Bagan and Inle Lake are two of the most highly recommended destinations to visit in Myanmar. There are many options to choose from when traveling between the two. Flights will save you travel time but will cost you extra money. The bus ride is long. However, it gives you the chance to see more of the countryside and the trip is quite scenic. On top of that, it is budget friendly. There is no direct train that goes between Bagan and Inle Lake. If you really want to experience train travel in Myanmar there are some options to do so listed below.
Bagan Entrance Fee
All travellers to Bagan must pay a Bagan Archaeological Zone entrance fee. It costs MMK25,000 and can be paid at the airport if you are arriving by plane. You can pay it at the checkpoint into Bagan, too, if you arrive by bus.
Flights from Inle Lake to Bagan
The fastest way to get to Bagan from Inle Lake is by air. It will cost you more than the bus but provides more comfort and convenience.
A flight to Bagan will set you back USD70-110 one-way. The flight itself will take about an hour. You also need to factor in extra time to get to the airport. The airport in Inle Lake is located in the town of Heho – a 45-minute drive away from Nyaungshwe (where most hotels are located).
Flights to Bagan leave at a variety of times during the day. There are six companies to choose from. Some flights go via Mandalay which will add extra time onto your trip, e.g. a Heho to Mandalay flight takes 35 minutes in media and a Mandalay–Nyaung U flight is one hour. Throw in at least 30 minutes for a layover and you then will need no less than two hours to get to Bagan. If you are in a hurry – or just are not a great fan of taking-off and landing more times than necessary, – make sure to check that you are getting a direct flight. Both Air KBZ and Yangon Airlines have direct flights daily.
Tip Try to get a window seat. On a clear day, the views of the temples while landing in Bagan are spectacular.
Flights land in Bagan at Nyaung-U airport. Time and cost to get from the airport is dependent on which area of Bagan you are staying in. To Old and New Bagan, it is a 15-20 minute taxi ride and will cost you MMK7000-10000.
Another popular area to stay in Bagan is Nyaung-U. It is closer to the airport and should only cost MMK5000-7000 to get to your hotel. Some hotels will offer free airport pick-up or pick-up for a discounted price. Make sure to ask your hotel.
Note: You will need to buy the Bagan Archaeological Zone pass when leaving the airport. It costs K25,000 or around USD20.
From Inle Lake to Bagan by bus
The bus ride to Bagan is long-8 hours. If you are okay with a long trip, the scenery is pleasant. So, it’s a good way to see more of the country. If you are pressed for time and have a bit more money, flights are a better option.
Traveling by bus from Inle Lake to Bagan is a popular route taken by travellers. As such, there are a lot of bus companies to choose from. The most basic buses are around MMK8000-11000. VIP buses are a step up in comfort. They have more legroom, A/C and oftentimes a meal. These buses cost closer to USD20.
It is easiest to buy tickets directly from the bus companies or a travel agent. There are many of these located around Nyaungshwe. Just look for a shop with a poster of a bus on the outside. Your hotel may also be able to purchase bus tickets for you.
In order to secure your spot on the bus, make sure to book at least one day in advance. Most bus companies provide the option to get picked-up from your hotel and have one bus that leaves in the morning and one that leaves in the evening.
Note: Make sure to bring warm clothes if you are travelling on the night bus. The A/C on the bus can be bone chilling. Most buses will stop at least once at a rest stop where you can pick up snacks like fruits and nuts and use the bathroom.
Most buses arrive in Bagan at the new bus station. It is 7km from Nyaung-U, where many hotels are located. Taxi drivers will be waiting at the bus station and will ask for very high prices to get to your hotel (MMK5000-10000 per person), so be prepared to bargain. It may be better to arrange transport through your hotel which should cost around MMK5000 for the entire taxi regardless of how many people are taking it. Expect to pay a bit more for your taxi if your hotel is located in New or Old Bagan. These areas of town are a bit further away than Nyaung-U.
From Bagan to Inle Lake by train
It is not possible to get a direct train from Inle Lake to Bagan. One option is to do part of the route by train from Inle Lake to Kalaw. This three-hour-trip passes through some stunning mountain scenery. From Kalaw, you can get a bus onto Bagan which need 7.5 hours to get to the destination.
If you want to avoid taking buses and flights altogether you should consider rerouting your trip from Inle Lake to Mandalay and then onto Bagan (with options for stops in between). The train is a considerably slower way to travel but is a good way to see the countryside and mingle with the friendly Myanmar people.
Stopovers worth considering on the way from Inle Lake to Bagan
From Inle Lake to Bagan via Meiktila
A good way to break up the trip from Inle Lake to Bagan is to stop in Meiktila. It is about halfway in between the two destinations. The town doesn’t have any big tourist attractions but it is located beside a lake where you can relax and view some impressive sunrises and sunsets.
From Inle Lake to Bagan via Kalaw
Another option is to stop in Kalaw, which can be done by taking a slow-going three-hour train ride through the mountains. Once in Kalaw, there are lots of options for trekking around the countryside and experiencing local culture. Buses from Kalaw to Bagan leave daily and are 7.5 hours.
If you are the adventurous type and want to challenge yourself physically you could arrange a three-day hike from Inle Lake to Kalaw. Keep in mind, most people do the trek going the other direction, from Kalaw to Inle Lake. This is because of the lower prices and it’s less strenuous as the journey generally heads downhill towards the lake.
Onward travel from Bagan
After Bagan and Inle Lake, the other two popular destinations you may want to see are Yangon and Mandalay.
Travelling south to Yangon can be done by train, plane or bus. It is a long journey so the recommended options are the sleeper train or a flight. Both leave Bagan daily. If you are traveling by bus it is a good idea to break up the trip with a stopover at Bago to make a detour to the Golden Mount.
To get to Mandalay from Bagan is quite straight-forward. There are direct planes, trains, and buses that leave daily. Trains are the slowest way to get there. It will take about 7-8 hours. Buses take 4-5 hours and flights take less than an hour.
Taking a boat to get to Mandalay is an experience all on its own. The 12-hour-trip is a long one, but not uncomfortable because you have room to stretch out and walk around the boat. Bring a book or something to entertain yourself as some parts of the river are more interesting than others. Tourist boats leave daily and cost USD30-50.