps are unclear and often not to scale.

At the village entrance you will find one or a few local women who will take you on a tour of the village showing you everthing they produce and how they live. At the end of this tour she will of course ask you for a bit of money but it is completely up to you how much you give. I do not have a problem with this because it was such a nice tour and an interesting experience. We gave about $3.

In the village they:

Grow peanuts and sesame




The sesame seeds are pressed into oil using this machine (powered by a cow walking around it).




Make beautiful silver (mainly jewelry).
I bought a set of 7 thin silver rings for $18 and a pair of dangle earrings for $10, which I thought were excellent prices.






Make lacquerware items (these were expensive, buy elsewhere in Bagan for better price).



Weave lovely fabric and scarves




The village also grows cotton and grandma spins it into thread for the weaving.


Roll cigars






In the village you (my female readers) can try tanka, a sort of make-up/sunblock that the local women wear. It is made by wetting a stone and rubbing a branch from a particular type of tree on the wet stone to make a paste. This is then applied to the cheeks.




Hotels in Bagan on average are quite expensive. When we looked online the cheapest option we found was about $45 per night (way over our budget).
So, we decided to take a chance and just see what we could find walking around town.
It paid off!

We found a lovely guest house in Nyaung U after only about 10 minutes of walking.
Pann Cherry
A double room was $16 per night.
Rooms were simple but the rooms were large and the bed was comfortable and very clean.
The bathrooms are shared but very nice.
The wifi works well.
I highly recommend this guesthouse for budget accommodation.


Food and Drink:
During our stay we spent most of our time in Nyaung U and exploring the pagodas in the plains area. Here are a few of my food recommendations.

If you are looking for a quick snack, breakfast or just a drink head to Bagan Regalia in Nyaung U.






For some excellent local food with a river view try
Kyi Kyi Mya in Old Bagan near Buphaya Paya Pagoda








For a nice dinner with a free puppet show go to Pyi Wa in Nyaung U.






If you are craving a burger try Weather Spoons in Nyaung U. Everyone raves about them!


I will be honest we did not try the burger…crazy I know, but we were craving fried noodles. They were amazing! So I definitely recommend this restaurant for whatever food you are craving.



A few more photos of Bagan:
Because it was so beautiful and amazing

Buddhist nuns collecting alms

Temple Details











Sunset over Bagan








Yangon to Bagan, Myanmar: Night Bus

The easiest and most common way to get from Yangon to Bagan is to take a bus. You can either take a day bus or a night bus but I recommend a night bus because it is a long trip.
On a map it does not look so far and apps like google maps will usually give you shorter drive times but the road infrastructure in Myanmar is not the best. The roads are very bumpy and not straight at all so the drive always takes longer than you think.

We booked with JJ Express and had ana amazing experience. The tickets were 18,500 kyat pp ($18.50), which is actually quite expensive because it is a VIP bus.
You can book a standard bus for about $10 per person.

The bus station in Yangon can be chaotic. I lost count of how many bus companies there were (this is the main way to get around the country) and each bus company has their own storefront and waiting area. DO NOT try to do this on your own. Book a transfer with the bus company or have a taxi take you directly to your bus departure area (just show the driver your bus ticket and they will know where to take you).
JJ Express waiting area was a welcome break from the chaos. There was nice seating, a clean bathroom (no toilet paper so have your own) and we were offered endless cups of coffee.

I have to say, JJ Express was well worth the price. The seats recline with a foot rest (much like the first class reclining airplane seats) and are nice leather. You are also given a blanket and a pillow. The bus is set up to have 2 seats on one side and single seats on the other side of the aisle. Very comfortable.


The bus did have a bathroom, HOWEVER, it was kept locked the entire trip and we could not find out why. Don’t worry though, we made 2 bathroom stops and if you need additional stops you can just go tell the driver and it is not a problem.

And the best part, JJ Express offers snack and drink service! Just like an airplane! The had a small cart that wheeled down the aisle. Each passenger was given a snack box containing cake and cookies (individually wrapped) and offered tea/coffee/soda. This was such a nice touch.


About a third of the way there we stopped at a large rest area called Oasis. Here you can use the bathroom and get some dinner. We had a really nice noodle soup.
I also noticed at least one ATM here! (I would have cash anyway though because you never know if it will work or not).



Our driver was driving incredibly fast. At times it felt more like he was flying the bus rather than driving it. Think about this if you get motion sickness, it is a bumpy ride.
To help I recommend keeping the window curtains closed and do not look out any of the windows, including the front window. Also, when you sleep use an eye mask and ear plugs. This helps you to ignore the swaying of the bus to a point.

Because our driver was going so fast we arrived in Bagan early. We were scheduled to arrive around 7am and we arrived at 5am!
Taxi drivers will bombard the bus trying to get your business. This was incredibly overwhelming so early in the morning after a night bus so get ready!

I recommend talking with some other passengers on the bus. Bagan has three main areas: Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung U. People going to the same area should share a taxi to get a better price (most of the taxis are more like a mini van or mini bus).

Finally, if your bus arrives as early as ours did you are before sunrise. Ask your taxi driver if they can take you to see sunrise over the pagodas before taking you to your hotel (likely you can check in that early anyway). Our driver took us to see the sunrise for only an extra $5 per person which is a great price!

This is a great option because
1. Sunrise over the pagodas is the #1 thing to do in Bagan
2. You are up anyway
3. Likely you cannot check into you hotel at 5am and nothing else is open yet
4. You do not have to get up before dawn another day of your vacation

It was really the best way to kick off our time in Bagan.