(pronounced as ming-ga-la-ba) “Hello” in Burmese.
Ever wonder how it feels like seeing a beautiful Sunset while overlooking 1,000 year-old ancient temples, stupas and pagodas within reach? Then you have to pack your bags and head straight to the underrated Ancient City of Bagan in Myanmar!
Landlocked between India (on the left), China (on the right) and Thailand (below), Myanmar or as it was formerly called Burma, is an astonishing country rich in culture and Buddhist relics that date back more than a millenia. Built around mid-9th century, the ancient city boasts around 2,200 temples, stupas and pagodas that still exists today scattered all over the Bagan Archaeological Zone.
What’s more interesting in this part of our trip is the memorable experience of taking a long-day flight that needs to do 2 plane changes and 3 stop-overs that felt like a bus without leaving the airplane!
Getting to Bagan can be done by bus, boat, train, and plane from either Yangon and Mandalay. Although the most popular mode for the locals and backpackers were by bus and since our time is limited, we prefer to book our flight from Bangkok instead which was our base station for the duration of our Indochina trip.
Unfortunately, there is no direct flight from Bangkok to Bagan, Myanmar. Instead, after countless of researching for the cheapest flight possible we ended up with Myanmar Airlines, where we were able to book a connecting flight from Bangkok to Yangon, Myanmar, then from Yangon to Heho, Mandalay and finally to Nyaung-U with in-flight meals and 30 kilos baggage allowance per person. We departed from Bangkok International Airport at 11 AM and was able to reach Nyaung-U domestic airport at 6:20 PM because of 3 stop-overs from Yangon International Airport, Heho Airport, and Mandalay International Airport. Overall, the flight was 7 hours and 20 minutes overall, including transit time between flights.
Similar to other ASEAN countries, Philippine passport holders can enjoy 14 days of stay in Myanmar visa-free!
Since our last destination is Nyaung-U where Bagan is located, we were only cleared once for immigration after we arrived at Yangon International Airport (RGN). There was actually a confusion when it comes to our luggage because we were the only passengers with that route on that day. Because we need to change planes for our domestic flight, we were told to go to the next terminal just outside RGN together with our bags.
Even if Myanmar (GMT +6:30) is part of Indochina, it is 1 hour and 30 minutes behind Manila Time (GMT +8).
Myanmar’s currency is called the Burmese Kyat (MMK or Ks) but just like its neighboring countries, USD dollars are also widely accepted here. Exchanging Philippine Peso to Burmese Kyat is not recommended because of the low rate. Instead, it is advisable to exchange your US dollars to Burmese Kyat and use the Kyat when transacting locally like buying food and souvenirs, especially in Bagan. Also, be sure to do your money exchange outside of the airport so you can get a much better and competitive rate.
$1 = 1,368 Myanmar Kyat
Php 1 = 25.64 Myanmar Kyat
Burmese is the official language in Myanmar although English is also being used to communicate with tourists.
DRESS CODE AND BEHAVIOR
Since Buddhism is the dominant religion in Myanmar, it is normal to see locals wear traditional clothing called longyi for men, a patterned fabric wrapped around the waist similar to sarong especially in rural areas such as in Bagan. Eventhough tourists are not required to wear them, it is highly advisable to wear decent clothing that covers the shoulders and knees, especially when entering religious areas such as Temples and Pagodas.
Be also mindful that footwear is strictly prohibited inside religious grounds, even as far as the temple gate or courtyard, just as long as it is within the Temple and Pagoda premises. This was something that we weren’t informed before our temple hopping tours so we were literally suprised to go barefoot whenever we enter holy grounds.
In big cities such as Yangon and Mandalay, connectivity is not an issue since sim card packs can be bought in airports and stores. Unfortunately, the internet signal is slow in Bagan so it is not advisable to buy 4G LTE sim cards or have your own wifi with you. Instead, check with your hotel for a better internet connection that you can use.
Since Bagan is in the rural part of Myanmar, hotels and inns are limited. What makes it more difficult is the fact that Bagan is divided into two main areas: Old Bagan and New Bagan. Finding the best possible accommodation that is near the airport and the famous temples and pagodas is tricky since they are spread across the city.
For our 3 nights stay, we booked at Sky View Hotel which is 10 minutes from Nyaung-U Airport located at N. 69 Shwe Knat Kaw Street, Zay Ya Waddy Quarter in Nyaung-U with rave reviews from Tripadvisor.
Just as expected, the hotel offers basic facilities with no swimming pool and elevator since it’s only 3 floors high although there was a nice rooftop where the in-house restaurant is located. The rooftop boasts a 360-degree view of New Bagan, overlooking temples and pagodas nearby. The room and bathroom that we booked were spacious. The bedsheets were also clean and the staffs are polite and attentive to our needs. They also have a routinary mosquito spraying time around 6 PM whether you’re inside the room to keep the place insect free. The only downside is the food that they have in their hotel which is very, very basic because it has few options and it tastes bland. There was also a point where the utensils that we were using smelled fishy, which was a letdown. But overall it’s definitely a good option for its price!
If you’re a vegan and you like less spicy curry, then you’d definitely dig Burmese food. The local dishes were a fusion of Thai and Indian, but the taste comes quite bland for us although that may just be our take. Anyway, other than the in-house hotel restaurants, there are also a few restaurants that look like carinderias in Old and New Bagan that offer dishes at an affordable rate. Typically, one main dish with rice costs around 4,500 Kyat ($2.88 or Php 155) and one glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice costs around 2,000 Kyat ($1.20 or Php 69).
When we first arrived at Bagan, we didn’t really think that it’s a city, but only a small town because of the simplicity of its surroundings. It’s actually normal to see herds of cows everywhere other than the scattered temples and pagodas. Since it’s quite hard to reach as compared to Mandalay, it is also not crowded with tourists so most of the time you have the whole place to yourselves. Even if there are no CCTVs in the streets and the Police Station located only in New Bagan, the place is too serene and very welcoming for people to stroll around even at night. Try to be careful not to get lost because the place is huge if you plan to just walk or when you encounter wild animals such as snakes.
- Depart from BKK Suvarnabhumi Airport via Myanmar Airlines
- Arrival at Yangon International Airport
- Connecting Flight from Yangon International Airport to Nyaung-U Domestic Airport
- We bought our Bagan Archaeological Pass that is good for 5 days at the Nyaung-U airport for Php 850 ($15 or 25,000 Kyat) each before heading to the hotel
- Check-in at Sky View Hotel for Deluxe Double Room for 2pax (Php 3,803.07 or $70 or 109,100 Kyat) all-in for 4D/3N including taxes and buffet breakfast. Airport transfer costs 5,000 Kyat ($3.15 or Php 170) per way
- Bagan Cultural Full Day Tour
- We booked our tour online through Klook for a private car for Php 3,592 ($73.24 or 103,857 Kyat) inclusive of English speaking tour guide. Our tour guide, Mr. Khant of LM Travel together with the driver, Mr. Moon arrived on time. They were both polite, attentive and informative about the important historical sites of Ancient Bagan. Since we finished early, we were also able to go to other non-touristy sites other than what we have on the list.
- Shwezigon Pagoda
- Gubyaukgyi Temple and Myazedi Pagoda
- Htilominlo Temple
- Dhammayangyi Temple
- Thatbyinnyu Temple
- Nanpaya Temple
- Ananda Temple
- Nara Thihapatae Hpaya
- Manuha Temple
- Shwesandaw Pagoda
- Gawdawpalin Temple
- We had lunch at Treasure Restaurant which serves authentic Burmese food. Unfortunately, even if the location has fantastic views of pagodas (literally beside the restaurant) and the food was really affordable, the dishes served were a bit bland for our taste.
- Min Nan Thu Village. We visited the local village located inside Old Bagan to see their daily activities such as weaving, handicraft and the use of thanaka tree bark for make-up and sunscreen which is common for the locals
- Sunset hill site viewing at Ko Mauk Lake
Min Nan Thu Village
Nara Thihapatae Hpaya
Sunset Viewing Site at Ko Mauk Lake
- Chill day at the Hotel to explore the facilities
- DIY travel around the nearby areas using Tuk-tuk for 6,000 Kyat ($3.84 or Php 207) roundtrip
- Dinner at Sanon Training Restaurant located at Pyu Saw Hti Street next to Nyaung U Thante Hotel which serves a variety of delicious authentic gourmet-style Burmese dishes. This place is a must-try! What’s more interesting is their charitable advocacy to help fund the education of the local children of Bagan from its earnings!
- Depart Nyaung-U Airport (3 stopovers again) to Yangon International Airport and back to Bangkok International Airport which was our base station
Overall expenses for 4D/3N Bagan, Myanmar Tour (excluding airfare and souvenirs)
- Hotel: Php 3,803.07
- Airport Transfer two-way: Php 340
- Bagan Archaeological Zone Pass for 2pax: Php 1,700
- Private Car with Tour Guide: Php 3,938
- Tuktuk Roundtrip: Php 207
- Food: Php 2,255
OVERALL TOTAL for TWO PAX : Php 12,243.07 (US $227 ~)
Note: The cost of souvenirs and airfare have been excluded in the overall expenses computation because of the seasonal rate and promo that we were able to get.
- A helpful list of Bagan temples and pagodas can be found here. The temples are scattered everywhere (literally), so DIY is doable unless you can ride an e-bike or better yet book an affordable tour guide who knows the shortcuts and the history of the temples for a much better understanding of the Ancient City.
- Majority of the affordable hotels and restaurants are located near the airport in Nyaung-U, while the expensive ones are located in Old Bagan, so be sure to plan ahead where you will be staying.
- If you plan to buy a Longyi for your souvenir, better buy it in the market and not from the Villages or at stalls located outside the temples because they usually sell it 3-4x its normal price! A good quality and standard cotton longyi is only around 5,000 Kyat ($3.20 or Php 172).
- Do not exchange your money in unauthorized stores especially in Bagan because you can get scammed. Instead, get your US dollars exchanged to Kyat in exchange centers administered by the banks located in New Bagan.
- Credit Cards are widely accepted in the other cities, but NOT in Bagan because we didn’t find a restaurant that accepts Mastercard or Visa for payment. They prefer to be paid in Kyats and not in USD especially the small restaurants (they only accept new dollar bills). But if you have no Kyats, your USD will be accepted but be mindful that you’ll receive your extra change in Kyats which would be of less value if you plan to travel to another country other than Myanmar.
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