How to Visit Bagan, Myanmar in One Day from Yangon: Our Experience


A couple of summers ago, we backpacked one of the most majestic places in the world, Bagan, Myanmar. Boasting over 2,000 ancient temples, it is a truly magical place that we still reminisce on fondly. With this large number of pagodas, one day in this world heritage site would seemingly not be enough. However, there is a way to maximize a full day where you can catch the sunrise, sunset and see plenty of temples without the need to book a hotel or Air Bnb on a tight itinerary.
With four nights in Myanmar penciled in and Bagan a must-see, we found that overnight buses would be a great option to make the trip north from Yangon. Not only would this option eliminate the need to find accommodations in Bagan, the bus itself would serve as our place to sleep for two nights! After doing some research, we saw favorable reviews for the JJ Bus, which left the Yangon bus terminal around 8PM, arriving in Bagan before sunrise. Timing was perfect, as we still had plenty of time to explore Yangon during the day. With the snarling traffic of the city, we allowed a few hours before the bus was scheduled to leave.

The Ride from Yangon to Bagan, Myanmar

JJ Bus: Our Transport and Lodging for the Night

Backpacks in tow, we arrived at Yangon Bus Terminal earlier than most of our fellow riders. Soon before the bus left, a small snack and bottle of water were given as refreshments for the long ride. The seats had a nice amount of legroom and with the jetlag from traveling east; it was easy to fall asleep. On the other hand, the one downside of this journey is that the rest stop was mandatory, so the driver woke us up and made us get off the bus. Fortunately, the stopover was only a couple of hours into the trip, so there was still plenty of time to get some much needed sleep before the day of temple climbing ahead of us!
A bit groggy after the 8 hour ride, we arrived at the bus terminal in Bagan with a pack of locals touting different services – car rides to the temple for sunrise, horse rides, e-bikes and full-day transportation. We resisted the initial offers and assessed the pricing for each option while also seeing what other people on the bus were doing. Many opted for bikes, e-bikes and horse-riding. If you prefer these options, be sure to bring a lot of wet wipes to keep clean on the mostly dirt roads.
After discussions with a few locals, we chose to take the full-day transport, which offered the best value and allowed us to store our backpacks in the trunk. Our guide for the day was a friendly local in his late teens who spoke English quite well.

Tips:

  •  Be patient when you arrive and get a sense for what the market is for each service.
  •  Don’t jump at the first offer or feel pressured. Wait for everyone to disappear, prices will lower.
  •  There are plenty of eager guides and it is to your advantage to shop around a bit.
Sunrise and Additional Destinations

Our first stop was to catch the famed sunrise over the temples, a MUST for every visit. We left our shoes at the base, climbed up waited and watched the sun’s glow slowly creep in amidst the howling winds of the morning. This sight alone was worth the 16 roundtrip hours on the bus.
After we visited a few temples, our driver asked if we would like to visit Mount Popa for an extra $10, an offer that we quickly accepted. This additional destination allowed us to see more of the towns and scenery on the way.  In addition, we stopped at a coconut farm which specialized in crafting various coconut candies and other goodies. As we picked out a couple of bags to buy, we were treated to some fermented tea leaf salad with crunchy peanuts, our breakfast along with samples of the candy. Jumi was brushed with thanaka – a traditional Burmese paste made from ground tree bark used as a natural sunscreen, a common sight throughout the country.
As we drove up to Mount Popa, the skies became cloudier and temperatures cooler. Several monkeys roamed the grounds and climbed up the entrance to the temple. Never let your belongings out of your sight, as they can be quite aggressive! We removed our shoes and began walking up the smooth tiles that made up the walkway. However, after about ten minutes of walking, we decided to come back down to the entrance, as we wanted to conserve time and energy to explore more temples in Bagan. There was also the issue of our bare feet and monkey droppings that we wanted to avoid!

Our Tips:

  • If you take the trip to Mount Popa, be prepared to remove your shoes for the duration of the trek to the top.
  • Ladies, wear appropriate clothing (no shorts)
  • There are plenty of monkeys along the way and you will need to dodge their droppings to get to the top

Back to Bagan

As we returned to the lower grounds of the old town, the sun re-appeared with a vengeance. The day became hotter and we became even happier with our choice to ride with our new friend in his air conditioned car! Exploration of more and more temples built up our hunger and we asked him for a lunch recommendation. Within minutes, he led us to a gem that specialized in a medley of curries that was full of locals enjoying. Months later, we recognized what looked like the same spot on the Myanmar episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.

Our final stop was to watch the sunset, which was a nice end to our marathon temple run day. Despite some cloud cover that muted the splendor compared to sunrise, the experience of sitting atop a structure that dates back hundreds of years was a calming and introspective one. Our guide took us back to the station ahead of our journey back south and we took good care of him with a nice tip, well-deserved for the outstanding hospitality.
We have expressed our desire to return to Bagan sometime in the near future, as it was one of the most memorable places that we visited over the past few years. Although we wouldn’t repeat this itinerary on the next trip, it was an excellent way to maximize the 12+ hours we spent in this magnificent site. This method is highly recommended if you are pressed for time like we were.
We went two years ago and likely  a lot has changed Please let us know of any major recent changes. Don’t forget to comment below and share this article.
Spent $77.50 each!
JJ Bus rountrip ticket- $40 (roundtrip) each; Bagan tour + Mount Popa – $30 each; Food- $5 for two people; Local Guide Tip- $5 each

 

Let your friends know a day-trip to Bagan is possible 🙂
Stay tuned for our guide to local eats in Yangon!

Thank you for reading!  ☼

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