How to get from yangon to bagan
You find the old train station, which isn’t too far away from Bogyoke Market. Across from it are numerous, interchangeable, outlets for bus tickets. As of February 2013, there are 3 buses daily, one at 9 am (14000 kyat), one at 3pm (14000 kyat), and one at 7 pm (15000 kyat). The later one is a bit costlier, but as the designated night bus will save you one night’s accommodation.
For an additional 1000 kyat, you can secure a ride in a pickup to the actual bus station*. It’s over an hour away, and a taxi cost 6000+ kyat, so this is really quite a good deal. In addition, it’s a very interactive way to travel; in addition to waving and smiling and calling out “hello” or “mingalabar” to passing motorists, you will see monks and pregnant ladies crossing 10 lanes of traffic, small men pushing a hundred kilo bags of rice on overladen bikes, cheeky youths helping people onto buses, then jumping out and sliding a brake under the bus’s front tire while it idles, and markets selling fruits you might not have suspected even existed.
When you arrive at the bus station*, the driver should point you in the right direction. Or someone from the bus will meet you, help you carry your bag(s). At no point do you have that all too often feeling of not having any idea what to do. Store your big bags under the bus and collect the luggage chit. If you haven’t already, transfer some warm clothes to your bus bag. Night buses are, almost invariably, rather chilly. Also rather noisy and if you have long legs the seat in front of you might seriously cramp your style. In other words, don’t expect to get much sleep on a night bus—you are mortgaging some serious nap time from the following day.
*Not an actual bus station at all. More a dusty, loosely assembled bus town with lots of shops, snack-sellers, and restaurants.
You should have arrived an hour before your bus, give or take traffic. Have a beer, fill up on snacks, walk around (though there’s not much to see.) If you’re good at hacky sack, consider joining some locals for a game of chinlon. There’s a lounge to sit and read, with squatters and flush toilets and jugs of (none too cold) water.
Before too long you’ll be on the bus. It’s not the most spacious, but if you’re lucky there is a plug-in available next to the window seat, a bottle of water waiting for you in the seat compartment, and a little pillow and blanket. Big screens will drop down and play movies, but if your mastery of the Myanmar language isn’t up to snuff, it might be best to read (if choosing this option, bring a torch or headlamp), listen to your mp3 player, or write a travel article in your notebook.
The bus will stop at least twice during the night, for long rest stops. At the first one, they will hand you a little packet with a cool towel, a toothbrush, and a mini-toothpaste. Make sure you take a good look at your bus before you wander off to use the toilet or buy more water, as there will be several other very similar vehicles next to it.
Whatever time you land in Bagan (it was about 5:15 am for us), it will be dark, with the overhead sky filled with stars, and the air refreshingly cool. Collect your bag (you still have your chit, don’t you?) and while you stand there disoriented and sleepy, a trishaw driver will approach you. “Cheap guesthouse. 25 dollar.* Good. Come, come.” If you ask how far away it is, he will sigh, like the mere effort of thinking how far away it is tires him out. “3k, come come cheap guesthouse.”
*That is good, now, sadly. Guesthouses in Myanmar are currently the most expensive in SE Asia. We ended up getting kind of a concrete bunker for 15 USD/night though, and it was choice.
It only costs 3 USD for the ride on the trishaw, with your pack on the back. However, your 17k in luggage and 100k in self probably weigh triple what the poor trishaw driver weighs. He will struggle mightily, until you wonder if it’s worth paying someone 3 dollars to give them a ride. Luckily, the oh so distant 3 kilometers turn out to be more like 300 meters and you arrive at a guesthouse quickly. Here you agree on a room, though none are available yet.
You pay off the trishaw drivers, but now they ask for 3000 kyat each, about 60 cents more than 3 dollars. (Embarrassingly, travelers really do keep track of things like overpaying 60 cents, too.) This is when the horse-and-buggy driver appears and makes a suggestion.
“Come see sunrise. Look at Balloons. Come back and room ready.” Well, why not? You’re awake, dawn isn’t too far away, and it’s only 4000 kyat (4.8 USD). Well, the horse is more of a pony, and again it struggles to carry you and your day bags. The temple is only 2k away, and it would have been easy to walk to. Still, the trip was worth it.
And now you’re in Bagan, just in time for the ball0ons at sunrise.