Have you ever been somewhere that makes your jaw drop at first sight? Somewhere you can’t begin to comprehend how it all came to be or how it’s withstood several centuries? Bagan, Myanmar is one of those places! With over 2 thousand temples still standing, of the original 10,000, when you look out over the flat plains and see only a mixture of green canopy, taupe roads, temple peaks, and stupas peaking through, it really makes you ponder that question. Mix this epic sight with one of the most beautiful sunrises (and sunsets) you have seen, along with dozens of hot air balloons dotting the horizon. Postcard worthy, for sure!
If you want to be IN one of the air balloons (for sunrise), though, it will cost you a pretty penny. About $350USD per person. Unfortunately, this was just a tad bit out of our backpackers budget, so we opted to watch from different pagodas each morning.
Burmese Kyat (pronounced ch-at). Conversion rate: $1 USD=1,416 Kyat (as of 04/11/2020)
Many places take USD as well, so it’s never a bad idea to also carry this currency on you.
Burmese is the language primarily spoken here, so knowing some key words always proves to be helpful for most things! Although, many younger locals speak some English.
Mingalabar (ming-gah-lah-bahr): Hello
Transport (Yangon to Bagan, Myanmar)
We flew from Don Mueang Airport, Bangkok to Yangon, for just under $50USD. Decided to not spend the night in Yangon, and take the 10 hour night bus from Yangon to Bagan (JJ Express). It cost us $21USD, per person, at the airport (you can also book via their website). There were a few cheaper options, however, we had been recommended to spend the extra few dollars on a VIP bus, as the cheaper ones are more “local”, i.e: no air conditioning, seats don’t recline, smaller bus etc. For a 10 hour ride, we opted for a bit of comfort.
Emphasis on the “bit” part. It definitely wasn’t luxurious (but we would find out soon enough it was compared to the bus from Bagan to Nyaung Shwe). This one had flight attendant like staff who would come down the center aisle with the drink cart every so often. They gave us a blanket (with a seal of cleanliness), waters, a snack box (not that the snacks were edible) AND, the best part, a TV screen with at least 20 English movies.
Since we booked our seats a bit last minute (same day at the airport) we were in the second to last row, which wasn’t terrible unless you get car sick, like us. Thank god for motion sick pills! Kill two birds with one stone, cure the motion sickness and put us right to sleep for almost the entire bus ride. I got about 30 minutes into Independence Day, before falling asleep. The bus stops a few times for toilets and food, which is a bit excessive (and frustrating if you are trying to sleep… arg!)
Woke up at 4am to the attendant letting us know we had arrived in Bagan!
Check out another one of my interesting transport stories from when I was in Vietnam!
Entering into the Archeological Site of Bagan
Next, we got a taxi to our hostel (15,000KYT per person). After exiting the bus station all taxis get stopped by a guy on the side of the road who makes you pay a 25,000KYT (about $18USD) fee for 3 day access to the archaeological zone (honestly not sure where or who this money goes to), they give you a ticket you are supposed to carry on you the whole time in case someone asks for it. I heard, afterwards , that if you take a motorbike or pay the cab driver a little extra they will take you around this pay point, and if anyone ever asks for the ticket you just say you left it at the hotel.
Transport (around Bagan, Myanmar)
E-bike (electric scooter): This, in my opinion, is the best way to see Bagan. They run roughly 5,000KYT (single person bike) – 8,000KYT (double), for sunrise to sunset. They also rent by the hour for a cheaper price.
Regular bike: Most hostels/hotels will have regular pedal bikes to take, for free, if you want to save a bit of money.
Tuk-tuk/horse and carriage: You may choose the option to hire a tuk-tuk to take you to spots you have mapped out or the drivers usually have certain spots they take people. We did not use this option, so I do not know the cost of this. Horse and carriage usually wait outside most major temples, similar to tuk-tuks, they will take you to a destination. Again, not sure on the price, as we did not take them.
I, personally, recommend the E-bike option, as the temples are quite spread out and it gives the freedom to explore a bit more, and maybe find a secret temple with no one around!
As with many places in Asia, there is an expected respectful manner in which you should dress in order to enter into the more touristed temples.
For Women and Men:
- Cover most of your legs (sometimes no leggings, so always carry something to throw over them just in case) (no shorts)
- Cover your shoulders (t-shirt or shawl work just fine)
- No shoes (they will have an area outside the temple to leave your shoes, until you are finished)
The nice part is there are usually various stalls of locals selling things outside the temples. So if you go unprepared, it’s easy to buy something on the fly. You get a cool souvenir our of it too!
We had the opportunity to volunteer at Baobabed Hostel, however, there are a few hostel options in the area and, what looked like, many hotels. Hostels range from $8-$20 USD (depending on the time of year potentially even more than that) and hotels are a bit more, but not by much (depending on what you are looking for). Booking.com or Hostelworld.com are my preferred booking websites.
Accommodation is actually a bit on the pricier side, by South East Asia standards, but it evens out with the extremely low cost of food and basic living costs.
Food Options in Bagan, Myanmar
Eating in Myanmar, in general, is extremely affordable. A typical meal will cost you $1-$3USD, with a feast running you no more than $8 USD (and that’s a lot)! Add a bit more if you plan on drinking but, not much. A bottle of beer (Myanmar Premium) is about $1.50USD.
Burmese food is like a mix of Indian and Chinese with a touch of Thai (in my opinion). There are many small restaurants serving this type of food all over Bagan, Myanmar. Bravely take your pick. Food poisoning is a very common thing throughout Myanmar.
In Bagan our favorite restaurant was a place in town called Bibo . We must have gone there 3 days in a row at one point. The owners/staff were professional and super nice. The food was probably the best we had eaten in Asia since arriving (yes, including Thailand and Vietnam!). They have a mix of Burmese, Western, and Thai food. I can’t say enough good things about this place!
Typically, the hostels/hotels will serve a breakfast so you wont have to worry about finding a “safe” place for that meal. Generally, I just stayed away from meat, especially chicken.
Bagan, Myanmar definitely deserves a spot on your travel list! With tourism still being a relatively new thing it hasn’t become overly developed and still has much of its culture. I believe in the next couple years this will change dramatically, as I can already see it happening. They have less and less pagodas open to the public on a daily basis.
The archaeological society are cracking down on tourists climbing on the pagodas (which makes sense, since they are trying to preserve them) but, this is one of the things that make Bagan so amazing and different. There aren’t many places in the world you can find a pagoda with no one around, climb up it, and watch the sunrise/sunset over thousands of other ones. I feel extremely blessed to have seen it when I did, and was able to check this one off my bucket list! Hopefully you can too!