When you think of Myanmar you probably visualize hot air balloons floating into the sky at sunrise over hundreds of pagodas. Welcome to Bagan.
This destination is one that you cannot afford to miss in Myanmar. Speaking of affordability- it is more pricey than any other destination in Myanmar. For example, a hot air balloon ride can cost you around $400 USD!
The cheaper option is to wake up early, find a spot on a pagoda and watch the hot air balloons float up at sunrise (read my tips of how to stake out the pefect sinrise spot). I have heard from everyone that did the hot air balloon rides that it was an unreal experience though. However, that money could also fund your whole trip around Myanmar.
As for accommodation you definitely want to book early. There are very few hostels in Bagan, and even those are more costly than elsewhere in Myanmar. If you wait until the last minute all of the cheaper places will be booked. I met one girl while in Inle Lake, who was traveling to Bagan the next day and was looking for accommodation. The cheapest she could find was $75 USD! Not ideal for a backpacking budget. Especially because you will want to spend more than one day here.
Besides hot air ballooning and accommodation everything else in Bagan still remains cheap. There are many cheap and delicious restaurants to chose from and getting around you can rent an e-bike for about $6 USD per day. If you are sharing that…well, you can do that math.
The best way to get around to all of the pagodas is definitely on an e-bike. They are super cheap and get you around quickly and easily. I shared an e-bike with my friend but if you are both comfortable driving you should definitely get your own. Some of the pagodas require driving on rocky dirt roads and having a second persons weight on the back of this small vehicle makes these roads extra difficult to maneuver. As well, just the responsibility of being in charge of another persons safety is a bit stressful.
Another way to get around is to hire a guide. If you are really interested in learning the history of the pagodas this is the best option for you since your guide will be very informative and help you appreciate each religious structure.
One more option is to rent a bicycle. This options obviously requires a lot more work and will leave you hot and sweaty-but it does look fun!
To enter Bagan you have to pay a tourist fee of $20 USD to help preserve the beautiful pagodas. I think that this is completely fair. If I am being honest with you though- I never actually ended up paying for this fee.
Usually when you are asked to pay this fee/buy your ticket is when you arrive by airplane or bus. There is no way around it. However, for some reason my friend and I ended up on a local bus and so never had anyone come onto the bus when we arrived to ask for our tickets. As you enter the sites with the pagodas there are also no ticket booths to purchase tickets.
There are people, however, that come around and check that you have a ticket. The only place that I ever heard of them checking for tickets was at the main pagoda where everyone goes for sunset. So, we just avoided this one. It wasn’t like we didn’t have a million other pagodas to chose from.
You can purchase a map for cheap to keep track of which pagodas you are visiting and to help you find your way back. To be honest, we didn’t use it much. We just drove around and got lost within the pagodas.
The one time that the map did prove to be very handy was when seeking out the perfect spot to watch the sunset. You can read my tips here on how to find the best spot for watching the perfect sunrise or sunset in Bagan.
If you want to visit Bagan the time is now! They are planning to close many of the pagodas to tourists for preservation.