Bagan, also spelled Pagan, on the banks of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, is home to the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world, many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. The shape and construction of each building is highly significant in Buddhism with each component taking on spiritual meaning.
When comparing this immense archaeological site to other archaeological gems of Southeast Asia, the Angkor sites, an analogy with food is apt: savouring the Angkor sites is like a Chinese Lauriat banquet where the temples are presented in grand and exquisite servings and takes a long time (about 10 to 15 minutes) to get from one to the next. Bagan is served up Spanish tapas-style, in small bite size servings, often in frequent intervals and near to each other.
What makes the temples look romantic is the process of graceful ageing. There are no windbreaks and occasional whirlwinds spawn loose dust particles that sandblast the temples. This has eroded the stucco coatings of the temples to reveal the underlying bricks, reddish, and golden brown when bathed in sunlight.
Erosion is a significant threat to this area, not only the wind chipping away the buildings' parging, but also water from the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River threatens the riverbanks. Strong river currents have already washed away half of the area of Old Bagan. It used to be a rectangular-shaped piece of enclave protected by a perimeter wall. Now the remaining triangular eastern half is exposed to the river.
Bagan became powerful in the mid-9th century under King Anawratha, who unified Burma under Theravada Buddhism. It is estimated that as many as 13,000 temples and stupas once stood on this 42km2 plain in central Myanmar, and Marco Polo once described Bagan as a "gilded city alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sounds of monks' robes". Approximately 2,200 temples remain, in various states of disrepair. Some are large and well maintained, such as the Ananda Pahto, others are small tumbledown relics in the middle of overgrown grass. All sites are considered sacred, so when visiting, be respectful. Remove footwear and socks before entering or stepping onto them.
Bagan's golden age ended in 1287 when the kingdom and its capital city was invaded and sacked by the Mongols. Its population was reduced to a village that remained among the ruins of the once larger city. In 1998, this village and its inhabitants were forcibly relocated a few kilometres to the south of Bagan, forming "New Bagan" where accommodation is a handful of cheap, quaint, clean hotels, and religious centres.
Despite the majesty and importance of Bagan, UNESCO did not include it on its World Heritage Site, because it says some temples were rebuilt in an un-historic fashion. Nonetheless, the site is perhaps as impressive as the pyramids of Egypt: a dry, vast open landscape dominated entirely by votive architecture.
Most incoming travel for Bagan, except for some ferries, is through Nyaung U. 1 Nyaung U Airport is 4 km south of Nyaung U. The 2 Bagan Shwe Pyi Highway Bus Terminal is another 2.4 km south from the airport road. Transport from here into town is 1,000-1,500 kyat per person. Another 1.2 km south from the Bus Terminal, you will find the 3 Bagan Railway Station. The boat from and to Mandalay is at 4 Nyaung U Jetty, 1.5 km northeast of Nyaung U market. Another point for ferries is the 5 Old Bagan Pier, 350 m northeast of Bu Paya.
Before entering Bagan, if travelling by bus, you will be taken directly to a ticket booth (directly at the airport or on the road between the Highway Bus Terminal and the airport road junction, about 1 km from the Bus Terminal) where you present your passport and purchase a ticket to the whole archaeological site valid for 4 days. The price is either $20 or 25,000 kyat as of May 2016 - you can choose either currency. The tickets are mostly only ever checked at Htilominlo Temple and Shwesandaw Temple. There are unconfirmed rumours that the money is not used for the site but goes directly into government pockets.
- Mount Popa – 50 km southeast, local pickup, 1.5 h, 1,000-1,500 kyat.
- Mandalay – Many comfortable bus links from Mandalay are available, many in the morning between 06:00 and 10:00, but there are also minibuses in the afternoon. 5-8 h, 7-8,000 kyat. Private taxis can be rented for approximately $80-100.
- Yangon – From Aung Mingalar Highway Bus Station morning and evening buses are available. Book sufficiently ahead, because this is a popular tourist route. 9-11 h, 13-18,000 kyat. Go at least 2 hours in advance from Yangon city centre (Sule paya) to Aung Mingalar Highway Bus Station by public bus number 36.
- Inle Lake (Nyang Shwe) – Air conditioned buses are available for around 14,000 kyat and take 9 h. In case no direct buses are available, try to catch the Taunggyi bus from the junction 12 km north of Inle at around 07:00. The same buses go through Kalaw; 7 h from there.
- Taunggyi – Buses from Taunggyi (06:00) go by (12 km) but not through Inle Lake (Nyang Shwe), but also through Kalaw (7 h). 10 h.
- Pyay – Due to the new and direct highway between Yangon and Mandalay, it has become harder to catch a bus to Bagan from Pyay. However, there is one at 17:00 for 11,000+ kyat, which takes about 10 h to Bagan. You can also take one of the more frequent buses to Magway, and onward travel to Bagan from there for a similar price.
- Magway – 6 h, 4,000 kyat.
- Mrauk U – There are no direct buses available, you will have to take a bus to Magway (09:00 & 12:00,16 h, 24-27,000 kyat) or to Mandalay (08:00 &10:00) and get off at Magway or 4 Kyauk Padaung (19 h, same price as Mandalay). From there it should be easy to catch onward transport, pickup/van or another bus. Check the bus does goes through there (Kyauk Padaung), especially when entering the bus in Mrauk U. Often the ticket seller and the bus are different companies, because passengers are shuffled around depending on the availability of buses. The Kyauk Padaung route is preferable, because Kyauk Padaung is very close to Bagan and you can visit Mount Popa on the way, to enjoy the sunrise in the temple on top of the cliff. 20 h, 28,000 kyat.
It is sometimes rough, smelly, slow and full of insects. Those train tickets are worth their prices. It can make for a nice story if you survive the night.
- Yangon – Overnight trains run daily, departing about 16:00in Yangon and arriving about 09:00 in Bagan the next day. Fares are: upper class sleeper (16,500 kyat), upper class seat (12,000 kyat), ordinary class seat (4,500 kyat).
- Mandalay – There are two direct train service running to Bagan daily, one departing at 07:20 and arriving at 18:45, and one departing at 21:00 and arriving at 04:59 the next day. Only the night train, which might not operate in the low season, has 1st class so check in advance. otherwise you will have limited room to store your stuff and uncomfortable seat in an incredibly crowded train. Tickets are available at the railway station for 1,800 kyat (1st class) and 1,300 (ordinary seat).
- Pyay – The situation about the train from Pyay is unclear, and it may be seasonal only. Pyay is not along the regular Yangon to Bagan route. Prices should be around 5–7,000 kyat for upper class. However, there are three daily trains from Yangon (Kyemyindine or central) to Pyay for 3,900 kyat upper class.
An (almost daily) "express" ferry service runs down the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) from Mandalay to Bagan taking about 9-12 hr (or something like 30 km/h). Prices are US$35/40. It is more of a slow pleasure cruise than a rush express trip thanks to the priceless river views and fresh air, the glimpse of country life with locals waving at you, acknowledging your presence unobtrusively, and the overall soothing and relaxing atmosphere detached from misery and distant from poverty. The RV Shwe Keinnery [dead link] leaves the Gawwein jetty in Mandalay at 07:00 and arrives in Bagan at 17:00. This ferry runs daily from October to March and is not available during the low water months of April, May and June. Another company called MGRG Express Ferry does the same route and times for US$45. Bookings can be made through website, hotel, any travel agent, MTT (government tourist information) or the IWT office on 35th street in Mandalay a few hundred metres from the river.
A (very) slow local ferry covers the same route less frequently and costs 18,000 kyat. Takes between 14-17 h, but is a great opportunity to mix with the locals. Apparently only runs Sunday and Wednesday, so check ahead. Plastic chairs are available to rent on board. Otherwise, bring something to sit on and a cover for the early hours (leaves around 05:00) and evening. Locals will be grateful to share theirs if you ask or if they see you shivering. Tickets are available directly on the boat or through any travel agent.
The boat disembarks at a jetty in Ngaung U. Just after leaving the jetty, there is the toll station to pay 25,000 kyat for the Bagan entry ticket.
Some travelers were disappointed by the views along the river due to the distance to the riverbank and the view in general.
Every Saturday at 05:30 there is also a local ferry from Pyay. However, the arrival times seem to vary widely, so check ahead.
Various companies fly into Bagan nowadays. You can fly to Bagan from Yangon on Air Mandalay, Air Bagan, Asian Wings or Myanmar Airways International. There are winter and summer season prices. Air Mandalay and Air Bagan also fly from Mandalay.
From the airport to New Bagan takes about 15–20 minutes by car, and usually this will cost around 7-10,000 kyat. Most mid-range and luxury hotels will provide free pickup from the airport.
- Walking. This option is only meaningful for tours within your designated town, New Bagan or Nyaung U.
- . They are available between the market in Nyaung U and Old Bagan (200 kyat), as well as New Bagan and Old Bagan (400 kyat). They sometimes attempt to charge 1,000 kyat for tourists but it can be fought by simply waiting for the next one. Having said that, this is only an option if you are aiming for a distinct destination in one of the three towns. It is not very convenient to walk and see the temples starting from Old Bagan.
- Bicycle. This is a good, inexpensive and far from impossible way to see Bagan and its sights (although you have to compete with much vehicular traffic on the one-lane roads). Many hotels offer bike rentals. Most of the area in and around Bagan is flat and very easy to bicycle your way around. In the morning, before it gets hot, is a particularly pleasant time to do this. People tend to rise late around Bagan, so touring early really emphasizes the sense of Bagan as "abandoned". Later in the day, particularly during the warm season, it may be uncomfortable beyond sanity to do this. In the dry season, bicycling the sandy paths connecting the more remote temples can be a harrowing exercise in self-inflicted torture, but this is still the best way to get to where you want to go cheaply and freely. Bring a headlamp for the morning and evening. 1,000 kyat per day.
- E-bike. All comments about bicycle also apply for e-bikes. Even though, later in the day, e-bike can be saner when it comes to heat and sun. However, bicycles are equally convenient if you are reasonably fit. There are two options: the most common e-bikes can carry only one person, and their batteries last half a day (don't trust the people that tell you it's going to last one full day, you'll get stuck in the middle of nowhere like everyone else before you. There are other e-bikes that can carry up to two people. Those e-bikes can easily be recognized because they display the actual speed on a screen. Their batteries last a full day, and even more, and they can go up to 80 km/h. You can easily rent them for one person, for a cheaper price if you're alone. Get lost in the small trails left by others before you and explore the Bagan area away from other tourists. 4-6,000 kyat a day for the old ones, 5,000 kyat (1 person) or 8,000 kyat (2 persons) for the new ones.
- Horse and Carriage. The classic way to visit the Bagan area and its sights. You can either tell the driver where you want to go, or let them decide for you. Usually, they will try to take you to a cafe where they get a commission, but this is not always a bad option. The easiest way to find a driver on your own is to walk around after sunset: drivers will find you. 10-15,000 kyat per day (up to 4 people), 25,000 kyat if booked through the hotel.
Nobody can be expected to visit more than 20 of these structures, let alone all 2,000. One day in Bagan is enough (even with a bicycle) to see all desired temples and sights if started at sunrise and finishes at sunset. A second day can be used to concentrate on specific sights or dos, like Mount Popa, a cruise across the river or just a relaxed hang-around somewhere in Old Bagan.
All temple signs are written in Burmese. Only a few are in English, and if they are, it is written on the back of the sign.
As of 1 March 2016 a new law is in place by Myanmar's Ministry of Culture to ban "disgraceful tourist behaviour" by prohibiting the climb of the "venerated" pagodas for the terrific views of the Bagan area. It needs to be seen what this law actually means in practice. As of May 2016, this restricts entry to the top in many of the pagodas except five.
The three basic building blocks of typical Bagan temples are stupa, block base, and vestibule. With a little practice, you can deconstruct the structures into their basic elements. The simplest structure starts with a stupa shaped like a chess pawn. It caches a tiny sacred piece of human remains, relics of the Buddha, or a simple commemorative votive piece. Some stupas have a single pierced niche housing a Buddha icon, which can be viewed by the devotee from the outside. As complexity increased the niches became bigger and no longer fit in the stupa, so a cube block base was introduced to accommodate the enlarged niche, which eventually became a cell. With the cube block casing the cell now fully defined, the stupa became its topping. Then, the cube's cell's entrance developed a vestibule, while the cell increased to two (back to back), eventually completing all the sides, one for each cardinal compass point (north-south-east-west), and eventually as it became bigger, a dark claustrophobic ambulatory connected all four cells. Becoming more articulate and intricate, the cube's top taper into two to three tiers and are decorated with smaller corner spires on each while the vestibule protruded further and further out, the doorways decorated with pediments, some with upturned, others with downturned, teeth-like decoration. In others, the tiers became prominent to resemble a stepped pyramid. Meanwhile the stupa became more elaborate as mouldings multiplied and sets of tiers and niches were introduced. From a simple gourd-shaped stupa, it evolved into a complex structure.
When looking for the best way to see Bagan, read all the comments and descriptions below, choose the sights you want to see and at what time, and put together a tour using the map view available at the top right, where all temples are listed based on their GPS marker. If you use an app like OSMand for your smartphone, you can even transfer the GPS markers for offline use.
The following five sights are recommended to avoid the crowds but still have a lasting experience of Bagan: Law Ka Ou Shaung Temple (best for sunrise at 05:00), Old Bagan (just after sunrise before the crowds tramp in), Gawdaw Palin Temple (epic temple nowadays blocked by little shops and no 1st floor option anymore, but with a great view from the small forgotten temple to the south across the road), Pathada Temple (with an Buddha facing sunset, great opportunity to catch a Buddha outdoor in this area), Myauk Guni Temple (one of the best sunset view, find the hidden passage that lead to the 7th floor).
If planning for sunrise or sunset, it is a good idea to enquire with the locals on whether these sights are currently accessible to climb the top storeys, after the law enacted in March 2016 restricts all-day access to very few temples. Myauk Guni, South Guni and Shwe Gyu gyi are amongst these. Shwesandaw is a popular for sunset.
The following nine sights are a subjective but recommended selection of worthy and beautiful Bagan temples: Sein Nyet Sister Temples (very calm and uncrowded), Shwesandaw Pagoda (after sunrise when the crowds have dissipated), That Byin Nyu Temple (uncrowded and great view onto Ananda Temple), Ananda Temple (bypass Disney Land and enjoy the quiet courtyard), Sulamani Temple (very picturesque and great illumination by the sun), Thambula Temple (very bright, great for pictures), Dhamma Yangyi Temple (possibly largest, mysterious temple with a juicy gory history), Pyathadar Temple (great for sunset).
- 1 Ananda Temple (Left side on the southern stretch of the Bagan-Nyaung U Rd just before the road heads to Tharaba Gate of Old Bagan). Bagan's holiest temple, built by the third king, Kyan-Zit-Tha in 1091. Ananda comes from the Pali word "anantapannya", which means "boundless wisdom". The temple houses four Buddhas facing the cardinal directions, which represent the four Buddhas who have attained Nirvana. The fifth, Maitreya, is yet to appear. Has been under renovation to remove the white and black washed paint and to make way for a sandy reddish cover, which now allows for impressive and distinct views/pictures like no other temple in Bagan. The temple restoration has been undertaken with help of India.
- 2 Dhamma Yangyi Temple. Commissioned by King Narathu to atone for the sins of assassinating his father, brother, and wife. He is said to have had his wife killed for following Hindu traditions. The eccentricity of this king is reflected in the building's finely set brickwork: he executed a bricklayer for his imperfect masonry and ordered that bricks should be laid such that there is not enough space for even a needle to pass through. Also mysterious is its unfinished construction (work abandoned after he himself was assassinated). Inner vaults are large and current occupants include bats. Believed to be a haunted temple by some inhabitants, but clearly not by the noisy hawkers who set up shop right in front of the Buddha and appear to live in the side passages. China is helping to restore the temple.
- 3 Manuhar Pagoda (The last major temple at the south end of Myinkaba Village along Bagan-Chauk Rd, marked by a free-standing column). Built by the Mon King Manuhar from the nearby kingdom of Thaton, once a prisoner of King Anawratha. When released, he sold his jewellery and built this temple. A good testimony to Mon architecture. This temple contains three sitting Buddhas and one reclining Buddha. It is said that Manuhar built this to reflect his feelings of claustrophobia and despair during imprisonment. The sitting Buddhas are in a half-smile, but if seen from below which you are forced to if you enter through the front entrance, it would look like they are frowning.
- 4 Htilominlo Temple (1.5 km northeast of Old Bagan). Meaning "Blessings of the Three Worlds" and very famous with tourists. Built in 1218 by King Nantaungmya. It is probably the last temple built in this area and using Myanmar style. Interestingly carved reliefs surround the doorways.
- 5 Shwe Gugyi Temple (In front of Thatbyinnyu Temple). Commissioned by King Alaunsithu in 1131, one of the most intact temples, thus needing less imagination to appreciate.
- 6 Shwe Zigon Temple (Heading S, right side on the northern stretch of Bagan-Nyaung U Rd after passing the bus station. A long covered walkway with souvenir stalls starts from the road to the compound). Finished in 1102 during the reign of King Anawrahta, this temple is said to contain a bone and tooth relic of Gautama Buddha. This gourd-stupa-ed golden pagoda was the prototype monument used for building many other structure (including for the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon, the second holiest in Myanmar) built in Myanmar-style in 1087. It is fairly well maintained. Intricate dancing figures on the top of the many halls inside the complex make this a great location to appreciate the artwork from old Bagan. In one of the structures, you can see drawings on the ceilings depicting the different stages of life: birth, youth, monk, old age and death. There is a long walkway in front of the temple, with shops whose shopkeepers will try their very best while you make your way to the temple. As of May 2016, the pagoda was undergoing renovation and is covered with scaffolding.
- 7 That Byin Nyu Temple (That Byin Nyu Guphayagyi), Anawrahta Road (Left side after entering the Tharaba Gate of Old Bagan, the second road). That Byin Nyu Temple was built in the mid-12th century during the reign of King Alaungsithu. Adjacent to Ananda Temple, it is the tallest structure in Bagan. “Thatbyinnyu” means “omniscience”, which the Buddha is said to have attained upon enlightenment. There are some run-down temples nearby That Byin Nyu, and an old city wall that is a short walk away.
- 8 Shwesandaw Pagoda (South side of the southern Bagan-Nyaung U road, almost opposite Ananda). Tiered pagoda very popular for sunrise and sunset.
- 9 Gawdaw Palin Temple (In Old Bagan, just north of the Archeological Museum). A fusion of Burmese and Indian styles, this temple has a beautiful courtyard with a medium-sized stupa and interesting bell hangers. It is a symbol of modern Bagan architecture, and possibly the second tallest temple in Bagan. The temple is similar in layout to Thatbyinnyu Temple. The temple was heavily damaged during the earthquake in 1975, but has been reconstructed.
- 10 Myazedi Pagoda and Gu Byauk Gyi temple (west) (In Old Bagan, just southwest of Mingala zedi). Myazedi pagoda contains the Myazedi inscription, inscribed in 1113, which is the oldest surviving stone inscription of the Burmese as recognized by UNESCO at this site. "Myazedi" means "emerald stupa". The inscriptions were made in four languages: Burmese, Pyu, Mon, and Pali, which all tell the story of Prince Yazakumar and King Kyansittha. The primary importance of the Myazedi inscription is that the inscriptions allowed for the deciphering of the written Pyu language, thus acting as the 'Rosetta stone' of Pyu language.
The nearby Gu Byauk Gyi temple is well-worth a visit for its enormous frescoes covering every inch of its inner walls. Currently there is scarce lighting inside, but thoughtfully two large torches are provided which allow you to appreciate the artwork.
- 11 Law Ka Ou Shaung Temple (400 m south of Pathada). Great for sunrise at 05:00 and far less crowded than Shwesandaw, but it has become more popular in the last years. The second and third terraces lie beyond the tree line and you can easily spot Shwesandaw with its masses. If closed for sunrise try the pagoda and temple just 100 m away.
- 12 Pathada Temple (Along the southern Nyaung U-Old Bagan road aka Anawrahta Rd, 450 m before the junction towards New Bagan). One of the few temples with an outdoor Buddha. Allows for great pictures from the opposite field. The nearby Sinmyashin Temple with its golden top is equally appealing.
- 13 Dhammayazika Pagoda (north of the New Bagan-Nyaung U road). Unusually-shaped five corner, circular pagoda made of bricks. Built in 1196 when King Narapatisithu ruled.
- 14 Bu Paya Stupa (Inside Old Bagan, a northbound road leading to it branches out from the main road as it turns south. The stupa is visible from the outside and not necessary to explore the temple complex). This lone golden gourd-shaped structure sits on a complex temple by the river.
- 15 Sulamani Temple (south of the main Old Bagan-Nyaung U road). A beautiful temple built in 1183 by King Narapatisithu, and very popular in dry season due to the road being more accessible. It has many frescoes and murals which are fairly well-preserved and worth taking a look. Observe the monks drawn on the walls on either side of the Buddha praying in obeisance pointing towards the Buddha. There is also a block with Myanmarese inscriptions inside the temple. In wet season, the access road is muddy and poor, meaning there are fewer tourists and hawkers here compared to other temples. Sulamani means 'the gem'.
- 16 Sein Nyet Ama & Sein Nyet Nyima (On the road south, 500 m before New Bagan). Ama, a temple, was built in the 12th century, typically squared with entrances to all four directions. Nyima, a stupa, has guardian lions on its corners.
- 17 Pyathadar Hpaya (Pyathatgyi) (Between the main roads, along the road past Sulamani). Large hallways and a beautiful large terrace. The Buddha can be seen from the top of the terrace through the outer access hallway also. In wet season, the road can be very bad, meaning that tour groups are generally absent and the temple can be quite peaceful. If you get here in the morning hours, the terrace view is very much worth the mud-trail ride. Offers quite a view of Old Bagan overall. If you come in the pre-rainy season (May-June), you can also watch the beautiful sight of farmers tilling the untilled land in preparation for sowing, with a flock of crows following. Currently this temple is being restored with the help of Singapore.
- 18 Myauk Guni Temple (Just south of Dhamma Yangyi). A smaller temple largely forgotten by tourists and hawkers, and often used as a lovers' lane by locals. If you can make it through the terrible road, its terrace offers very peaceful views. Myauk Guni is north of its sibling Taung Guni.
- 19 Bulethi (Just south of main Old Bagan-Nyaung U road). A well-signposted and easily accessed temple. A good place for quiet and unobstructed views of the surrounding farms and temples.
- 20 Gu Byauk Gyi Temple (100 m after Lanmadaw 3 Rd joins Anawratha Rd, west out of Nyaung U). This durian-shaped stupaed temple was modelled after Bodh Gaya in India. It has also murals depicting scenes from the Jataka tales. Its less visited sibling Gu Byauk Nge is just west. However, access is not granted by the caretaker anymore. Therefore, try the squared Shin Bo Me Ok Kyaung (also mentioned below for a sleeping option under the stars), 450 m down the road southwest.
- 21 Upali Thein Ordination Hall (On the main road close to Htilominlo). Named after a well-known monk and built in the middle of the 13th century, this rectangular hall has roof installments imitative of Burmese wood architecture and a tiny central spire going up from the roof. Many other similar buildings are have been gone long due to its wooden construction.
- 22 Mingala Zedi Pagoda (Just south of Old Bagan). A notable feature of the temple is the blue-tiles set on the walls of the top-tiers, depicting Jataka tiles made of glazed terracotta. Though there used to be 1061 of them, even now, several hundred of the tiles are still intact. If you are aware of Jataka, you can spend quite some time here making out some of the stories.
- 23 Mahazedi Pagoda (Just east of That Byin Nyu). Another unremarkable temple.
- 24 Thambula Temple (2.5 km southeast of the airport). Said to be built by King Uzana's wife Thambula. Well illuminated, the Chinese influence is clearly visible: Chinese eyes, hair and yellow.
- 25 Paya Thone Zu (350 m north of Minnanthu Village). The word means "three pagodas", which it is. Built during the 13th century with visible Mahayana influences it was never finished, potentially due to the invasion of the Mongols.
- 26 Somingyi Kyaung (Right in the middle between Myinkaba Village and New Bagan). Built around 1200, this temple made of thousands of bricks is named after its owner. The structure is a distinct built up of cells around a patio in the middle.
- 27 Unknown Pagoda Ruins (At the river behind Somingyi Kyaung).
- 28 Lone Buddha. A Buddha south of Somingyi Kyaung. Allows for a very nice picture.
- 29 Bagan Archeological Museum. A visually striking building, the size of which far exceeds what is needed for its contents. The majority of the items on display are miniature recreations of traditional village life, not-very-good paintings of the surrounding temples & stupas, and so many Buddha statues that even the most devote Buddhist would concede is excessive. 5,000 kyat for foreigners & 500 kyat for locals..
- 30 Buddhist Initiation Rites (A monastery around (in and out of the walls of) the northern side of Old Bagan). During school breaks, boys are inducted into monkhood with this ritual. This can be observed with the first signs of loud temple music blaring out a day before and on the day itself coming from the monastery. On the day itself, the boys are brought to the monastery by parents and relatives dressed in gowns, crowns, flowers, sequins, and glitter, stockings, and make-up. An audience gathers. The place itself is colourfully festooned. A small show consists of songs by hired singers accompanied by ensemble music, a pep talk by a layman and some rituals. After some photos with their parents, the boys are brought again to another monastery to be stripped, heads shaved and bathed. Finally, they are assembled in the hall in front of the abbot for prayer recitation, oath taking, and robe-blessing ceremonies, after which they are totally stripped and dressed in their new vestments by their parents. They will stay the rest of their school holiday in the monastery.
- Monks and Nuns (Best seen along Nyaung U Rd from Thante Hotel to the Shwezigon Pagoda, ask at your accommodation). If you have not seen monks alms-gathering and bestowing blessings, get there at 07:00. and see the monks wearing their burgundy vests. There is even a herd of little monks as young as 3- or 5- to 10-year olds parading barefoot with the tallest down to the smallest toeing the line and with the eldest and the shepherd of them all brotherly escorting the last and the youngest (a heartwarming sight to see). By the way, the first in the parade is the announcer carrying his little bell and beater. Other spectacles are the also baldheaded nuns with their pink robes, orange skirts and beige-ochre shoulder-to-armpit wrapped towels. Their way of alms gathering is different: they use woven cane trays carried over their heads and receive only one spoonful of uncooked rice from each donor.
- Murals. Some temples became elaborate and have murals, but it's a waste of time trying to see them as the majority have are in dark interiors. It is not worth taking off your shoes and socks to get in. The only exceptions are the Paya Thone Zu, the Gu Byauk Gyi Temple and the Upali Thein Ordination Hall where natural light can penetrate. Better to go to the archeological museum to see scale reproductions, or buy the book on the subject sold at all souvenir bookshops.
- Balloons over Bagan. For an unparalleled view of the Bagan plain, you can take a hot air balloon ride at sunrise. These balloons are British-made and have a perfect safety record. They do not operate during the summer. US$320 per person.
- Rent a chauffeured car. This is the most convenient option for doing the comprehensive tour. Cars are privately owned but they must be government accredited as indicated by a big sticker on the door of the car. The rental office is in the tourist information office at New Bagan. US$35 per day per car (fare can be split, maximum 4 passengers).
- 1 Bagan Nan Myint Tower (Just south of Aureum Palace Bagan Hotel). This large tower can be seen from almost everywhere in Bagan. An elevator to the top for incredible views of the surrounding plains. 7,000 kyat (Dec. 2017).
- 2 Lacquer-ware making tour (Many locations in Myinkaba vilage). Mon-style lacquerware is a traditional art and small-scale industry in Myanmar, and nowhere is it better to catch this than Bagan. It is said the Mon King Manuha brought his artisans with him into exile here. In Myinkaba village, several small setups produce lacquerware out of wood or bamboo. Many of these are family-based businesses, and they will give you free tours and detailed explanations of the intricate process for free in English, with no pressure to purchase. Free.
- 3 Tant Kyi Taung Pagoda (Across the river from Old Bagan). A hilltop pagoda offering views of the entire city of Bagan from the other side if the river. To get there you have to get a boat from Bu Paya stupa in Old Bagan. On the other side, you can walk up a long path to the temple (not possible in wet season and looks like a hard slog even in the dry) or take a 4WD for another 20,000 kyat. Worthwhile a half-day trip, even if it costs almost as much as going to Mount Popa. Boat 15-20,000 kyat, 4WD 20,000 kyat.
- 4 Mount Popa (50 km southeast of Bagan). This is a day trip or a stopover to and from Bagan, depending on where you come from or go. This attraction is a temple on a cliff. You walk up the stairs from the underlying village (about 100 m), barefoot as the place is considered holy. The stairs are not very clean because of the presence of large numbers of monkeys. You can even climb the actual mountain when taking the road 1.3 km before the mountain village, by Popa Mountain Resort and up the track to the crater. The views from the temple are good and from the crater even better. Pick-up trucks can be organised at hotels or at the market in Nyaung U. 4-6,000 kyat return per person organised, 1,000-1,500 kyat one-way local transport.
Bagan offers lacquer ware, cloth paintings, T-shirts, and other handicrafts. It is considered "friendly" to grant a customer 10% off, but it is common for initial prices to be double what you can get with bargaining. If you haggle, remember to keep it friendly.
Staff at the ticket booths sells pirated copies of George Orwell's Burmese Days for around US$5, though if you negotiate you can get them down to US$1. Maps are also sold for 1,000 kyat, although they are available free from hotels and guest houses if you pass by and ask for one even if you are not a guest.
There are several ATMs available in Nyaung U and New Bagan.
- 1 Ananda Books. Located in the hallway of Ananda Temple, you can find all of your pirated book needs. Buy cheap copies of books like Twilight Over Burma, The Glass Palace and Burmese Days.
- 2 Jasmine Family Lacquerware, Myinkaba Village (North of New Bagan). This is a family run lacquerware shop located just behind Golden Cuckoo in Myinkaba village. It's a little hard to find, but turn onto the street where the Golden Cuckoo sign is, go past the shop and head to the right hand side. Jasmine family will be on the right hand side of the lane. The shop is run by the friendly Shein Aung, and he will show you how they make their lacquer and explain the differences in quality (lacquer sold in front of temples is low quality). 10 % discount on wares is common during high season, 15 % during low season. Teacup US$7-12, bowls US$15 and large plate US$25.
- 3 Myinkaba Village Market (Right in the center of Myinkaba Village). Sundays?. Locals sell everything here they desire for their daily life. Focused on goods for locals not tourists.
- 4 Mani Sithu Market (Nyaung U Market), Manisithu Street, Nyaung U. Convenient if you are staying in Nyaung U, the market is located in the middle of town and is half tourist market half local market. Wander around and look at the meat, vegetables, wickerware and other goods for sale.
There are many places to eat in Old Bagan serving the traditional Burmese dishes, especially noodle soup. Some of the buffets are excellent; for about 1,500-2,000 kyat you can eat to your heart's content from dozens of different traditional dishes.
- 1 South end of Bagan-Nyaung U / Lanmadaw 3 Rd (Just before Old Bagan where the dirt road leads left to Ananda Temple). There are alfresco restaurants lining this road serving complete budget meals. A meal priced at 1,600 kyat consists of rice with the main dish, two bite sizes of beef, pork, or two small chicken pieces, or about a dozen smelt pieces, plus clear broth and 4 small plates of appetizer-veggies, beans, salads, pickled veggies. There are also tourist restaurants in this area towards Old Bagan, some of which are good but all have high prices.
- 2 Restaurant Row, Thi Ri Pyitsaya 4, Nyaung U (In the back streets north of Zfreeti Hotel). Has a string of restaurants catering to tourists, most of which are quite good.
- 3 Black Bamboo, Nyaung U (Part of the Restaurant Row in Nyaung U). One of the few places with an atmosphere, set in a green courtyard just off the restaurant row. Local and Western dishes and wine available.
- 4 Mahar Bagan, Khayee Rd, Khan Laung Quarter, New Bagan (East of 2nd St). One of the better restaurants in Bagan, with a cheerful and friendly owner who speaks good English and seems happy to indulge customers in stories about the area. The menu consists primarily of Chinese-style dishes. The restaurant serves an excellent array of traditional Burmese food, but you have to visit 4-5 hours in advance to let them know your order, as most Burmese dishes take a long time to prepare.
- 5 The Moon Vegetarian Restaurant, Old Bagan (North of Ananda Temple), ☎ . Not only amongst the best veggie restaurant in Bagan but overall a great eating experience. All food on the extensive menu is freshly prepared, and there is always a special dish of the day. Seats around 15, so you will not have to sit with big tour groups. The staff are quite friendly and generally better at speaking English than the average Myanmar citizen. The special Myanmar coffee you see on the menu is actually tea. Around $7 per person.
- 6 The Golden Emperor, Nyaung-U (Nyaung-U, near Bagan Umbra hotel, on the way to Shwezigon temple). Good food and good service. Food is a mix of local Myanmarese and western. The milkshakes are good, and beer is available. Around $7 per person.
- 7 Star Beans, Old Bagan (North of Ananda Temple, Old Bagan, next to The Moon Vegetarian Restaurant). Run by a friendly man with over 15 years experience in Myanmar hotels, the restaurant offers beautifully presented Burmese food and a few Western favourites. Best are the fresh baguettes.
- 8 Weather Spoon's, Thi Ri Pyitsaya 4 Street, Nyaung U (Near Cherry Guest House on the main road heading to Old Bagan), ☎ . Good new eatery restaurant with European, Burmese and Chinese food. Delicious hamburgers. Around US$5 per person.
- 9 Khine Wah Tea House, Lanmadaw 2 Rd, Nyaung-U (about 400 m south of the Mani Sithu market). Local cafe. Tea/coffe (milk tea 500 kyat), samosa, tea leaves salad (1,000 kyat), etc. Free WiFi.
Too many options exist to list them all, and they are very volatile. Just looking around in the guest house and restaurant areas is the best option.
Many accommodation options are available in New Bagan (around the roundabout) and Nyaung U (along the northern main road) - just walking around will give you plenty of options to chose from and to compare. Find many locations in OpenStreetMap (OSMand) or Google Maps. Most backpackers prefer New Bagan over Nyaung U. In Old Bagan, only some government-involved, luxury hotels remain. However, the latter is the one closest to most sights.
Make sure to book ahead in high season or during holidays; it can fill up quickly. In case you are unlucky, try Eden Motel II, they often make dorm-like room for mattresses on the second floor, when Bagan is very busy. Otherwise, in case you have a travel mattress and sleeping bag, opt for a night under the stars on the roof of 31 Shin Bo Me Ok Kyaung (squared temple) 1-2 km outside of Nyaung U on the right side of the road west towards the temples - the staircase is in (one of) the outer walls to the north.
Prices can vary widely, even if quoted below, depending on the time of year and how you do the booking (email, website, direct). Certainly, the best option is to simply walk in at low season, ask for the price and see the room.
- 1 Mya Thida Hotel, Nweni Street (Corner 4th st / Nweni St), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Big dorm rooms with 4 beds and lockers with toilet. Burmese breakfast included. 12-15,000 kyat dorm, 25,000 kyat dbl.
- 2 Mya Pyei Sone Guest House, Sa Pal Street, Kan Latt Quarter (Between Sabae and 3rd St). Friendly, clean and cheap. WiFi. Good value. Spacious rooms with 2 beds and en-suite bathroom. 16/24,000 kyat sgl/dbl with AC.
- 3 Ostello Bello Bagan, Thiri Sandar, Hkan Latt Qtr, Main Road (Right next to the central roundabout), ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. WiFi, 24 h desk, AC, luggage storage. Has many dorm beds, and is popular with backpackers. From 17,000 kyat (negotiable).
- 4 Northern Breeze Guest House, No.162 Cherry Street, Shwe Loung Block, Kyansitthar Quarter (East of 2nd St), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Breakfast buffet, clean rooms, spacious, WiFi. Ideal for backpackers, but no dorms. 25-40,000 kyat (dbl AC en-suite), e-bike 8-10,000 kyat.
- 5 Kaday Aung Hotel (Northern New Bagan), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Garden and pool are OK, but the cold environment from the shade of trees is priceless. The rooms are well-decorated with woods and bamboo fixtures and art. Dinner and dance shows at outdoor restaurant, buffet breakfast with local and continental menus are so delicious. Friendly staff, and then manager is helpful. Also try email@example.com . $20-40.
- 6 Crown Prince Hotel, Khat Tar Street, Shwe Loung Block, Kyansittha Quarter (West of 2nd St), ☎ , , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Has 17 deluxe rooms and some "suites". A friendly staff, but neighbouring rooms can be loud. Spacious, WiFi, AC, coffee/tea, fridge, fruits. Also try email@example.com . $40-60.
- 7 Areindmar Hotel, Kayay St (Between 5th and 6th St), ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 2 storey building. Good, and quiet hotel. Wide choice for breakfast. $52.
- 8 Manisanda Hotel, Corner of 7th Street x Hnin Si Street, Kyansitthar Quarter (Northern end of 7th St), ☎ . They have a convenient roof terrace for amazing sunsets and sunrise views. Cleanliness could be improved, including the breakfast and common amenities. $45-60.
- 9 Shwe Yee Pwint, Kant Kaw St, Anawrahta Ward, Khan Long (East of 2nd St), ☎ , , , e-mail: email@example.com. Bungalows and pool. Many restaurant are nearby. Single rooms are a little small. Friendly and clean. Also try firstname.lastname@example.org . $70-120.
- 10 Thazin Garden Hotel, No.22, Thazin Road (500 m southeast of the roundabout), ☎ , , , , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-out: $75-120. Bungalows and rooms overlooking a rebuilt pagoda. There is also a salon, expensive Internet access, a limited library, billiards, a scenic pool and a nice breakfast room.
- 11 Inn Wa Guest House, Lanmadaw 3 Rd (Near the rotunda at the north end of Nyaung U Rd, less than 100 m east of the market), ☎ , . Cleanly maintained and exceptionally dust-free for its category. Air-con, TV, private bath with hot water and breakfast. Good English speaking informative staff. Good service. Free WiFi. $15.
- 12 Shwe Taung Tan Guest House, No.70, Lanmadaw 3 Rd (Opposite Inn Wa Guest House, less than 100 m east of the market). Including breakfast, restaurant, AC, en-suite bathroom. They also rent bicycles. 5-10 kyat (sgl/dbl).
- 13 Eden Motel II, Lanmadaw 2 Rd (120 m south of the market, opposite Eden Motel), ☎ , . The cheaper option compared to Eden Motel. WiFi and hot water. $10 dorm.
- 14 Eden Motel, Lanmadaw 2 Rd (100 m south of the market), ☎ , . Breakfast on the roof. Car and bicycle rental available. $4-8/7-10/15 (sgl/dbl/3bed).
- 15 Pan Cherry Guest House, 51/1, 84th St, Bet: 24-25, Amts (Next to Shwezigon Pagoda), ☎ . Including breakfast. Bicycle rent. Fan and shared bathroom, or AC and en-suite. Great location, inexpensive rooms and clean. $5/10 (sgl/dbl fan & shared), $8/15 (sgl/dbl AC & en-suite).
- 16 Pyinsa Rupa Guest House, Lanmadaw 3 Rd (On the main road 300 m east of the market), ☎ . Rooms on the roof are nicer and quieter. WiFi usually doesn't work. Not the cleanest place, but OK. Bikes can be rented. The owner speaks very good English and is very informative and helpful. $17 double with shared bath incl. breakfast, bikes $2.
- 17 Aung Mingalar Hotel, Lanmadaw 3 Rd (Opposite of Shwezigon Pagoda), ☎ , , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. AC, bathroom, TV, fridge, restaurant. Recommended. $10-15/15-25 (sgl/dbl).
- 18 Saw Nyein San Guest House, Lanmadaw 3 Rd (On the main road 300 m east of the market), ☎ , , , . Check-in: Noon, check-out: 11:30 a.m.. Friendly budget hotel located in Nyaung U close to the market. Free WiFi, clean rooms, very friendly and helpful staff, breakfast included. Horse cart hire for 30,000 kyat and one-way airport transfers of 5,000 kyat. 25/40,000 kyat (low season sgl/dbl), e-bike 5,000 kyat.
- 19 Thante Hotel (Northern tip of Nyaung U-Nyaukpadaung Rd, the second large junction after the main junction at the entrance of Nyaung U), ☎ , , , e-mail: email@example.com. Clusters of rooms set in bungalows around a central pool. Close to the market. Excellent service. Dispenses free map. Also try firstname.lastname@example.org. Free airport shuttle. Restaurant with puppet show each evening. $35-35 sgl, $38-45 dbl, $48 3bed.
- 20 Zfreeti Hotel, 5th Thiri Pyitsaya 5 St (Behind Prince Guest House along Anawratha Rd west out of Nyaung U), ☎ , , e-mail: email@example.com. This is the replacement for New Heaven Hotel and Golden Village. Not as cheap as before anymore, but highly recommended. 50,000 kyat (dbl).
- 21 Amazing Bagan Resort (Adjacent to the Bagan Nyaung U Golf Club), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: 12:00. A luxury resort at a bargain price. It is a bit outside "everything", so to get to the nearest town or even shop it's necessary to rent a bike or take a taxi. It's a very quiet, beautiful and tranquil place. They can arrange horse cart rides to see the temples with pick up from the hotel for 13-15,000 kyat for a full day. Bikes can be borrowed free of charge. Nice large swimming pool. WiFi is free of charge as well in the lobby. The restaurant serves excellent food and is not too expensive. The reception staff are very friendly, polite and helpful. The rooms are big, only problem with that is that the small air-con units in the rooms have a hard time cooling the rooms. Owned by a local Chinese business man. Also try email@example.com . $53-75, restaurant $5-10.
- As the Romans do, the best footwear to go about in this site is a pair of plastic slippers or Crocs. Easy to slip on and off as one hops from one temple to another. Wearing socks and laced shoes is a hassle. However, regular shoes with laces will give you the best foothold if you intend to climb any temple or pagoda.
- Be careful when you climb the stairs of less-visited temples, hidden beehives just above your head might make Bagan a painful experience!
- Headgear and sunscreen against the sun is also important. A wide brimmed hat is recommended or pack a collapsible umbrella like the locals.
- Bring a bottle of water and when empty, refill it at the nearest travel agency or banks you happen to stop by. If not squeamish, refill it at the water stations (with local ceramic jars as water containers) ubiquitously and strategically placed all around the town. Water in these temple jars is safe, as it is distilled water, and the clay naturally cools the water. At less popular temples, check the water first to make sure the it is fresh.
- Bagan is not for those with respiratory illnesses as the air is full of dust.
- When using an e-bike, be careful of the sand. You can easily hydroplane on the loose dirt and crash, or get your bike stuck on hills. Go slow.
- If you are using a bike for your personal tour, when you leave it by the gate, it is most likely that your bike will still be there when you get back. Bagan is a family-village setting and anyone who does harm to anybody will be known and humiliated, if not prosecuted.
- Souvenir vendors, young and old, some as young as 6 years, are pros. They manipulate the heartstrings of the tourists using subtle and psychological techniques. They initially act as your bike minders, then guides, then tip providers eventually revealing their true intentions. They sometimes even offer to visit you at your hotel if you aren't decided or you have no available cash. Don't fall for their friendliness, and be firm in your refusal before they get too attached to you even if you insist that you are only a tourist on budget and had already coughed out $5 for each vendor at all temples you've visited. They are hard to shake off and will persist.
- Do not fall for the "your hotel / guest house does not exist anymore" trick of many taxi drivers. They are just trying to drop you off at their friend's guesthouse or hotel where they will get commission.
- When you need to hire a taxi to get from the bus station to your hotel, make sure you get a good reasonable estimate of the price from a trustworthy source, such as your hotel, before you arrive. The drivers start by double or triple quoting the price for tourists, and this is especially so if you are arriving at an odd timing (22:00 - 05:00). The better option would be to ask your hotel to arrange transport.
- Village children - If you stop on your e-bike to look at your map, be aware that children may approach you and twist the bike's accelerator, causing the bike to lurch forward. In addition, children have started to sell postcards that they've drawn. Do not buy from children: the more you buy the more you keep them out of school.
For questions regarding travel and potential restrictions, see 6 Nyaung U Tourist Information Counter in No.6 Quarter, Aung Myay Thar Ward, Nyaung U (+95-9-5019088).
Many buses leave from Bagan Shwe Pyi Highway Bus Terminal south of Nyaung U into all directions. Best compare prices of the travel agents south of Nyaung U market or book directly at the Bus Terminal, try JJ express bus Nyaung U. Seldom buses are not full, and consequently do not allow for spontaneous travel, in which case you may want to try one of the many minibuses or vans, which can also be booked near Nyaung U Market with similar prices.
- Mount Popa – This attraction is a temple on a cliff and a mountain and crater, which can be climbed for an even better view. From Mount Popa or Kyauk Padaung respectively, onward travel to Mandalay (via Meiktila), Pyay (via Magway) or Mrauk U (via Magway) is possible. Taking local transport southeast from Nyaung U by the Highway Bus Station, the price is about 1,000-1,500 kyat one-way for the 50 km.
- Meiktila – This is more a transport hub for onward travel to Kalaw, Mandalay or Naypyidaw. The bus there costs 5,000 kyat.
- Monywa – Famed for its two giant Buddhas (Boddhi Tataung), one standing and one lying, and the 500,000 Buddha sculptures Thanboddhay Pagoda. Local (non air-con) bus cost 3,000 kyat at the bus station (that is the locals' price so haggle) At hotels, they charge about 5,000 kyat. They can pick you up along the main road. The bus starts at 07:30, 09:00, 10:30 and 12:30. and takes about 3–4 h, including several stops.
- Mandalay – Famous for the U Bein Bridge, the Buddha face washing, as well as the nearby mountains by train. Buses to Mandalay leave at 08:00, 08:30. and in the afternoon, takes 6-8 h and costs 7,500-15,000 kyat, bargain hard.
- Kalaw, Inle Lake, Taunggyi – Inle Lake is one of the most famous sights in Myanmar, a giant lake only a few metres deep with many local villages around and in the lake. "Hiking" tours are very famous (but also very touristic) between Inle Lake and Kalaw. There are several daily buses (07:30 & 19:30) and at least one minibus at 20:00 to Kalaw and Inle Lake (Nyang Shwe) which cost around 12,000 kyat and take around 7-8 h to Kalaw and a few more to reach Inle. Some do only stop along the highway, 12 km away from Inle Lake, and go further to Taunggyi (10 h). The bus should pick you up from your hotel in Nyaung U. The ride up into the hills to Kalaw is steep and scenic, and the road quality is normal for Myanmar.
- Pyay – Famous for the nearby and ancient Pyu city. The bus from the Bagan Shwe Pyi Highway Bus Terminal leaves at 1:30 p.m. and takes about 10 h. 11,000+ kyat.
- Magway – A transport hub for Mrauk U and Pyay. The bus from Bagan to Magway leaves the bus station near the airport at 10:00,12:30 and 23:30. Takes 6 h and costs 4,000 kyat.
- Mrauk U (& Sittwe) – Mrauk U is famous for its ancient sights of the last great kingdom and its traditional, surrounding Chin Villages. Starting from Bagan, you have to take a bus to Magway or Kyauk Padaung (southwest of Mt. Popa) and switch to the bus to Mrauk U (or Sittwe). In Magway, catch the bus near the bridge across the Irrawaddy river or in front of the K.H.M. Fashion store. In Kyauk Padaung, along the east to west main road. The bus from Magway or Kyauk Padaung to Mrauk U or Sittwe is about 25-27,000 kyat and takes 16-22 h.
- Yangon – Night buses to Yangon leave in the afternoon and arrive early in the morning. There is one day bus that departs Bagan at 09:00. Try to buy directly at the bus station or compare travel agents, prices at hotels can be higher. 13-18,000 kyat, 13 h.
It is rough, smelly and slow, and sometimes full of insects: however it's worth it.
- Yangon – Overnight trains run daily, departing about 17:00. from Bagan and arriving about 10:30 in Yangon the following day. This route does not go through Pyay but by Naypyidaw and through Taungoo. Fares are: upper class sleeper 16,500 kyat, upper class seat, 12,000 kyat, ordinary class seat, 4,500 kyat.
- Mandalay – There are two direct train service running to Mandalay daily, one departing at 04:00 and arriving at 15:55 and one departing at 7 a.m. and arriving at 14:30. Apparently, only the night train, which might not run in low season, has 1st class. So check ahead. Otherwise, you will have limited room to store your stuff, as well as cramped, uncomfortable sitting conditions in an incredibly crowded train. Tickets are 1,800 kyat (1st class) and 1,300 (ordinary seat).
- Pyay – The situation about the train to Pyay is unclear. It could be seasonal, but there are reports of people that have used this train in the near past. Nevertheless, there are three daily trains from Pyay to Yangon for 3,900 kyat upper class. So, you could take the bus to Pyay and continue from there.
For more details see Seat61.com, or ask directly at the train station where you also will have to buy your ticket in advance.
An (almost daily) "express" ferry service runs up the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) from Bagan to Mandalay taking about 12 h. Prices are US$35/40. It is more of a slow pleasure cruise than a rush express trip thanks to the priceless river views and fresh air, the glimpse of country life with locals waving at you, acknowledging your presence unobtrusively, and the overall soothing and relaxing atmosphere detached from misery and distant from poverty. The RV Shwe Keinnery [dead link] leaves Nyaung U Jetty at in Bagan at 06:00 and arrives in Mandalay at 18:00. This ferry runs daily from October to March and is not available during the low water months of April, May and June. Another company called MGRG Express Ferry does the same route and times for US$45. Bookings can be made through website, hotel, any travel agent or MTT (government tourist information).
A (very) slow local overnight ferry covers the same route less frequently and costs 18,000 kyat. Takes about 22 h, but is a great opportunity to mix with the locals. Apparently only runs Monday and Thursday, so check ahead. Plastic chairs are available to rent on board. Otherwise, bring something to sit on and a good cover for the night. Tickets are available directly on the boat or through any travel agent.
Some have been disappointed by the views along the river due to the distance to the riverbank and the view in general.
Every Sunday at 17:30. there is also a local overnight ferry from Nyaung U Jetty to Pyay, which does arrive at 10:45.