Fly, take a train or travel by bus – all these options are worth considering if you need to get to Yangon from Bagan. Flying is obviously the fastest way to get to your destination and the most expensive one as low cost airlines have still to come to Burma. Though travelling by train takes almost twice as long as by bus, it still remains a good alternative to a bus. Rail journey in Burma is an experience in itself and if you have not experienced the country to the musical clickety-clack of the railway carriage wheels, why not do it right now? Train will let you enjoy the pictures of rural Burma in the early evening and in the morning and allow you to sleep the major part of your trip. Buses are a compromise between price, comfort and speed and in addition you are not limited to the only departure a day in this case.
From Bagan to Yangon by train
Bagan is connected to Yangon by a direct railway line which runs all way down southeast via Taungdwingyi and then makes a detour passing via Lewe to merge with Mandalay–Yangon line just below Pyinmana proceeding then straight south to Yangon. This deviation of the railroad from its straight route makes the railway journey between Bagan and Yangon longer than between Mandalay and Yangon. Train takes 17 hours to reach Yangon but with its current schedule – departing Bagan at 5pm and arriving to Yangon at 10.30am – the whole journey is not as tiring as it sounds.
Currently there is only one daily train between Bagan and Yangon (#62). During high season it has carriages of all classes which you can find in Burma: the cheapest hard seats in ordinary class; slightly more comfy second class seats, soft reclining upper class seats and the local luxury, berths in a sleeping car. Prices fluctuate significantly, from MMK5,500/USD4 for a hard seat if you buy it in person at the station to MMK80,000/USD60 for a berth in a sleeping car when purchasing in advance from outside of Burma. Out of high season period there are normally no sleeping carriages in this train unless they receive a substantial booking for berths in advance – in this case they do add the sleeper.
Sleeping cars are undoubtedly the most comfortable and enjoyable way to travel over such a long route, especially if you travel as a group of friends or a family and can get the whole compartment all for yourself. Otherwise consider upper class seats – they are less expensive than berths and more expensive than second class seats but a far way more comfortable than the latter.
Note There is no air-conditioning in carriages. Some have ceiling fans and others get their portion of fresh air from the open windows but generally it is not a problem even if travelling during the hottest months (April and May). It also pays to have some warm clothes at hand as it can get rather chilly at night.
To get to Bagan railway station which is actually located in Nyaung U, 3 km further south from the airport, take a private taxi (MMK8,000/USD8) or a shared taxi (MMK2,000 per seat).
Yangon Central Railway Station is located in Kun Chan Road, opposite the stadium and about 2.5 km southeast of Shwedagon Pagoda. There is a choice of mid-range accommodation options around the Pagoda. Kandawgyi Lake area, slightly to the east from the Shwedagon, offers more upscale hotels. For budget deals check streets around Sule Paya – just one km south of the Central station.
From Bagan to Yangon by bus
Bagan–Yangon route is served by buses leaving from the long-distance Highway bus station in Nyaung U, located close to the railway station, some 2.5 km past the airport. Expect to pay MMK5,000/USD5 for a private taxi to the bus station from Nyaung U and between MMK1,500 and MMK2,000 per seat in a shared taxi.
There are both morning and evening departures to Yangon, all taking about 9 hours to get to the destination. It is a good idea to choose one of the first buses (7am) if you want to leave in the morning in order to arrive to Yangon before dark and one of the last buses of the day (8pm) if you wish to travel by night and arrive at a reasonable hour in the morning and not in the small hours.
There are buses of different classes, from the cheapest regular ones to relatively comfy VIPs. Prices also fluctuate depending on the class and the company you travel with (from MMK15,000/USD11 to MMK20,000/USD15). In general, the ride is quite comfortable and not as bumpy as it used to be.
In Yangon, buses arrive to the Highway Bus Station, a good way out of the city, some 24 km northeast of the Central Railway station. You can get to the city from the Highway bus station by public bus. Look for bus #43 (MMK300). A taxi can cost anywhere between MMK6,000/USD5 and MMK10,000/USD8 depending on your negotiation skills.
Flights from Bagan to Yangon
The first thing to take a note of while travelling from Bagan to Yangon by plane is the seat. Yes! Take a window seat by all means and enjoy a scenic panorama of the Bagan temples from the bird’s eye view. Amazing it definitely is!
Flights in Burma in general are not cheap and Bagan–Yangon route is no exception: an air ticket of almost any airline sets you back from USD110 and up, but your travel time is reduced dramatically to one hour only.
Contrary to arrival, hotels in Bagan do not offer complimentary transfer to the airport, but they can organize the transfer at a bit better rate than you can find in the city (between MMK5,000 and MMK8,000 depending on your location). The airport is located 3 km south from Nyaung U centre and about 9 km east from both Old and New Bagan.
In Yangon, Yangon International airport lies 17 km north from the Central Railway Station. It is not served by public transport – in the sense that no bus or train comes right up to the terminal building, but you still can get to the city by bus or train though some walking or a short ride is necessary. Bus N51 goes from Sel Maing Kone bus stop to Suli Paya. The bus stop is about 2.5 km from the terminal building. A ride costs MMK200 or MMK300 only. The closest to the airport circular train station, Pa Ywet Seik Kone, is about 2 km far. The train costs MMK100 and brings you to the Central Railway station. The official taxi rate from the airport is MMK8,000/USD8.
Why go to Yangon
Till relatively recently Yangon has been the only gateway to the country for any international visitor. Now there are international flights to Mandalay and a number of border crossings with Thailand are open to foreigners, too. Yet the former capital of Myanmar, Yangon, remains a must-visit stop on every Burmese travel itinerary. A melting pot of cultures, Yangon experienced and absorbed British, Indian and Chinese influences. Their traces can be found in rich though dilapidating colonial architecture, leafy boulevards, busy markets and Burmese curries. One of the most exotic cities in South East Asia, Yangon conquers hearts with its colourful mix of golden pagodas, exotic garments of the locals and sincere smiles showing blood-red teeth busy with chewing betel nut. Though a couple of years ago a lot of restrictions concerning foreign tourists have been done away with and you will no longer get a compulsory Internet detox while visiting Yangon and the rest of the country, there are relatively few international visitors around. Visit now until it is too late!
Onward travel from Yangon
The former capital of the country and once the only gateway to Burma for foreigners, Yangon is connected by air with many regional capitals and major cities, including Bangkok in Thailand and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia with many other destinations easy reached by connecting flights via these two capitals.