• pthongcharoen

Mandalay and Bagan 2020 Travel Guide


Myanmar, the land of pagodas, the place where it takes you back in time as you stroll around peaceful villages, and experience the traditional way of life. Here you’ll meet the friendliest people in the world, and find simple pleasures in little things you do as you life moves at a much slower pace.

And this is your guide to Mandalay and Bagan in 2020.

Date of Travel

3-10 Jan 2020

Itinerary

Day 1 Bangkok to Mandalay, Mandalay Hill

Day 2 Kuthodaw Pagoda, Sandamuni Pagoda, Shwenandaw Monastery

Day 3 Day tour to Mingun, Saggiang, Inn Wa, Amarapura (U-Bein Bridge)

Day 4 Zay Cho Market, Mandalay to Bagan

Day 5 Exploring Bagan

Day 6 Exploring Bagan

Day 7 Bagan to Mandalay

Day 8 Mandalay to Bangkok

Day 1 Bangkok to Mandalay, Mandalay Hill

We arrived at Mandalay at 12:25pm by AirAsia. In the evening, we went to Mandalay Hill to see the city view at sunset. And to fully enjoy the place, we decided to hike, which took around 45 minutes to get to the top. The weather was nice, but we were all sweating from hiking. I could feel the ache in my feet because I never walked barefoot this far before. It was a great new experience for me and I liked it. For those who want to hike Mandalay Hill at sunset, don’t forget to bring flashlights and wet wipes for cleaning your feet after the hike.

After the hike, we went to the temple nearby Mandalay Hill and explored a bit. We found a big round table where many mirrors are hanging, just like a large dressing table. There were stone boards, combs, brushes, bottles of water, and Thanaka blocks. For those who never heard about Thanaka before, it’s a cosmetic paste made from ground bark using for sunscreen or cooling the skin, which is one of the Myanmar’s traditions.

At that time I asked two local women who were right there to demonstrate it for me. Basically, you have to pour some water on the stone board and rub a Thanaka block on it in a circular motion. Then you will get a creamy paste to apply onto your face and finishing it by using a brush for a touch up. And that’s the way to blend in as a local!

Day 2 Kuthodaw Pagoda, Sandamuni Pagoda, Shwenandaw Monastery

This morning we went to Zay Cho Market, but it was closed because of Myanmar’s Independence Day. So we went to Kuthodaw Pagoda, the Buddhist stupa that contains the world’s largest book. When I searched for the information, I didn’t see any book in any photo and I was confused by the name. But when I arrived I kept an “oh!” to myself that the book is meant to be the stone inscription inside the stupas. And yes, there were tons of it! Somehow, I could understand now why I didn’t get to see the photo of the stone inscription at first because it is not as photogenic as hundreds of the white stupas.

Later, we went to Sandamuni Pagoda, which contains the largest iron buddha image. The place was quiet and didn’t have as many tourists as Kuthodaw Pagoda. There was a main golden pagoda stands tall in the middle surrounded by the white stupas, just like Kuthodaw Pagoda, but you can’t walk through it.

Then, we moved on to Shwenandaw Monastery, a traditional Burmese teak wood style temple. I was amazed by how big it is and it is all made of wood carvings. I wonder how they could conserve the site so well. This is something I’ve never seen elsewhere before, I hope you put this temple on the list.

Notes: Temples ticket fee 10,000 kyat per pax

Day 3 Day tour to Mingun, Saggiang, Inn Wa, Amarapura (U-Bein Bridge)

We booked a private taxi from the Kaung hostel for a day tour to Mingun, Saggiang, and so on. It costed 50,000 kyat for 4 main locations. The driver dropped us off at Hsinbyume Pagoda and we had to arrange our time to visit another two places (Mingun Bell and Mingun Pahtodawgyi) by ourselves. We spent a lot of time taking photos and videos at Hsinbyume Pagoda as it is one of the iconic temples in Myanmar.

As we spent so much time at Hsinbyume Pagoda and had no interest in Mingun Bell, so we just walked past the place and went straight to Mingun Pahtodawgyi.

Mingun Pahtodawgyi was bigger than I thought. My husband flew a drone there as well as other tourists and no one got caught. This place looks much better when shot from an aerial view.

After Mingun, we went to Saggiang area. It rained badly, so couldn’t see the view clearly. Then we went to U Min Thonze Temple for a little while.

We had lunch somewhere near the pier before taking a boat to Inn Wa. The boat costed 1,500 kyat round trip. In Inn Wa, tourists need to get on a horse carriage to travel around the area. As it rained and we didn’t enjoy the place that much, so we decided not to travel around Inn Wa and took a boat from there back right away.

The last place of the day was U-Bein Bridge in Amarapura. We chilled out at the cafe, drinking Burmese milk tea and eating Shan noodles for a while, just to wait for the weather to clear up. We had little hope for sunset at this spot, but then the rain stopped. The sky became clearer than before, and we quite enjoyed the moment here even though we didn’t get to see a beautiful sunset.

Notes: Mingun, Saggiang entrance fee 5,000 per pax

Day 4 Zay Cho Market, Mandalay to Bagan

We went back to Zay Cho Market again and expected to eat some local food there, but the market was rather be a place for household and herbal shopping. Then we strolled around and found a local restaurant for brunch before we traveled to Bagan.

It was a 5-hour bus ride to Bagan and we arrived there at 5pm. There was nothing much to do at the end of the day. We only had dinner at Delicious restaurant and it was as delicious as its name.

Notes: Bagan archeological area entrance fee 25,000 kyat per pax

Day 5 Exploring Bagan

We started off the trip in Bagan by renting an e-bike to explore the city from dawn to dusk. The hotel told us to go to Shwesandaw Pagoda for sunrise, but when we scouted the place, Shwesandaw Pagoda was not the spot that we looked for. So, we rode an e-bike around in the dark to find the right spot. The task was not easy.

There was a local guy on a motorbike riding after us. He told us that he could take us to a scenic and quiet sunrise spot in exchange of buying his painting, but we thought that it was alright to be on our own as we didn’t want to waste any money.

We went on and tried to find a place on our own, but we got lost on the way and went into the off beaten path as we wanted to go for a shortcut. The road was narrow and it was my first time riding an e-bike. I wondered why riding an e-bike was such a tiring activity as I’d been engaging my whole body and tried not to crash.

We ended up didn’t find the right spot, but we had so much fun exploring new places by ourselves. When the sun was rising, we were somewhere unnamed on the map and it was beautiful enough to see the first sunrise in Bagan.

On the way of riding around, we met another local guy, and he told us the same thing, but this time it’s not only a sunrise spot, but he could take us to 3-4 photogenic locations and a climb-able pagoda*. Bagan was huge and we didn’t want to waste our time for searching anymore since we had little time to spend here in Bagan. So, we decided to let him lead the way.

Some of the pagodas were the ones that we planned to come, but it’s alright because he still led us to some secret places.

After seeing all the locations, we had to buy his painting which at first he told the lowest price was 35, and I thought it was 35,000 kyat ($24), but it turned out to be $35. However, we didn’t buy that piece anyway. So, just keep in mind when dealing with the price, don’t forget to ask the currency.

We had lunch and headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit before coming out again for sunset. We went to the spot that the local guy told us. It was nice and quiet. All in all, it was a great day exploring in Bagan.

Notes: *In 2020, all main pagodas are closed for climbing.

Day 6 Exploring Bagan

It was another day of exploring Bagan. We headed out early in the morning to catch a perfect sunrise at Mimalaung Kyaung, then headed back to the hotel and rested because I had a little bit of food poison.

I felt better in the afternoon, so we went out to explore more Bagan. We went to around Dhammayan Gyi Temple again for a night shot and went to a climb-able unnamed place that the local guy told us for the sunset.

Day 7 Bagan to Mandalay

We got a morning bus back to Mandalay and arrived there around 2pm. We didn’t do anything much, just exploring around the neighborhood and finding a restaurant for dinner.

Day 8 Mandalay to Bangkok

Getting In

We got a direct flight from Bangkok (DMK Int. Airport) to Mandalay by AirAsia.

Getting Around

In Mandalay, we mostly used Grab tuktuk to travel around, just to avoid negotiating the price with the drivers. Apart from that, we used private taxi service to go to Mingun, Saggiang, Inn Wa, and Amarapura (U-Bein Bridge).

In Bagan, there is no Grab service, so we mainly used e-bike to explore the city. The small e-bike costs 8,000 kyat per day while the big e-bike costs 10,000 kyat. The difference is that the big e-bike has bigger motor and you can go faster with that. My Korean friend who weighs around 100 kg (220 lbs) was recommended to get a big e-bike as a small e-bike is easy to use up the battery and it could die in the middle of the way. We rent e-bikes from our hotel ‘WeStay @ Boutique Hotel’ and the rental time is from 5am till around 8pm. In case that you run out of battery, you can call the hotel and the staff will come to your spot and bring a new e-bike for you.

From Mandalay to Bagan, we booked a bus ticket with Kaung hostel. The bus was from OK Express company which costed 9,000 kyat per pax. The bus picked us up around noon and it took about 5 hours to arrive at Bagan. Unfortunately, the bus that we took was a small bus that neither has leg room nor luggage compartment. It was tight and packed as the bus was also fully booked.

From Bagan to Mandalay, we booked a bus ticket with our hotel, WeStay. The bus was supposed to pick us up at the hotel as usual, but not this time due to a minor accident, so the hotel manager sent us of at the bus station instead. The bus ticket was 9,500 kyat per pax and it took around 4-5 hours to Mandalay. This time the bus was bigger than the previous ride. It has some leg room, luggage compartment, and some space to walk in the bus.

Accommodation

In Mandalay, we stayed in Kaung Hostel. The location was good. Most of the tuktuk drivers I used know the place. It is a 4-storey building, shared bathroom, has a kitchen and a common room. It’s a nice place to hang out and get to know new friends, but I didn’t really like the bathroom as the lights are automatic and it turns off sometimes when I’m not moving.

We also stayed in Hotel Aurora for the last night before we flew back to Thailand. The room was good as well as the facilities, but it has no windows which didn’t bother us much cause we only stayed for a night. However, I like the restaurant nearby, Min Ma Har Cafe. The restaurant mainly serves locals as I didn’t see any foreigners at that time and the English menu was almost torn out. What I liked was the thick noodle salad (Mee Shay) and the Burmese milk tea.

In Bagan, we stayed in WeStay @ Boutique Hotel, New Bagan. I could say that this hotel is the most impressive hotel that I’ve ever been to! The staff are extremely nice and friendly, and willing to help you with anything that you ever come up with. Their services exceeded my expectation. I would recommend this hotel to whomever who wants to come to Bagan. Plus, the e-bike rental service is also available as well.

Food

As a Thai traveler, I find Burmese cuisine quite unique. I was thrilled with the tea leaf salad which can’t be found anywhere else, but here! I love the texture of crunchy nuts mixed together with the flavor of sour and slightly bitter of the tea leaf. I always ordered it for a side dish every meal, so I would say that the tea leaf salad is a must try in Myanmar.

Many of Burmese dishes are curries and noodles. La Min Thit, a local restaurant recommended by the hotel manager of WeStay, was my favorite restaurant in Bagan. We ordered pork, chicken, and fish curries, and they were the most delicious curries that I’d tried in this trip.

Money We got US Dollars exchanged at the airport before the trip and exchanged Kyat back into Thai Baht at the airport before getting into the immigration inside the terminal. There was only one bank outside by the way. The exchange rate was approximately 1 USD ~ 1,400 Kyat.

Cost

The total cost of my 8-day trip is around $215 per person (food $65, transportation $45, entrance fee $30, accommodation $65, miscellaneous $10).

Budget

Food ~5,000 kyat ($3) per meal

Tuktuk ~2,000-3,000 kyat ($1-2) It depends on distance though. This is an average per ride from temple to temple in Mandalay.

E-bike ~8,000-10,000 kyat ($5-7) per day

Budget accommodation ~$20-30

If there’s anything that I didn’t cover and you want to know more about Myanmar, feel free to ask in the comments below, I’ll try to answer it the best that I can :)


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