Where to sleep in Bagan:
To vist Bagan you have three option to stay: Old Bagan, where are located the most posh accommodation, New Bagan, a grid of organized quiet alleys, with a good choice of homestays and guesthouses… or Nyaung-U for budget option.
So Nyaung-U was the choice: an uninteresting village along the road, more and more focus in the tourism business. The local food market (mornings) still has the pulsation of the Burmese lifestyle but slowly is changing to tourist-oriented products, like souvenirs handicrafts and antiques (until 4 pm). Still deserve a visit.
To sleep they’re hundreds of options in Nyaung-U. The places listed in booking websites are usually more expensive, but still you can get a better rate if you go directly to the counter instead of booking on-line. No stress, you’ll find a place to sleep!!!
From my experience you can’t find a double room cheaper than 20 USD (around 27.000 Kyats). February 2016. However, the breakfast is included and the wi-fi is free.
The choice was for the Large Golden Pot. The rooms are ok, the place is quiet, slow wi-fi, reasonable breakfast (fruit, eggs, toast, tea, coffee, butter and jam)… but a push and unpleasant manager, always trying to push you to rent the e-bike there (you can find cheaper outside) and the bus tickets (all have the same price). When he realized that we didn’t get anything from him he become grumpy and gave us a bad rate when we pay in kyats. https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g303663-d554718-r463088080-Large_Golden_Pot-Nyaung_U_Mandalay_Region.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT
Where to eat in Bagan:
Nyanung-U if the less charming option, but has all the facilities that you may need, like banks, ATM, motorbike and bicycle rent, reserve of bus tickets, and many food option, from the more touristic restaurant with a choice of Myanmar and Western food, as a lot of local restaurants and tea-shops.
Also in Nyanung-U you can find street-food, as mohinga. Mohinga even if you ask without pork or chicken is not guarantee that is totally vegetarian, as the soup is not always made from a vegetable stock, and can also be made from fish.
It´s also easy to find vegetarian options, in local restaurants, like fried rice and fried-noodles. But along the road from Nyanung-U to Old Bagan, you’ll find on the left side of the road a nice vegetarian restaurant with Myanmar food… and Myanmar prices: Moe Pyae San. When you pass by the sign indicated “art gallery” will probably pop up to your eyes, but this place is basically a family style restaurant.
The menu is dominated by salads (tea leaf salads, or laphet thoke) and rice (the coconut rice is very good). Despite the sign that advertise “vegetarian restaurant” at Moe Pyae San you can also find Myanmar food, a set of rice, curry, soup, steam lentil, tea leaf pickle and some raw vegetables. This meal cost around 1200 Kyats… around 0.80 euros.
Along the road from Nyanung-U to Old Bagan there are many stalls selling food, much of them close around 4 pm. But they are a good and cheap option for local food.
Moving around Bagan:
Bagan is big, the temples are spread, the weather is hot and dry and many roads are sandy. So… e-bikes are the answer! A new fashion that quickly conquered Bagan and the tourists, compared with what I found in 2014, making bicycles a less option popular option.
I like to cycle and it’s a very smooth way to visit the Bagan Archaeological Area. But to be honest the e-bikes are a better option, not just saving you from some effort, but because allow you to go further, escaping from the most beaten track, and enjoy to get lost in the labyrinth of roads of Bagan.
An e-bike cost 7.000 kyats, a day, but if you rent it just for the “sunset” i.e. from 4 pm you pay 5.000 kyats.
Note: you can rent a e-bike, for two person!!!! Some places insist that is just one for each person, I got one for 7000 kyats a da day for two person, at Treasure Queen, nice and friendly family. The shop is open since 5.30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and you should drop the e-bike there to recharge during the evening.
Bagan Archaeological Area Ticket:
The ticket cost 25.000 Kyats. (February 2016)
No matter how you arrive to Bagan you cannot avoid paying the ticket; all the bus or taxi drivers will stop at the counter. But if you want to take your chance you can try to skip the ticket counter: you can walk from the Bus Terminal or from the Train Station on the way to Nyanung-U, along the main road. When you walk about 850 meters you’ll nee to turn to the first road on your right. Then keep walking more-or-less parallel to the main road for 2.5 km, crossing a residential area. At a T-junction, turn left to get back to main road. From here you have 2 km more until reach Nyanung-U.
Is a loooong walk but if you are really in a tight budget you can give a try. This will work better if you arrive early morning, before the sunrise or during the evening (choose the “on foot” option of maps.me).
The guesthouses never ask for your ticket, and there is not a gate or nothing where you have to show your ticket. In 3 days of visiting Bagan Archaeological Area, only once I need to show the ticket and was on a Sunday (the busiest day in Bagan) and at the Ananda Temple, one of the most popular places.
How long to stay in Bagan?
For me, 3 days was perfect to visit the area. You have several changes to see the sunrise and the sunset from different perspectives, and time enough to look for a quiet place to see the sunset.
In just one day you’ll be rushing, and end up full of Buddha images and stone carving, mixing all the names and places. With a longer stay you can visit Bagan in the morning, and at the end of the afternoon, when the temperatures and cooler and the light is better.
How to go from the bus terminal to Bagan:
The bus terminal that serves Bagan is located far from the Archaeological Area, as also the Train Station, located about 5.6 km from Nyanung-U.
The taxis are organized and there is a sign in the bus terminal with the price to the different places to stay: Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyanung-U. The price is for person!!! Quite expensive for such a short ride. It’s a distance that can me made of foot if your destination is Nyanung-U, if you arrive early morning or evening, as the road doesn’t have much shade.
But the best is to leave the bus terminal on foot, and walk on the direction of the town. There you can try to hitchhike or take one of the shared-taxi that regularly pass by and that charge 1.000 kyats per person. The shared-taxis are a regular public transportation in Myanmar, usually a small truck that transports people on the back of the vehicle.
How to go from Bagan to Shan State:
There are many options to leave Bagan by bus.
My next stop was Shan State, so I took a bus to Mandalay, and from there there’s another bus to Kyaukme. You can get the tickets at the guesthouses, travel agents or in one of the many shops the rent bikes. The prices are more or less the same.
Is also possible to take a direct bus to Hsipaw, which pass by Kyaukme.
Bus from Nyanung-U to Mandalay: 9.000 Kyats, departure at 5.30 am, and they pic you at your guesthouse. Maybe you can save some money if you go directly to the bus terminal. In Mandalay the bus can drop you at Chan Mya Shwe Pyi or at Pyi Gyi Myat Shin. It was a small bus, new and with a/c but more adjust to urban rides that to bumpy roads.