Navigating around Myanmar can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. While the country is rapidly becoming a more popular and tourist-friendly destination, it’s a still a relatively new spot for most travelers.
Bagan and Mandalay are two of Myanmar’s most beautiful cities and are a perfect place to begin your visit. If you’re traveling between the two, you have several options on how to get there. While they’ll all get you from point A to point B, the options vary greatly in terms of price, duration, and comfort.
Take a look and see which method of travel is for you!
Mandalay to Bagan by Bus
Length: 6+ hours
Leaves From: Bagan Shwe Pyi Bus Terminal
Traveling to Bagan by bus costs a lot less than a plane ticket, but it’s also a much less comfortable adventure. The journey takes at least five or six hours, and the buses are known for being overcrowded. That said, if you don’t mind bus travel and are looking to save some money, this is a common and easy choice of travel.
You can buy your tickets ahead of time or get them at the station. There are several reputable bus companies that make the trip, some more comfortable than others. JJ Bus is a well-known company, as is OK Bus. Many of the buses in Myanmar are actually minibusses, so keep this in mind as you book your travel.
There are buses leaving throughout the day and some night bus options as well, but given the level of comfort and the length of the journey, we wouldn’t recommend the night bus (unless you’re a really heavy sleeper) Most buses also arrive really early in the morning and most hotels in Bagan won’t let you check in until 2pm.
Mandalay to Bagan by Train
Length: 6-7 hours
Leaves From: Mandalay Central railway station
The train ride to Bagan is a little bumpy, but for a budget option it’s a pretty great deal. Economy style seats cost around $5 while upper-class seats are about $13. Tickets should be purchased ahead of time.
You can purchase them online, but you have to either print them out or in most cases the company will deliver them to your hotel if you’re staying nearby. E-tickets are not accepted, so leave yourself enough time to purchase and print your tickets before you go. If you go to the station to purchase them, you just want to leave enough time to ensure you get a seat and have plenty of time to board.
One perk of taking the train (other than the great price) is that it leaves from the center of Mandalay, so you don’t have to worry about expensive taxis in order to get there.
The airport, on the other hand, is 30 km outside of the city. So if you can handle sitting on a bumpy train for 7 hours, it might be worth it!
Mandalay to Bagan by Car
Length: 3-4 hours
In Myanmar, car rentals aren’t allowed for foreigners except with a driver. Getting someone to take you to Mandalay can be convenient if you don’t want the hassle of riding in a packed bus with lots of other people.
The best way to go about this is to ask about hiring a driver at your local hotel or guesthouse. Many tourists have had success just talking to their taxi drivers! You can also book drivers/guides online.
The cost varies a lot on local rates and by your ability to bargain! But you can expect to pay about the same as you would for a plane ticket. This option is good for those traveling in large parties.
Mandalay to Bagan by Boat
Length: 8 hours-2 days
One of the most unique ways to travel to Mandalay is by boat along the Irrawaddy River. This option isn’t the most cost-effective or the fastest, but it can certainly be the most beautiful. When traveling from Bagan to Mandalay by boat, you can opt for a fast boat or a slow boat.
The “fast” boat still takes anywhere from 8-12 hours. The slow option can be a two-day journey, so it’s definitely not for you if you’re on a strict time schedule. There are several companies that make the trip, so you should have no trouble booking a ticket. One of the most reputable companies is MGRG Express, and though you’ll be leaving at the crack of dawn, they include breakfast and lunch on your trip.
Mandalay to Bagan by Plane
Length: 30 minutes
Airport Name: Mandalay (MDL)-Nyaung U Airport (NYU)
The fastest option is also the most expensive. Traveling by plane is ideal if you’re in a hurry or have no desire to sit on a crowded bus for several hours. But there are also other factors to consider, like time spent getting to the airport and waiting in line. Prices of the flights vary a lot, from around $50 for a “saver” ticket, to $90 or more for a “premium” seat. There are several airlines that fly directly to Mandalay from Bagan, such as Air KBZ and Mann Yadanarpon.
It is worth noting that there are several airlines flying in Bagan but only Mann Yadanarpon Airlines has a direct flight from Mandalay (MDL) to Nyaung-u (NYU). To see all your options easily, you can book through Flymya, a local company in Myanmar that’s perfect for booking tickets.
Once you’ve booked your ticket, you can take a taxi to Mandalay International Airport which is about 30km from the city center. In both Bagan and Mandalay, it is worth noting to leave early as traffic jams along the road are quite common.
Whichever option you choose, you’ll want to book tickets ahead, which you’ll be able to do at your hotel or guesthouse. We’d recommend bringing some snacks, extra layers, and a good book as you’ll be sitting on the river for a long period of time. It’s not a quick way of getting there, but you’re certain to catch some incredible views.