January 24th, 2018
As far as I remember while doing my South East Asia Backpacking itinerary almost a year ago, Myanmar was not on my list because it wasn’t that popular compare to the ‘Angkor Complex’ of Cambodia and ‘Grand Palace’ of Thailand (Real-Talk). And to be honest, I didn’t know anything about the country.
Luckily, I saw a cheap return flight from Bangkok, (Thanks to AirAsia!) and booked the said flight. Right after, I did some research about Myanmar and I was struck by the online photos of its ancient city called ‘BAGAN’ where I saw tons of pictured hot air balloons floating above thousand of temples during sunrise and sunset. It was majestic! I was then persuaded to endure that 8 hours land bus travel from Yangon to Bagan hoping to witnessed that magical moment.
Getting to Know Myanmar
Myanmar, formerly known as ‘Burma’, is a Southeast Asian Country and bordered by 5 countries namely: India, Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand and China. The capital of Myanmar named ‘Yangon’ or formerly known as ‘Rangoon’ is the largest city of the country that inhabits almost 6 million buddhist and Bamar people. The country just recently opened its doors to tourists not so long ago so there’s a guarantee that when you visit the said country, you will be able to feel its authentic culture.
Mind you, Myanmar is now becoming a recent favourite destination for travellers and the ancient city of Bagan is one of the top bucket-list and a “must-see” place among tourists.
How to Get to Bagan
The fastest way to get to Bagan is via plane. You can take domestic flights from Yangon or Mandalay Airports. Since most of the visitors are from abroad, they need to take the connected flights from Yangon to Bagan. The price of domestic flights to Bagan are hefty compare to land travels.
You could also reach Bagan from Yangon by riding a train or bus. I honestly don’t have any idea about the former since I didn’t pick this one as my mode of transportation and I considered the latter because it’s more convenient and cheaper for me.
If you plan to visit Bagan via bus (which I opted), from Yangon International Airport, get a taxi and politely ask them to bring you at the Aung Mingalar Bus Station or just simply state that you will go to Bagan and must bring you to the bus station going to Bagan. At the Yangon bus station, look for JJ Express Bus Company which I highly recommend because of the efficient service I experienced with them. They also provide free refreshment, blanket, snack and a bottled water. Who doesn’t like freebies?
It took 3 bus stops and almost 8 hours overnight bus travel when I reached Bagan. We departed at Yangon almost 10 in the evening and arrived at Bagan around 5 in the next morning. Close to sunrise!
Getting Around Bagan
Once you arrived in Bagan, locals will immediately offer you a taxi/car service. Also, you can explore the area with a bike (cheapest way, around 1-2 USD), e-bike (5-7 USD), horse carriage (15-20 USD) and the most famous, magical and expensive way, by hot air balloon (300-400 USD per person for a 8 to 16 passenger). Take note the Tourism Fee or the Entrance Fee worth 25,000 MMK for the Archaeological Zone of Bagan. You must bring this with you the whole time while exploring the temples and stupas of Bagan.
Since I travelled solo, I was planning to get and share a taxi service with other fellow solo travellers but I wasn’t able to because I was too shy. Lol. Kidding aside, I decided to go alone because I wanted to experience the whole area with myself and not thinking someone’s time and preference or maybe convenience. The car fare for a whole day Bagan tour service costed me around 80,000 kyat (almost 3,000php) and started the tour at half an hour before 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening. I knew that the price was kinda hefty but I had a driver and an air conditioned car! Priceless!
We headed right away to the ‘Sunrise’ temple to witnessed the magical moment I was expecting. After staying couple of minutes at the temple, there were no single hot air balloon seen floating above in any temples! There’s no such view! My driver then told me that the weather during the month of April was not suitable and safety for hot air balloons to fly. I wished I knew that beforehand. I was so disappointed.
Luckily, the clear sky showed me the stunning sunrise, serenity of the area, the history behind each temples and stupas, warm welcome of the locals, and the magical sunset. These things turned my disappointments into blessings. It actually healed my perspective.
Tips, Tips, Tips
If you live and have a passport issued in any South East Asian country like the Philippines, you are free to enter Myanmar. Visa-Free!
Since Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist and their temples are very sacred to them, wear clothes that cover your knees and shoulder. Also, remove your shoes when you get inside their temples. Respect. Its better to bring a slip-on shoes or slippers because it’s easy to remove and wear.
It’s okay to haggle the price for any souvenirs or tours offered by the locals but don’t put down the price too much. They need to earn money to live.
The official currency is Myanmar Kyat or MMK or simply Kyat. I just found out that they don’t accept Philippine Peso when I tried my luck to change my peso bills on their money changers at their airport. Euro, GBP, and USD are widely accepted. Its better to have USD and make sure that your USD bill doesn’t have any folds or damages because they’re very keen at it.
The whole country, especially Bagan is dusty. Bring a face/dust mask and some anti-allergy medications. Also, it is generally hot year-round so bring your own distilled water and stay hydrated. Also, bring some sunscreen to protect your skin from sunburns.
The best time to visit Bagan are the cool months of December to February where the skies are clear and have good humidity for hot air balloons. However, this is a peak season so expect more tourists. If you are really after the hot air ballooning, visit mid-October to November and mid-February to March. Do your homework, and don’t be like me. Hah!
My Itinerary and Budget Breakdown
4:20 pm - ETD from Bangkok
5:00 pm - ETA at Yangon International Airport
(Money Changer Rate: 1 USD = 1,346 kyat)
Took the Airport Taxi to JJ Express Bus = 6,000 kyat
Bus Ticket from Yangon - Bagan = 24,300 kyat
Arrived at 5:20am
Hired a private car/taxi for Bagan Day Tour = 80,000 kyat
(Started Bagan Day Tour: 5:30am - 6:30pm)
Environmental Fee (Mandatory) = 25,000 kyat
Meals and Souvenirs = 10,000 kyat
Bus Ticket from Bagan - Yangon = 24,300 kyat
Arrived at 5:00am
Drop-off point was in Yangon Railway Station
Taxi to hostel = 3,000 kyat
Checked-in at 21 Hostel for 1 night = 10,346 kyat
Taxi to Schwedagon Pagoda (Eiffel Tower of Myanmar) = 3,000 kyat
Schwedagon Pagoda Entrance Fee = 8,000 kyat
Taxi to back to hostel = 4,000 kyat
Meals = 10,000 kyat
Taxi to Yangon Airport = 4,000 kyat
Breakfast = 10,000 kyat
Flight back to Bangkok
TOTAL EXPENSES = 221,946 kyat (Around 165 USD)
THERE YOU HAVE IT! That was my experience when I visited the “Golden Land” of Myanmar!
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