Getting your head around travel to Bagan can be really confusing when planning a trip to Bagan or travel to Myanmar (Burma) in general. So I thought some Bagan travel tips would be in order. Traveling to Bagan is a bit of a pain any way you slice it. So here are some Bagan travel tips to help you manage the confusion of this truly amazing place to see and be.
How to Get to Bagan?
If you’re flying, assuming from Thailand, you can fly in from Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Then you can get a small plane from either city in Myanmar. However, I chose to hire a car and driver from Mandalay who spoke English because I generally prefer to drive and see the countryside and take any photos I like along the way. Plus the Myanmar domestic airlines are unreliable.
The drive from Mandalay to Bagan is about 3.5 hours give or take with a tea break/lunch stop about 2/3 of the way to Bagan. It’s a pretty drive but also pretty boring for most of it but spend a little more for a comfortable car with AC and you can sleep. The total cost for 3 days of the car and English speaking, safe driver plus the best hotel in both Bagan and Mandalay for me was $420. That’s a bargain in my book.
Where to Stay in Bagan?
Bagan is basically broken down into 3 areas: Old Bagan for top end hotels-where I stayed; New Bagan for midrange places; and Nyaung U for budget accommodation and hostels.
You can choose where you want to stay based on your budget but for $90 I stayed in a riverfront air-conditioned cottage at the Thande Hotel River View. It wasn’t the best place I’ve ever stayed but it was pretty darn good for Myanmar! The only issue is it’s a taxi or motorbike from town but if you have a driver then no big deal and taxis are also super cheap.
How to Get Around Bagan?
There are essentially 4 options to travel around Bagan. Had I had more time than 2 days I may have opted for a bicycle or motorbike but a car and driver is the easiest way to see the most in a day or two because they know the way. Self-driving can be confusing as most signs are not written in English.
Plus it’s hotter than hell in Bagan so it saves you from a good amount of the sweat factor although admittedly-you will sweat simply breathing in Bagan and Myanmar in general! The other option is walking but you’d have to be insane to do that in that heat.
What are the Best Temples to See in Bagan?
Obviously the best temple or pagoda in Bagan is a very subjective thing but for me, I loved the following temples. Ananda Pahto is generally considered the top temple in Bagan and it was pretty cool and has been redone quite a bit. I agree it’s very good although I would not necessarily give it the 100% best label but definitely worth a visit.
Dhammayangyi Pahto was pretty awesome. It’s a massive red brick temple that you can see from pretty much anywhere in Bagan and it makes for great pictures-especially from other temples!
Sulamani Pahto was very cool and is pretty well preserved and interesting. Pyathada Paya has a massive sunset viewing area and for some reason is not very highly visited. There were only a few monks there when I went there. Thatbyinnyu Pahto is the highest temple in Bagan and is pretty fantastic as well.
Finally, Shwezigon Paya is the stupa that all others in Myanmar were based upon with the exception of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. My driver told me that you couldn’t say you’ve been to Bagan unless you visit this temple-so take that as you will!
There are literally hundreds of temples and pagodas in Bagan to visit and my suggestion is to view these main ones and then choose via the angles you want your photos based on time of day and the sun; which can be oppressively hot. Plus some have artwork in them if that’s your thing and there are different Buddha’s so do some research but don’t miss the ones I mentioned-they’re all relatively close together and easily visited in one day.
Where to Eat in Bagan?
Most of the top end hotels have decent restaurants as you’d expect but then you really don’t get the dining out experience of Bagan. That said, the main strip of restaurants is in Nyaung U on a street called Yarkinnthar. None of the restaurants will blow your mind but there’s several to choose from and most offer free wifi.
I ate a La Pizza and Black Bamboo. Weather Spoon’s is also very popular and has cocktails. Most of them just serve beer. This is also a good place to meet other travelers, talk shop about Bagan and Myanmar while watching stray dogs wrestle each other in the dirt streets.
So if you listen to these Bagan travel tips, you should have a pretty good experience. It is a big area so be prepared be temple viewing all day and pick your spot wisely for sunset and sunrise and get there early or fight with Asian tourists battling for prime position! Although admittedly, it helps being tall in that situation! Bagan rocks, enjoy it!