As Myanmar becomes a larger tourist draw, the city Bagan and it’s countless temples are beginning to become a must see on many travellers’ bucket lists. After being here, it’s crazy that Bagan isn’t on every must see list when visiting SEA, we think it should be on par with the Temples of Angkor. The best part about it is the freedom you have while exploring the archaeological zone, going from temple to temple on your e-bike and simply getting lost among the ancient sites. While you’re not exploring temples, there are plenty of funky and cheap restaurants to check out in Nyaung U, where the budget hostels are found. Watching the hot air balloons float over the temple peaks at sunrise, tops it all off as a once in a lifetime experience. If you’re going to Myanmar, Bagan will certainly be one our your favourite stops. If you’re going to SEA, we think this stunning sea of temples needs to be on your itinerary.
How to Get There
Inle Lake to Bagan
We bussed to Bagan from Nuyangshwe, the town that many tourists stay in when they visit Inle Lake. This bus took about 8 hours overnight and we arrived in Bagan early enough to make it for sunrise if we were really eager (we weren’t). We bought our ticket for JJ Express through our hostel, the Inle Inn, for 23,500 kyat but we definitely could’ve got it cheaper through the bus station. The JJ Express bus station is the same as the Sun Goddess bus station, beside the Garden Restaurant in town. When we arrived, we were dropped at the Bagan Highway Bus Station, and shared a 14,000 kyat shuttle bus (after a lot of bartering, price started much higher!) with another couple which took us the extra 10 minutes along the highway into Nyuang U. You will have to pay the Archeological Zone ticket fee of 25,000 kyat on the way into Bagan; your taxi will stop at the ticket booth and wait for you to pay. Make sure you have enough cash!
Bagan to Yangon
We took a Khaing express bus between Bagan and Yangon, which took 9 hours and cost 21,500 kyat. We were given two options when we got near Yangon: to be dropped at a shared taxi stand and pay 5000 kyat/person to head the rest of the way into Yangon, or get dropped at the bus station and pay more for a taxi (I believe they quoted 12,000 kyat or something in that range). We opted for the shared taxi and saved 2000 kyat between the two of us, and shared with one other traveller. Our driver dropped us right at our hostel in Yangon, 21 Hostel.
Where to Stay
There are three areas to stay in Bagan: Nyaung U, Old Bagan and and New Bagan. Nyaung U is the “backpacker” area, with cheap accommodation and fun, cheap restaurants and bars. It’s only about a 10 minute e-bike ride from the main temple area, all down one road. Old Bagan is home to luxury hotels, as well as the odd hostel, but it is right amongst the temples. New Bagan is a hybrid of backpacker accommodation and more expensive hotels. It’s about a 5-10 minute e-bike to the temples. We stayed in Nyaung U and loved it!
- Shwe Nadi Guesthouse – We actually ended up at this place after arriving in Bagan at 4:00 am and finding out that our original hostel that we’d booked didn’t exist. After wandering around Nyaung U from expensive hotel to expensive hotel (the only places with staff around at 4:00 am…) we found Shwe Nadi Guesthouse just as many of its guests were leaving for the sunrise. It was basic, but we got a double room for $20 USD/night with a private bathroom, air conditioning, and okay wifi. There was also a pretty good free breakfast included! They rented bikes for 7000 kyat, but we were able to save 1000 kyat by walking across the road to a tent, which also had much nicer bikes with better batteries. You can book your stay at Shwe Nadi Guesthouse here!
What to Do
- Exploring – This one is a little obvious, as it’s almost certainly the reason you came to Bagan in the first place! After getting your 25,000 kyat 3-day Archeological Zone pass upon arrival, we highly recommend getting an e-bike and just driving around and getting lost finding temples. You can’t truly get lost, as the main archaeological zone is surrounded by highway on three sides. Our ideal day would be to:
- Wake up for sunrise for the magical balloon views and stick around for a bit to check out some temples. No one is around at 7am.
- Head back to Nyuang U for lunch and to escape the worst of the sun, maybe a quick nap!
- Head out an hour or so before sunset to check out some more temples before finding a climbing temple for sunset.
- Make it back in time to take advantage of the happy hour deals to celebrate a fine day of temple hunting (and also eat dinner!).
- Temples – We’ll help you out and list some of the temples you should definitely go out of your way to see! You should also check out our post on the best temples you can climb for sunset and sunrise.
- Ananda – This is by far the best preserved temple. The massive stark white temple is different than most you’ll see in the Archeological Zone. In the middle is a large golden buddha, and throughout you’ll find little golden buddha’s in cubbies in the walls.
Thatbyinnyu – This is the tallest temple in Bagan, but it was under construction when we were there. It was a cool black and white as opposed to the usual brown.
Shwegu Gyi Phaya – This temple was cool because it was raised up on a base, which was up on a hill. It provided a great view of Thatbyinnyu through the trees, and had massive original doors.
Gawdawpalin Phaya – This was another tall one, and really well preserved!
Schwezigon Pagoda – This was within walking distance of Nyaung U. It was a large golden pagoda, with a walled complex around it that contained smaller artifacts and murals. There is a lot of souvenirs here, but they were pretty overpriced. If you’re looking for random odds and ends, there’s a local market selling everything from shoes to children’s toys (basically the Bagan version of a mall!) south of the temple.
Climbing Temples – Stairways are being locked in most of the original climbing temples, but we have a list of some that are still open so you can catch the beautiful sunrise or sunset! Check out our post here.
- Mani Sithu Market – In between temple hunting, head to the local market! Lots of fruits, vegetables and meat, as well as souvenirs. Not for the faint of heart, you’ll definitely get hit with some weird smells. It’s more of a local market with a souvenir section than a souvenir market, but you’ll find everything that’s being peddled outside temples here for a fraction of the price. We ended up buying three bowls here for 2000 kyat less than a women was selling one bowl for outside of Schwezigon Pagoda. It’s open all day and shuts down around 4:00 pm.
Where to Eat
All of the restaurants listed can be found on or just off of the main strip in Nyaung U (Yarkinnthar Hotel Rd on google maps).
- Leo Restaurant – This place had the best curry we had in Bagan! The owner is incredibly nice. He speaks great english, and wants to help find the best meal for you. Lots of Myanmar dishes, as well as some western and asian dishes. Don’t forget to order a cheap cocktail, or a yummy milkshake!
- Weather Spoon – This place always seemed to be packed, especially for dinner. The food was delicious, and it had everything all kinds of different food, western, asian and local Myanmar dishes. We recommend the Myanmar curry, huge portions that also come with a yummy salad included!
- Aroma 2 – This Indian restaurant was quirky and delicious. It proudly advertises the fact that it has not wifi (talk to your friends!), and the funny owner is super nice and helpful. You get 7 sauces with every meal, and you use the banana leaf placed in front of you as your plate! It is a little on the expensive side, but it was so delicious it was worth it.
- Baganzay – This was a bar with a definite party vibe, a place to go for drinks with few food options. Happy hour was from 5:00 -7:00 pm with 2 for 1 cocktails (4500 kyat). It was the only place we found ciders (which Devon loves!), and it had a great selection of wine and draft beer as well.
- Novel Restaurant – This restaurant had a huge menu with tons of options, and was on the cheaper side. Other things that made this restaurant attractive were its large selection of desserts, draft beer, and cheap ice coffee!
- Black Bamboo – This restaurant was a little more expensive than the others, but we kept going back because it was such a nice chill place to hang out, and they had homemade ice cream! Cocktails were half price from 4-7 (half price here = normal price elsewhere). There’s also a balcony that’s kind of hidden, we chilled here before our night bus and had it all to ourselves while we watched the sunset.
- HTI Bar and Restaurant – This restaurant was a little off the main strip, but don’t let the small stretch of darkness deter you. It had a fun vibe, lots of drinks including wine by the glass and mixed drinks. Draft beer and cheap cocktails were 2 for 1 during happy hour. The menu was huge and food was a pretty normal price for Bagan.