Backpacking Southeast Asia Ninth Stop: Bagan, Myanmar

Last Updated on January 22, 2021 by Tina

After spending two days in Mandalay, I traveled by bus to Bagan. The trip to Bagan was at 8:00 AM so I had to leave the hostel early because the bus station is far from the hostel. Free breakfast starts at 6:30 AM at the hostel. What’s good about Ostello Bello Mandalay is that you can request for them to prepare in advance your breakfast for take-away if you need to leave early. You just need to inform them the day prior that you are leaving early.

Day 1

I booked a Grab Thone Bane to the bus station. Thone Bane is a three-wheeled motor transportation. It is cheaper than Grab Taxi and more comfortable than Grab Bike. Funny story- the Thone Bane broke down on our way to the bus station. The driver had to call his cousin to pick me up and take me to the bus station so I won’t be late for my trip.

As mentioned earlier, I took the 8:00 AM bus to Bagan. I booked my bus ticket online. We arrived in Bagan at 1:00 PM. At the bus station, there were people offering a taxi ride. They were charging MMK 9500 to Baobabed Hostel Bagan. I thought it was too expensive so I decided to walk to the main road to look for a tuk-tuk. There, another taxi driver approached me and offered MMK 5000 to the hostel and I agreed.

On our way to the hostel, we had to stop at a checkpoint. There they collect the Bagan Zone Fee of MMK 25000. The ticket is valid for 5 days. You have to keep the ticket or keep a photo of that on your phone because there are some temples where you have to show the ticket to be able to enter. During my stay there, I was asked for my ticket once only.

Related post: Myanmar Travel Guide for Solo Travelers

After checking-in at Baobabed Hostel Bagan, I went out to have lunch. The restaurant where I ate was quite interesting because instead of giving you a menu, they bring a tray with dishes served on side plates (small plates). Then you choose what you want from the options.

What I had for lunch: rice, chicken soup, mushroom, tomato salad, and spicy dried fish. Paid MMK 3200 for everything, a bottle of coke included.

It was drizzling when I finished eating. I planned on renting an e-bike so it would be easier to get around. It’s my first time riding an e-bike so I told the owner I’ll try first and see if I could drive it. When I tried, the owner thought that I couldn’t and he didn’t let me rent one. I had no choice but to walk. Good thing the Shwezigon Pagoda is just near my hostel. On my way there, I passed by a park where there were stalls selling Burmese umbrellas and puppets. They were also doing watercolor tattoos. I thought it looked cute and decided to have one.

After having the watercolor tattoo, I visited the Shwezigon Pagoda. It is a Buddhist pagoda, believed to enshrine a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha. It is surrounded by an outer wall, and it contains many other shrines, stupas, and structures within the wall.

Shwezigon Pagoda
My watercolor tattoo and the Shwezigon Pagoda at my back

After checking out Shwezigon Pagoda, I walked back to my hostel and had my dinner at the cafe of the hostel.

Day 2

For my second day, I visited Mt. Popa in the morning and did the Sunset Boat Tour in the afternoon. Both tours were organized by the hostel. For Mt. Popa, I signed up at the reception for the shared taxi to Mt. Popa. I shared the taxi with 2 Italian guys. We were picked up at the hostel at 9:00 in the morning. Along the way, the driver stopped at a palm wine workshop. We stopped there for a few minutes and the people there showed us how they make wine.

Then when we were getting close to Mt. Popa, the driver stopped at the Memorial Tomb of Popa Bagan Missionary. He said that it is a good spot to take a picture of Mt. Popa. When we got to Mt. Popa, the driver dropped us off and told us what time we need to be back to the car.

Mt Popa
Mt. Popa Monastery

Mt. Popa Monastery is perched atop a rocky outcrop on the slopes of the extinct volcano Mt. Popa. To get to the monastery, you need to climb up 777 steps. Not only that, you have to do it barefoot at a certain point. And macaques are everywhere, from the starting point up to the top. It’s worth doing that though because the view at the top is stunning. And when we went there it was raining, though it stopped when we were at the top, so it was foggy.

On my way down, I was filming when suddenly a monkey jumped on me and stayed on my back for a while. I was super scared because it might bite me if it got agitated, so I just stood still. Luckily there were locals who saw what happened and they drove the monkey away.

After the visit to Mt. Popa, I decided to rest at the hostel and only went out in the afternoon for the Sunset Boat Tour. If it wasn’t raining that day, we would have seen a beautiful sunset. But it was too cloudy that day, so there’s not much to see.

Day 3

My third day in Bagan was very eventful. I got up super early to watch the sunrise at the temple area. Because I can’t drive an e-bike, and there are no Grab bikes in Bagan, my only option was to walk. My plan was to watch the sunrise at the View Point (refer to the map below). When I checked how far the viewpoint is from my hostel, GoogleMaps said it takes about an hour on foot. So I got up at 4:00 AM.

Map of Bagan
Map of Bagan provided by the hostel

On my way to the View Point, a local in a motorbike stopped to talk to me. He asked where I was going and I said I’m going to the View Point. He told me that place is too crowded because Chinese tourists are brought there by the tour companies. The guy said he knows a better spot and that he could take me there. It was still dark that time, and now that I think about it, it was actually very reckless of me to agree to go with him. I guess I was too trusting that time, but after watching a few seasons of Forensic Files on Netflix, I realized what I did was very risky.

Anyway, he brought me to that secret place, and no one was around. He told me I could climb the pagoda and watch the sunrise from there. But looking at the place, it doesn’t look very nice. I wasn’t pleased with the place so I told him to just take me to the View Point. He took me there and I paid him MMK 1500.

Related Post: Postcards From My Southeast Asia Backpacking Trip

He was right about the place being too crowded. I looked for a spot where there aren’t too many tourists, and I got bored waiting for the sunrise, so I decided to walk to the nearest pagoda, the Sulamani Pagoda. After visiting Sulamani, I walked to Dhamayangyi Temple. After seeing what’s inside, I decided to walk back to the hostel and go have breakfast first. While walking, another local in a motorbike stopped and asked where I am going. We had a little chat, offered to take a picture of me, then told me he knows a spot where I could see many pagodas. And it was really a good spot this time.

Sunrise in Bagan

While we were there, we saw my roommate at the hostel and she joined us. We chatted some more and then my roommate had to leave. I was planning on getting the guy as my guide for the rest of the day but his fee was way out of my budget. So instead I asked him to teach me how to drive an e-bike. It was actually easy and I learned fast. And the owner of the rental shop was very nice. His shop is located just in front of Baobabed Hostel. Highly recommended.

Bagan
Finally got a picture at the temple area

After having breakfast, I checked out of the hostel but left my bag in the storage room. Then I went back to the temple area to check some more pagodas. I had so much fun exploring around with the e-bike. I will definitely go back to Bagan and do that again when this pandemic is over.

E-bike
My e-bike

Related Post: Backpacking Southeast Asia Eight Stop: Mandalay, Myanmar

Ananda Temple
Ananda Temple

In the afternoon, I was supposed to meet with my roommates to watch the sunset together. They sent me the supposed coordinates of the spot, but I didn’t find them there. I even got chased by a dog on my way to the spot. I got rattled while the dog was chasing me so I fell down. After I fell, the dog left me. How crazy was that? Anyway, nothing bad happened to me and the e-bike, because the ground is just sand. I just had few scratches from the thorns of the grasses.

E-bike
I look happy, don’t I?

Anyway, going back to my roommates, I messaged them in our group chat but no one was answering because it seems that none of them had mobile data. In the end, I just looked for a different spot and watched the sunset alone.

After sunset, I drove back to the hostel. GoogleMaps was telling me to take the highway because it’s the fastest route. But I was afraid to drive on the highway because of the buses and cars. So I went back to the pagoda area. And then I got lost because I don’t understand where GoogleMaps was taking me. It was getting dark and GoogleMaps kept taking me back to the main highway, so I had no choice but to follow it. And it took me only eight minutes to get to the hostel. I’m glad there weren’t many cars when I took the highway.

When I got back to the hostel, I just freshened up and ordered french fries for take-away, which I ate at the bus for dinner. I took the night bus to Yangon and it was a VIP bus. Super cool and super comfortable. Will probably write about the experience next time.

Expenses

As mentioned in my earlier posts about this backpacking trip, my challenge was to try to live on a US$ 20 per day budget. And if you’ve been reading my previous posts, you may have noticed I passed the challenge maybe twice only. But I’ll still be sharing with you my expenses during the trip so you have an idea of how much you need when you go on a similar trip in the future.

I brought US dollars for the trip. The official currency of Myanmar is the Myanmar Kyat (MMK). The conversion rate is MMK 1510 for US$ 1. Just to be consistent with my earlier posts, I’ll be using the conversion rate of Php 52 for US$ 1 for this post (it was the conversion rate for Php to US$ when I was on the trip).

Day 1

Grab ThoneBane to bus station- US$ 2.25 (MMK 3400)

Bus fare to Bagan- US$ 7.28 (MMK 10993)

Chips + coke- US$ 1.32 (MMK 2000)

Taxi to Baobabed Hostel Bagan- US$ 3.31 (MMK 5000)

Bagan Zone Ticket- US$ 16.56 (MMK 25000)

1 bed in 6-bed female only dormitory- US$ 10.21 (Php 531.11)

Lunch- US$ 2.12 (MMK 3200)

Dinner- US$ 2.32 (MMK 3500)

Ice cream- US$ 0.66 (MMK 1000)

Conditioner- US$ 1.46 (MMK 2200)

Watercolor tattoo- US$ 1.32 (MMK 2000)

Postcards- US$ 1.32 (MMK 2000)

Day 1 total expenses: US$ 50.13

Day 2

Mt Popa- US$ 6.62 (MMK 10000)

Sunset Tour- US$ 5.30 (MMK 8000)

1 bed in 6-bed female only dormitory- US$ 10.21 (Php 531.11)

Lunch- US$ 4.30 (MMK 6500)

Dinner- US$ 1.99 (MMK 3000)

Day 2 total expenses: US$ 28.42

Day 3

Guide fee- US$ 0.99 (MMK 1500)

E-bike rental- US$ 3.31 (MMK 5000)

Guide- US$ 3.31 (MMK 5000)

Lunch (Fried Vermicelli + Coke)- US$ 1.99 (MMK 3000)

Coke- US$ 0.53 (MMK 800)

Dinner (French fries + Coke)- US$ 1.99 (MMK 3000)

Bus to Yangon- US$ 19.76 (MMK 29838)

Day 3 total expenses: US$ 31.88

As with my previous stops, I failed the challenge in Bagan again. But I had so much fun there. If you have any questions regarding this trip, feel free to leave a comment. Subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss any of my posts. And please follow my Facebook page @iwentanyways and like my Instagram accounts @iwentanyways and @tnadeperalta for updates. You can also check out my backpacking highlights in my IG @tnadeperalta.

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