One of the undeniable highlights to any trip to Burma, Bagan lies 620 km north of Yangon. No wonder that the route between Yangon and Bagan is well travelled. You can either fly or opt for an overland trip depending on your budget and overall preferences. Buses, trains and planes allow you to take your time, save a couple of bucks in your pocket and put up with a long journey and bumpy road or travel fast and part with some USD100+ and get closer to the mysterious temples of Bagan is just one hour. Whichever way you choose, it is always an adventure in Burma.
From Yangon to Bagan by train
A direct railway line links Yangon to Bagan. Departing from Yangon, it is the same line which heads straight north up to Mandalay, and Bagan-bound line branches off south of Pyinmana, turning southwest to Lewe and then northwest to Taungdwingyi and Kyaukpadaung before reaching Bagan Railway Station which is actually located 3 km south of Nyaung U. The railway route meandering through the countryside with occasional golden stupas dotting it here and there is quite scenic but also longer than the bus route. It takes 17 hours to get from Yangon to Bagan by train.
There is only one daily train #61 from Yangon to Bagan leaving at 4pm and reaching the train station at Nyaung U by 10am the next morning. The trains offer carriages of all classes available 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.
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.
Tip During low season train #61 offers no sleeping cars; your choice is restricted to different kinds of seats only.
Yangon Central Railway Station is located in Kun Chan Road, opposite the stadium.
Bagan Railway station lies 500 m south of the Highway bus station and about 3 km past the airport – a way from Nyaung U. Taxis are available for destinations within Nyaung U, New & Old Bagan at more or less the same price (MMK8,000/USD8). Inquire with your hotel if they provide free pick up from the train station – some of them do it for airport arrivals but you can always negotiate. Shared taxis normally ask MMK2,000 per seat for Nyaung-U. If prices offered by taxi drivers at the railway station look too high, just walk 150 m to the highway and get your ride at a cheaper rate.
From Yangon to Bagan by bus
There are several bus stations in Yangon, but the main one for Bagan-bound buses is Highway Bus Station, aka Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal. It is located well out of the city, 500 m east off Aung Mingalar Highway, between Sat Hmu Street and Sa Gaing Street; further 7 km northeast from Yangon International airport.
To get to the bus terminal, expect to pay MMK1,000 for a seat in a shared taxi or MMK6,000/USD5 for a whole vehicle.
Bus tickets can be purchased in the city from counters by the stadium, north of Yangon Central Railway Station. You will surely enjoy the process – normally nobody uses computer systems and when you need a ticket there are at least several people involved to discuss, to phone each other, to make a note in a notebook. But somehow it all functions quite ok – if you get your ticket, you will get a seat, too; do not worry.
There are several night buses from Yangon to Bagan leaving between 6pm and 9pm and one morning bus at 9am. They take about nine hours to get to Bagan, which is obviously much faster than trains do. But there are a couple of things to note before you take a bus to Bagan, though.
- It can get freezing cold inside buses. As in many other hot countries, the Burmese tend to use excessive air-conditioning in buses. Do have some warm clothes at hand as even if blankets are provided, they are usually not enough.
- Tickets sell quickly enough – book your ticket at least a couple of days in advance.
- There are different classes of buses – from the very spartan and cheapest regular buses (from MMK15,000/USD11) to more comfortable VIP coaches (MMK26,000/USD19). You are unlikely to be able to have a nap in a regular bus as wooden benches instead of normal seats are not a rare case.
- Buses usually make at least one stop en route for dinner. Expect locals to get out and eat with great appetite any time of night, be it midnight or small hours: meals are crucial!
Note that buses leaving Yangon in the evening arrive to Bagan early in the morning, between 3am and 5am. Try to buy a ticket for a bus leaving as late as possible to get to your destination at a more reasonable hour.
The new Highway bus station sits close to Bagan railway station, some 2.5 km past the airport. Shared taxis to Nyaung U are available for under MMK2,000, but you can as well walk 100m to the highway and flag down passing by transport. All the arriving buses are met by taxi drivers ‘Burma-style’ shouting out their prices and pushing you to get a ride with them. Prices offered tend to be ridiculously inflated. As in case with the airport and the railway station, your host can help to organize transfer at a better rate (about MMK5.000/USD5 per Nyaung U, a bit higher for New and Old Bagan).
Flights from Yangon to Bagan
A handful of airline companies offer direct daily flights between Yangon and Bagan. Airfare is far from being cheap: tickets cost from USD110 and up for a one-hour flight. In low season, you can grab promotion fares offered by some travel agents (Yangon-Bagan for about USD80). Flying saves you a cheap bumpy bus trip or a devastatingly long train journey though.
Tip Views of the Bagan temples from above during landing (or taking off naturally) are amazing. It is really a good idea to ask for a window seat.
In Yangon, Yangon International airport lies 17 km north from the Central Railway Station. It is not served by public transport – to get there you have to take a taxi (MMK8,000/USD8). You still can cover the major part of the distance between the city and the airport by public bus – look for any bus heading to Sel Maing Kone or Maha Si (ask locals, otherwise you are unlikely to figure out which bus is ok for you) and then walk up Yangon Airport Road – it is 2.5 km to the terminal building. A taxi from the stop should cost you about USD1.
Bagan airport is located in Nyaung U, east of New and Old Bagan. The airport facilities are limited and do not include ATMs or exchange service – ensure you have enough local currency at hand. Taxi drivers at the airport ask between MMK5,000 and MMK8,000 for destinations in Nyaung U, New & Old Bagan. If you book your accommodation with one of the midrange or top hotels, check if they provide free transfer from the airport – many of them do.
Note You have to pay the entrance fee to Bagan Archaeological Zone right at the airport. You will not be let out of the terminal building without your Bagan ticket. Ticket costs MMK25,000/USD22. If by some chance you do exit without paying, you will be asked to pay at your hotel or guesthouse as the owners register ticket numbers at check-in.
Onward travel from Bagan
Buses to Mandalay take 5 hours and cost MMK10,000/USD9. Train to Mandalay takes 7½ hours and departs daily at 7am. A much more scenic way to get to Mandalay from Bagan is to take a ferry going upstream along Irrawaddy River. Ferryboats take longer – from nine hours up – but let you avoid a bumpy bus ride. Note that there are different types of boats – from very slow ones (USD10) to more luxurious and speedy options (USD50). Opinions vary: some travellers rave about this boat journey between Bagan and Mandalay, others consider it too expensive, not so spectacular and boring.
Monywa, half way between Bagan and Mandalay, can also be reached by direct bus or via Pakokku.
There are buses to Kalaw and Taunggyi (for Inle Lake) from Bagan, too (from MMK12,000/USD10). The ride is extremely bumpy and winds its way through mountainous area in certain parts. If your bus has a lot of locals on board, do not be surprised to find half of your fellow passengers vomiting constantly. At the stop you will then find them dining with great appetite, though. ...And vomiting again afterwards! If you can afford flying, taking a plane is your best bet for travelling between Bagan and Inle Lake.
There are no direct buses for Sittwe or Mrauk U: you have to change at Magwe.