What to Do in Bagan
The Yangon to Bagan bus, if it’s the overnight bus, isn’t supposed to arrive until about 6am, in Bagan. And I assumed they’d be late on that time but actually a lot of busses in Myanmar arrive early and we got in at about 4am.
When I first tried to book the bus in Yangon I was told at my hostel that I couldn’t go for another 3 days as the busses were fully booked. There are A LOT of bus companies that go to Bagan. What they actually should have said is that their but companies were booked up. Others weren’t. I ended up managing to book my own VIP night bus for that vary same evening from Bagan just by walking to the football stadium by the railway where lots of different bus companies sell tickets for that route.
I then almost missed the bus as the taxi driver they send they would send me never showed up but I got there just in time in the end (make sure you ask which bus terminal you’re going from in case you end up having to hop in another cab as there are a lot of them. Luckily my cabbie guessed the right one).
The bus drops you at a terminal just outside of Bagan and as you go into Bagan you all have to pay an entrance fee. That’s legit, you’re not being ripped off.
Since it’s an important archaeological zone in Myanmar they charge an entrance fee to the area. You’re told to keep your ticket with you in case anyone were ever to ask to see it, but no one did of me or anyone else I met.
There’s only one hostel in the town (that I’d booked a room in for the next night) so I shared a cab there with some other people from the bus.
The lady at the hostel would not budge on ANY form of early check in (we weren’t expecting her to let us in at 4am but 10am seemed reasonable enough to try for).
A few of us decided, since we couldn’t sleep anyway, we might as well go to one of the temples that’s know for being really great for sunrise.
Exploring the Temples in Bagan Old Town
We hired electronic scooters from the shop opposite our hostel which didn’t seem like the best plan at the time given I’d never driven a scooter before and, although I’d slept well on the bus, was feeling somewhat out of it from the early morning but I genuinely don’t know how you would get around there without one and it would be a long way on a push bike. Plus there’s hardly any traffic so at least it’s only really you you’re putting at risk!
We got to the temple early which is advisable as it gets really busy so if you want a good view without having to look over 30 people’s heads do the same.
After that we all drove off to go explore, and literally you could get lost for days turning down all the little roads to see the different temples. There are so many great pagodas in Bagan and they’re incredible. I lasted till about lunchtime going round and exploring but was a bit too tired after that.
If you can afford it, booking to a do a hot air balloon ride over the temples is an incredible experience that friends of mine have done. I was a bit too much of a broke backpacker to do it at the time though, unfortunately.
Since I’d actually seen a lot of the temples from my 6 hours of driving round that morning, and didn’t have a lot of time in Myanmar I tried to book a bus out for that evening to go to Inle Lake (I hadn’t planned this but when asking around on where to go next this was by far the most recommended place by other travelers). The bus was fully booked for that evening and the next though so instead I had to opt for a non-VIP day time bus the next morning.
I spent the rest of the day asleep then went back to the temples for sunset with some of the people from my hostel.
And thank god I decided to go with others. I’d noticed earlier that the battery on my bike was starting to run low but I thought it would be enough to get me to the last temple and back but it wasn’t.
On the way home to our hostel the power suddenly died just as I was going up hill. The bikes have peddles too so I attempted to start peddling the bike like a push bike up the hill (they are a lot heavier than push bikes though so that’s no easy task). As I was panting and sweating my way up the hill one of my tyres then blew out. Luckily I’d mentioned to the friends I was with that my bike was low on battery so although they’d gone on ahead one of them noticed I was no longer behind and swung back round to come find me.
I had thankfully decided to get a SIM card whilst in Myanmar, which was pretty useful for Google Maps and also when having to call hostels if going to be late or the like. It really came into its own here meaning I could call the bike rental shop and ask them to come help.
Five minutes later two children who could have been no more than five and eight years old appeared with another bike ready to fix mine. They told me to take their bike as they went about fixing mine.
I tired to explain that there was no battery so they would be stuck too but they said it was fine and insisted I went on my way. The bike rental place didn’t charge me any extra for the repair, just accepted it like part of the usual course.
Where to Stay in Bagan
I stayed at Ostello Bello Bagan which is a lovely hostel (and was the only hostel in Bagan when I was there). It’s expensive though. It’s the same price I’d usually expect to pay for a hotel for a night ($23 USD) but in that area it’s cheaper than the hotels and since there aren’t really any other options, if you want to go there you don’t really have a choice!
How Long to Stay in Bagan
Technically you could arrive early morning, see the temples and leave later that day. But that would require booking a bus out again in advance. If you can spare the time I’d suggest spending the night anyway. You’ll have some sleep to catch up on!
Getting from Bagan to Inle Lake (Nyaung Shwe)
The actual area you need to stay in, and get the bus to, for Inle Lake is called Nyaung Shwe.
I took the day time bus, as I mentioned before, which was much less comfortable than the night time ones and a really sweaty experience. The bus companies pick you up from your accommodation and take you to where the busses depart from.
I’d been warned in the next location that you’d want to buddy up with a few people to go on the boat rides with so instead of sticking my head in my book, as I usually spend most journeys, I made an effort to strike up conversation with the others going the same direction as me too . One of the other travelers was a cool Irish guy who hadn’t booked any accommodation for Nyaung Shwe yet so he decided to check out my place when we arrived and stayed there too. We spent the next two days doing everything together and I think it would have been a lonely experience if we hadn’t teamed up as it didn’t seem like the easiest of towns to meet people in.
One night we went to one of the restaurants Lonely Planet recommends for budget but great eats. As always that was where all the backpackers were therefore congregated. If you find yourself in Nyaung Shwe alone and there aren’t any hostels by the time you go there to make it easier to meet people definitely have a look for the Lonely Planet recommended restaurants to try to meet some others.