I took a JJ Express bus from Yangon, (booked from Sleep In Hostel), which cost $18 and was well worth the extra few dollars for comfort. It resembled a plane rather than a bus with each reclining seat having a tv screen in the back, loads of leg room and a pretty lady that came through the isle handing out hot cloths, water and a snack. The bus station was around an hours drive away and cost $7 to get there from my hostel. The journey itself was smooth and I’d go as far as enjoyable. We stopped twice for food and toilet breaks – the toilets were pristine and fully stocked with toilet paper, hand wash and even had mirrors! We left at 8pm and arrived at 4am. I’d met some cool peeps on board so we shared the taxi to New Bagan to a hostel we’d all heard good things about.
Note that the taxi drivers will try to rip you off but the standard price is $6 to Old Bagan, New Bagan or Nyaung U – they are equally distances from the bus station.
WHERE TO STAY
We rocked up at Ostello Bello hostel, left our bags and headed straight for the E-bike rental across the road. Now armed with a paper map, we each rented a bike for $3 and set off into the dawn eager to locate one of the big temples to watch the sunrise from.
Despite rising at 4.40am for the next 3 mornings,we never actually had the weather for a good sunrise or set for that matter – but did have a lot of fun exploring a fraction of the 2,000 temples and pagodas situated here.
TIP: Locate the keyholder!! Usually a local family will be key holders to certain temples, if you can find this person you can get up inside and sometime climb up the exterior to a better viewpoint.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR BIKE RUNS OUT OF JUICE
Most bikes have the rental company phone number on the bike and keychain, call this number and two really young kids will race there on a speedy gasoline fuelled motorbike to your rescue. They will simply swap the battery over. They also changed the inner tyre tube on the side of the road too in under a minute – very impressive!
Try and track your location to make it easier for them to find you. A lot of temples have names and they all have numbers.
If you don’t have a functioning phone (I recommend buying a sim card, as wifi isn’t always reliable) ask a local shop keeper, villager or passer by to help.
WHEN TO VISIT
Sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit not only for photographic benefits but because you must remove your shoes before going in any temples, and unless you have soles of rock, the floor is too hot to walk around on. Avoid the hours between 11am til and 3pm.
If you want to see the hot air balloons over Bagan, or even take a ride yourself (it will set you back $380) go between October and March.
TEMPLES ASIDE, WHAT’S THERE TO DO?
If you’re all temple-d out, take an e-bike and explore the local villages. I watched a volley ball game, found a litter of 10 day old puppies who’s mum had died (but were being fed by local women) and played watermelon football with some local kids which was great fun!
You can also check out Mt Popa -a towerlike 2418ft volcanic plug crowned with a gilded Buddhist temple accessed by 777 steps.
ABOUT OSTELLO BELLO HOSTEL: A QUICK REVIEW
The hostel I stayed in was super nice – really clean and modern with ice cold air con, breakfast was included, there was free tea and coffee 24/7, bowls full of free Burmese cigarettes and candy and they serve up bowls of hot pasta three times a day completely free! The staff were also LOVELY – extremely welcoming, knowledgable and helpful.
The dorms are spacious, each with their own bathroom, both of which are extremely clean. They have under-the-bed lockers for your belongs, decent wifi in all the rooms and lounge area, a terrace and a bar. It is in a really good location and has a bike rental, ticket booking, laundry doing pop up shop two metres from its doorstep – theres also an adorable dog that hangs around and gives you cuddles which is a bonus!
The only downside is the price really. For $17 it’s probably the most expensive hostel I’ve stayed in in Asia so far. Food is cheap in Myanmar so I’d rather save on accomm and buy my own breakfast, that said, I met some and hung out with some really cool people in Ostello Bello and wouldn’t have changed those 4 days at all if given the opportunity.