If you have an insatiable desire to look round old temples and stupas then probably a visit to Bagan will satisfy your craving - there are more than 2000 such structures scattered around the area.
Bagan is situated around 430 miles north of Yangon and some 180 miles to the southwest of Mandalay. Because of the barrier created by the Rakhine Yoma Mountains to it's west, Bagan is located in a particularly dry area of Myanmar and receives little rainfall. Bagan's Archaeological Zone is centred around Old Bagan - with Nyaung U in the north and New Bagan in the south. There are no hotels or even permanent dwellings permitted within Old Bagan itself - so tourists have to stay at New Bagan or Nyaung U.
Travelling too and from Bagan - flights, buses, trains or by car.
If travelling from Yangon or Heho then flying is by far the best option if you can afford it because of the sometimes poor condition of the roads especially in the Heho area and of course the considerable distances involved. There are fast tourist buses which operate the Yangon route and these are a lot cheaper
option but do take some time - there is also a rail link to Yangon from Bagan - again quite slow.
However if going too or from Mandalay then there are several options which are better than flying - not least because Mandalay's airport is some way to the south of the city (so two lots of taxis plus fairly expensive flight costs). There are regular quite fast buses from Bagan which go
right into Mandalay and these are pretty cheap to use. Another way though is to hire a car and driver - much more convenient and confortable and if you ask around (not at hotel travel desks!) i.e. talk to taxi drivers, it's surprising how little this costs especially if there are several of you travelling - it can be much cheaper than flying.
Nyaung U Aiport: The airport serving Bagan is located just outside of Nyaung U - various airlines using turbo-prop aircraft provide daily flights to the airport - usually on round-robin flights which start out from
Yangon and may go either clockwise or anti-clockwise visiting Mandalay and Heho (for Inle Lake) on it's sequence. There are always taxis waiting around at the airport and it's just around 30 minutes or so ride into New Bagan and 15 minutes into Nyaung U. Note that when arriving at Nyaung U you are almost immediately required to pay a Zone Tax which in March 2014 was USD15 - only U.S. Dollars
are accepted. This does mean that when subsequently wandering around sightseeing the Temples and old buildings in Old Bagan there are no entrance fees to mess about with - the Zone Tax is valid for 7 days. Note that this Zone Tax does not include access to The Palace and to the Museum both of which have separate admission fees.
On the subject of money - although U.S. Dollars are
accepted often as not by restaurants and hotels they will not offer you a particularly good exchange rate - and certainly not too good for smaller denomation notes. So it's worth stacking up with a reasonable amount of Kyat - either at Yangon or Mandalay - before travelling to Bagan.
Where to stay when visiting Bagan - Nyaung U or New Bagan.
New Bagan seems to be a good choice for accommodation - note there are no high rise buildings in the area and most accommodation is provided in small to medium sized guesthouses. There is a bit of variation in prices, facilities (i.e. whether the room has a window or if there is a swimming pool) - all of which varies according to what part of the tourist season you are visiting.
Many of the guesthouses in New Bagan offer their wares on the web these days and booking is very straightforward - which also means payment can be made by credit or debit card - and therefore easily the best exchange rate. If you do have to pay for instance a guesthouse or hotel directly then some still do just want cash. New Bagan also has a plentiful supply of restaurants - the town is
basically one road going down through it's centre to the river - the majority of the restaurants can be found more to the river end of town. Finally New Bagan is very convenient for getting out to the temples which start appearing perhaps only half a mile out of town on the Nyaung U road - in fact there are even several near to the river in the town itself.
Getting around for some sightseeing in Bagan - walking,
horse-drawn cars, cycling, e-bikes or by taxi.
The first thing to note is that the temples are spread over quite a large often sandy area - by February and March the weather can be
extremely hot and their is little to no shade around. The majority of the temples are fairly close to the surfaced road starting by the river at New Bagan and going as far as the outskirts of Nyaung U.
The four lots of temples shown below
are located in New Bagan pretty much next to the Ayeyarwady River so if staying in the town these are easy to either or walk or cycle too - and give a hint perhaps of what is to come once out sightseeing properly.
Quite a few more temples are situated along the old airport road between obviously the airport and New Bagan. You then can keep stopping at temples which interest you - these are often situated on dusty tracks just a little of the main road. Because of the heat walking to any but localised temples is not really an option - and also very time consuming. You can hire a horse and cart for the day - many do this particularly those staying at Nyaung U -
however this is quite expensive and it takes a long time to get round. Taxis are obviously very expensive and you sort of lose the option to roam around and perhaps wander off a little into the bondoo to look at something of interest - however you do keep or can get cool after each stop.
That leaves either cycling around or hiring e-bikes or even small motor bikes - all of these are inexpensive and you of
course have complete freedom to go where you want. Generally the bicycles available do not have gears and are rather old fashion heavy affairs - hire for the day varies around 3 to 4 USD. The Bagan area is basically quite flat but after a few hours even small inclines become hard work in the heat - lots of people who have several days to look round do start off with a bike for their
first day. However often as not the option then switches to an e-bike. These are battery powered and can be hired for around 8 USD per day. A fully charged e-bike is considered to have enough juice to get you round the temple "circuit" i.e. from New Bagan along the road to Nyuang U, up to the New Bagan/Airport Road junction and back home - allowing for diversions a little way up various
tracks as well. Well if you get a new or fairly new e-bike then probably this is possible - so beware of e-bikes which look a bit worn out because probably the battery is not up to scratch either and may die on you.
Other destinations in the Far East which are reasonably easy to reach from Myanmar and for which we have travel and touring guides are Cambodia, Laos, China, Thailand and Vietnam - please see our above Home Page for these or visit our Resources Page