a first-timer’s guide to Bagan, Myanmar

bagan myanmar

While I’m renovating this website, updating my NEW portfolio, and sorting through photo and blog archives, I’ve decided to post from the “missing files”.

First up: Bagan, Myanmar!

Bagan cannot be missed on a trip to Myanmar. Its ancient pagodas and stunning sunsets are well worth the overnight bus trip to the city. Bagan is not a UNESCO Heritage Site, which still baffles me, but apparently, this is due to the restoration techniques used to recover the pagodas. Despite its lack of UNESCO standing, visiting Bagan was a highlight of my travels through the country. If I were to go to Myanmar again, and I hope very much that I do someday, Bagan would be the place I made sure I revisited.

You can read my best tips for those planning a trip to Myanmar here.


read on for a guide to the ancient city


guide to bagan in myanmar

THE LANGUAGE

The people of Myanmar speak Burmese. 

CURRENCY

Myanmar uses kyat as a means of currency. ATMs exist throughout the country, but power outages are common and there are many a horror story of people losing their banking cards to scam machines or machines that lose power. It’s also vital you bring only the most perfectly crisp notes to Myanmar for exchange. Notes with tears, folds, or creases will not be accepted and you’ll be in a bind!

guide to bagan

HOW TO GET THERE

TAKE THE OVERNIGHT BUS. TRUST ME.

While traveling around Myanmar, I was absolutely impressed by the luxury night bus. Compared to the sleeper train in Thailand and night buses I had endured in other parts of Southeast Asia, the overnight buses of Myanmar truly wow-ed me. I road the night bus from Inle Lake to Bagan, which meant the ride was a bit twisty and bumpy, but overall I would do it again.

If you take my advice and jump on the bus, make sure you have booked your accommodation in advance and that you have let them know you will be arriving by overnight bus. Hotels and guesthouses are very used to backpackers arriving in the wee hours of the morning for check-in, but its more courteous {and a safer bet} if you let them know when you’re estimated to arrive.

By the time you get to your accommodation and check yourself in, you will have just enough time to grab some of the famous Burmese tea, maybe nibble down some breakfast, and walk or taxi to a temple for sunrise. Trust me, no matter how exhausted you might be, you’ll want to catch every sunrise and sunset in Bagan.

NOTE: You will have to pay USD $20 per person to enter the Bagan region. This is required and there is no legal way around it. While this is steep, it’s common traveling through Myanmar. For instance, you are required to pay nearly USD $12 per person to enter the Inle Lake area.

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WHERE TO STAY

Bagan accommodation prices vary based on where within Bagan you want to be located. The Nyaung U is the cheapest area to stay, New Bagan is more mid-range, and Old Bagan is the most expensive having mainly hotels. Nyuang U spots range from $10-20 per person, so that’s where we based ourselves. USD $10 per person is about standard for Bagan accommodation in this area.

If you are looking for a very affordable, private room with air-conditioning and complimentary breakfast, then I suggest staying at the Shwe Nadi Guest House. Rooms start at USD$16 a night, meaning $8 per person if you have a travel partner. The guest house is located near a variety of restaurants {all of which are among the top recommended by TripAdvisor}, a night market, and many pagodas. The guest house also offers affordable E-Bike rentals {with helmets} and free WiFi {though extremely slow}. A side note: the showers and bathroom are located outside of the guest house in a separate building in the guesthouse complex. 

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WHERE TO EAT + WHAT TO TRY

For inexpensive Asian/Burmese/Thai food, try Leo Restaurant. I had the vegetarian spring rolls {with a side of all the water in the world, beacause holy hot weather} and left full and happy.

La Pizza is a delicious splurge for those wanting the comforts of Western food. La Pizza isn’t entirely budget friendly, but I can tell you firsthand it is indeed true Western pizza.

Bibo is another inexpensive option, though the food is nothing to write home about and Leo has nicer food for the same price. 

guide to bagan myanmar
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best way to get around bagan

The best decision we made in Bagan was renting an E-Bike. Electronic bikes are similar to motorbikes, though they lack almost any power or speed. In the heat and dust of Bagan, the last thing I'd suggest is pedal biking around. Pagodas are spread out across the ancient city and have I mentioned it's incredibly hot?! Because it is. The hottest place I think I've ever been. So...rent an E-Bike, k? 

Once you have your E-bike, the best way to map out the city on your E-bike is to download the Maps.Me app. If you're traveling around Asia and haven't downloaded the app already, you're doing life wrong.  Downloading the app, which conveniently works offline, will allow you to find prime pagodas for sunset and easily navigate around the many, many sacred sites.

NOTE: It is now illegal for tourists to climb the pagodas for safety and cultural preservation reasons, but at the time of my visit in September, 2017, this was not the case.

guide to bagan myanmar
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guide to bagan

things to do

Pagodas, pagodas, pagodas! You'll want to catch the sunset in the evening for seriously breathtaking views. 

You can ride a hot air balloon, but it will cost you {rides will start at around $300 per person}. Note that these rides don't operate during low season {May-September}. 

Some of my most cherished memories from Myanmar were moments spent in the drylands of Bagan. My visit to the city gave me a glimpse at how special the country truly is. My overall appreciation of the country quadrupled after visiting Bagan and learning about the history of the region.


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