Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Getting Around Bagan

Taking Flight to Bagan
The most concerning question about Bagan- how to get there? Flying within Myanmar is expensive. We tried to be early in booking the ticket. We contacted our hotel manager in Yangon a month before our departure from Malaysia. We got a simple reply by email- they would handle the tickets for us.

Without being asked for the information such as our full names, nationality, passport number, etc. we had wondered how exactly they could "handle" our booking.

Not to our surprise, our tickets were not ready upon our arrival at Yangon. The manager told us that in Myanmar, it was "normal" to book the flight ticket a day before the departure. Well, that's what we learnt in Myanmar.

As the tickets were not ready, we decided to scout for several airline agents in Yangon for the best deal- Air KBZ, with the price USD110 per person per trip was what we got. The fare was expensive compared to the domestic flights in Malaysia. However, that's the best deal we could get.

We found that the domestic airport in Yangon was really modest. Of course, we found out later that Bagan Airport was even worse. However, to our relieve, the aeroplanes used by KBZ Airline were in good condition, with remarkable good service.

The departure hall of the Yangon Domestic Airport is small, with a few stalls selling local souvenirs (upper left). Check in counters (upper right) with the eye-catching red analog weights (lower right) in the airport. These nostalgic analog weights has gone extinct in our country 20 years ago. The departure hall was quite crowdy when we were waiting for our flight.

The inflight service was better than what we had expected. The air cabin was clean and tidy (upper left). The food was served together with wet tower.

Bagan Airport was small. The building was well maintained from the outside (upper row). However, the arrival hall and baggage reclaim room were basically in a same small room (lower left). The waiting area, check in counter, toilets, money changer, airline representatives, souvenir shops, a small cafe, and everything else were located in a same area (lower right). The counter selling admission ticket to Bagan Archaeological Park can be seen on the right of the photo.

Most of people in Bagan couldn't understand English, except for those who work in tourism and related industries. They were friendly, as when we greeted them, they replied in a polite way. A few young monks asked us for "donation" at Shwezigon, while several vendors approached us to sell their products. We could easily turned them away through a soft and polite refusal.

One of the vendors that we met at Thatbyinnyu asked us many things about our country. He had friends working in Malaysia. Our first night at Bagan, we found two villagers singing and playing guitar ouside of our eatery. They were happy enough to take photo with us. Then, our hotel's manager talked to us regarding the education and future of kids in Bagan. We enjoyed talking to these friendly people.

Currency and Exchange
Money changing was available in Nyaung U. USD 1 to 930 Kyat at KBZ Bank. That was the best deal we had in Myanmar. Hawkers and vendors by the road offered money changing as well, with one problem- terrible rate.

In Bagan, Kyat was more convenient to be used than US Dollar. In fact, we used Kyat all the time in Bagan. US Dollar was used only for entrance fees (USD10 for Bagan Archaeological Park and USD5 for the museum).

Place to Stay
We stayed in Thiri Marlar Hotel in New Bagan. New Bagan is around 8 km south of Nyaung U. Most of the hotels are available in New Bagan and Nyaung U. Nyaung U is a small town, while New Bagan is like a small village. Thiri Marlar Hotel was located at Thiri Marlar Street at New Bagan.

Thiri Marlar Hotel was a good hotel. Ranked high in Tripadvisor, the hotel provided good services with just USD45 per night for a double room. Well, it worth every single cent that we had paid. The breakfast on the roof level of the hotel was an amazing experience- looking over the old temple structures while enjoying our breakfast. The room came with water heater in the bathroom, air conditioner, nice bed, mini bar and wooden floor. The room service was punctual and satisfying as well.

The down side, there were no water boiler and coffee making facilities (maybe the tap water was not safe for drinking), the water pressure was not powerful enough, and no tv.

Thiri Marlar Hotel was a nice place to stay. The two-storey building has a very unique design (upper left). Taking breakfast on the roof was a wonderful experience (upper right). However, we had to be early to avoid torturing sun ray and heat. The lobby where we could connect to internet (lower right). The connection was terrible, but we were grateful to get connected, especially at the place where the hand phone receiver was unstable. We were satisfied with the room.

The surrounding area from the roof top of the hotel.

In our opinion, both Nyaung U and New Bagan can be a good place to stay. However, if you wish to stay at somewhere a bit closer to "civilization", then Nyaung U will be a better choice. Well, at least we could find general post office, banks, clinic, and police station in Nyaung U. 

However, for us, staying in New Bagan was all right. At least, the place was far from being a no man's land.

Traffic and Transportation
Mention about the road, uh, we should put it in this way- only a few roads in Bagan, which connected the major villages were built by asphalt, the rest, could only be considered as sand paths. The sand paths were not friendly to bicycle and motorcycle riders, and it turned worse in rain.

So, if you are not planning to take a bicycle, then you have less choices- either the horse cart or taxi. Hot, dry, and filled with sands. This was what we could feel with the air in Bagan. So, if you wish to have a nice enjoyable trip, cooling air conditioning taxi with full protection against the sandy wind might be the only choice you have. For us, we took taxi for all our trips around Bagan.

Price for taxi, 7000 Kyat was charged for New Bagan to Nyaung U trip, and from airport to New Bagan. However, the rental for one day was 40,000 Kyat, and 23,000 Kyat for half day. Haggling will help to reduce the price a bit. By the way, the rental for a bicycle was 1500 Kyat per day. For the horse cart, the rental was more or less similar to taxi.

Sand path with the shoulder of gravel (upper left). Our taxi driver for the first day was good in English (upper right). We used the service from our hotel to get the taxi services. The fee can be negotiated through the phone. Bicycle is good to be used on the main asphalt road (lower right). Horse cart provides minimal protection to the weather and sandy wind.

 Some of the asphalt road was narrow.

 Bigger and better road connecting New Bagan to Old Bagan.

 Bicycle for rent.

Street in New Bagan
The street was safe and quiet, day and night. Cars and anything with four wheels were not many. Motorbikes were the most commonly used vehicles by the locals. The streets in New Bagan were covered by a thick layer of sand, bringing the feel like walking on a sandy beach.The houses were rare, which most of them had their own compound.

At night, the streets turned quiet after 10 pm. Lack of illumination, a torch light was required to move around without being tripped by stones, or stepped on a sleeping dog. By the way, dogs were roaming freely within the village area. Lucky, these beasts were tame and friendly to the visitors.

 One of the house beside the street in New Bagan.

 Sign for internet service.

Whole stretch of night street with no human activity at all. This photo was taken around 8:30 pm at the street where we had our dinner.
Lucky, the food was nice in Bagan (just a bit oily). We found that the food served were quite similar to Chinese food, with a little bit different with the spices that we used. Some traditional Myanmar food could be found too. A few shop that we would like to recommend- San Carlo Restaurant and The Golden Bagan Restaurant.

San Carlo Restaurant was a combination of a restaurant, art gallery, and a place to rent a bicycle, the restaurant was located 50 meters away from our hotel. We dined there for two consecutive nights.

Food served at San Carlo Restaurant. The price was around 2000 Kyat per person (RM7, USD2.30), including the drinks.

Golden Myanmar 121 was located around 200 meters north of Tharabar Gate (if we follow the main road). What attracted us was the Myanmar cuisine served in special buffet style.

The special buffet- we had more than 10 traditional Myanmar food, which we could refill once we had finished it. Some of the food were quite oily, as overall, it was OK. The price was quite cheap- 3000 Kyat per person (RM10.50, USD3.45).

 Our group photo at Golden Bagan 121.

Sarabha Restaurant was located 50 meters north of Tharabar gate. It was nicely decorated, good food, and polite waiters, but the flies were intolerable.

We had a lunch at A Little Bit of Bagan at Thi Ri Pyitsaya 4 Street. It was a famous restaurant at the famous street in Nyaung U. However, we found the price was a bit expensive with the taste, a bit overrated.

What to Buy
Lacquerware is something that you need to see with your own eyes to appreciate. Made by bamboo and wood, the lacquerware required excellent craftsmanship and time for the lacquer to dry up. We visited Bagan House which was located at Sabae Street, New Bagan, some 50 meters away from our hotel. Click here to visit official website of Bagan House.

How about supermarket? Forget about it. As far as we could see, there was not even a grocery shop in New Bagan.

The sign board of lacquerware workshop could be easily spotted from the road.

The raw material for lacquerware- natural colouring powder, bamboo, wood, lacquer from the tree, ash of buffalo's bone, etc.

The pattern displayed on lacquerware was 100% hand drawn.

 Lacquerware with amazingly fine hand drawn pattern

Lacquerware were available at the vendors scattered around the temples. Beside lacquerware, sculptures and other small decorative items are available too. Our experience, these items were not cheap, and the prices were more or less the same across Bagan.

We don't know what to recommend beside this unique lacquerware. The lacquerware is not cheap. A small piece of cup can easily cost USD3, and a small tray, USD10. So, if you wish to get a special souvenir at Bagan, you can pick one small lacquerware. Well, for us, we picked a small tray to be displayed in our living room.

Overall Remark
Bagan is a place for old temple lovers. If you don't have a special interest in these relics of the old kingdom,then Bagan is not a place for you. Frankly speaking, a place without even a convenient shop, an eatery with air conditioner, and a pub or coffee house that people can drink and talk is not suitable for everyone.

Internet access connection and hand phone signal were limited during our visit as well. Plus, the temperature soared to 38 degree Celsius (in May) and we had to take our shoes and socks off and walking barefoot in boiling hot temple compound, the trip was simply had nothing to do with "pleasant" or "enjoyable".

So, if you are interested to see some of the scenery as shown in our blog and have no intention to go deep into the history part of these temples, two days trip should be more than enough. You can take off on the evening of day 2, or early morning in day 3.

The environment was harsh to tourists. However, Bagan depicted to us the living where constant provision of electricity and water were not an obligation, where cars were rare and limited, where the roads were filled with sands and horse carts, where the locks were not required on a bicycle, and where people were still smile and greet the strangers. In Bagan, we saw the relationship between human beings, which the language was the only barrier. 

By the way, please bear in mind that the temples in Bagan, all of them are considered as tiny and small compare to the temples in Angkor Archaeological Park. The exquisite architecture of the Angkor's temples is far beyond the Bagan's counterparts. We visited Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap, Cambodia in 2010. Our sharing is available here.


  1. Hihi! I came across your blog when I was searching for information regarding Myanmar. I am interested to stay in Thiri Marlar Hotel. Any idea how can I contact them? Thanks =)

    1. Dear Diana, I just found that their official website is no more working. Maybe you can contact them via email

  2. Well written articles sharing from you... (y)

  3. Hi! Really nice story! I'm going there beginning of February. Trying to contact Thiri Marlar but I get a failure delivery back. Hoping to get in touch with them in time :-)