Many travelers will want to leave this city as fast as possible, which is not quite justified. The sunset from the top of Mahazedi Pagoda provides for an stunning view with many pagodas sticking out of the green surrounding and a Buddha lying and relaxing in between. If you are in a rush, you can still visit the main attractions within 3-4 h by hiring a motorcycle and then hop on your onward transportation.
The 1 Highway Bus Station can easily be reached by foot. If you are planning to change buses in Bago beware that you are not necessarily dropped off there but at the 2 Bus Stop close to San Francisco Hotel. This is especially true for buses from the south and also from Inle Lake in the north. There will be a guy that sells bus tickets, and he will claim that Bago has no main bus station making him the only one selling you an onward ticket (at twice the price). This is not true, and you can easily walk or get transport to the main bus station where prices are more reasonable (although remember to shop around and haggle).
- Yangon – 7,000 kyat (which is probably a little excessive), 2h every hour from 7:00 a.m.. From the Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal but also the corner of Strand and Sule Pagoda Rd. A cheaper option is to take bus 51 to Saw Bwar Gyi Gone Bus Station near the airport, from where a bus leaves to Bago - it takes 1-2 h and is 1,000 kyat.
- Kyaiktiyo – Many direct buses depart leave from Kinpun at 6/8/9:00 a.m., and 1:00 p.m. and cost 5,000 kyat (but can be haggled down to 4,000 kyat). You can also catch buses at Kyaikto, which is directly at the highway, passing by from Hpa-an or Mawlamyine.
- Hpa-An – The bus is 5-7,000 kyat, takes 4-5 h and leaves from the Clock Tower.
- Mawlamyine – AC Bus at 7/8/9:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., 5-10,000 kyat.
- Inle Lake – There are at least three buses from Nyaung Shwe, 3:30/5:30/6:30 p.m. which all arrive in the morning. They are 10-20,000 kyat.
Due to the new highway between Mandalay and Yangon, all buses coming in from the north (Mandalay, Bagan, Naypyidaw) can also be used to get into Bago. Possibly, you will have to get off along the highway and do the last 26 km by pickup.
The train offers a hassle-free way to get out and into Yangon, since the Yangon train station is in the middle of the city, contrary to the Yangon bus stations. The prices for upper class are 1,150 kyat from Yangon (600 kyat for ordinary class), 3,150 kyat from Mawlamyine, about 9,000 kyat from Mandalay and about 5,000 kyat from Naypyidaw.
- The central 3 Bago Train Station has up to three trains a day coming in from Yangon, leaving central Yangon at 7:15 a.m., 6:25 p.m. and 9 p.m. and arriving 2 h later.
- There are another three trains from Mawlamyine, departing at 8:00 a.m., 7:30 p.m. and 8:55 p.m., passing by Kyaikto and arriving 7 h 15 min later.
- Trains from Mandalay leave at 6:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., stop at Thazi (after 2.75 h), Naypyidaw (after 6 h) and Taungoo (after 8-9 h), and arrive 13 h later.
- A shorter variant leaves Naypyidaw at 2 a.m., 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., stops at Taungoo (after 2-3 h) and arrives 7-9 h later.
You can leave Yangon in the morning by taxi ($40-50). A taxi is a very convenient (but still pricey) choice because you use it to see the sights in Bago, which are quite far apart. Also, you can stop at Taukkyan on the way.
All of the sights in Bago can be reached on foot and are within 2 km of each other. However, with the heat or rain that may not be the best way. As a solution, you could combine single shared tuk-tuk rides (200 kyat) with walking. Especially the sights at the western end of the city (around Shwethalyaung Buddha) are all in walking distance, even the Mahazedi Paya is just 5-10 min from the reclining Buddha.
They can be rented at several places, ask your hotel or at San Fransisco Hotel, and are a great way to explore the city if the heat is not too bad. The price is between 1,000 and 2,000 kyat.
Many shared tuk-tuks and pickups are available along the main road(s). Do not pay more for transportation than the locals do: 200 kyat for a shared tuk-tuk or pickup ride. However, often motorbike and tuk-tuk drivers will approach you in mob fashion and try to convince you to pay up to 1,000 kyat. Just walk away from them and try to stop a passing tuk-tuk/pickup – along the main road you'll never have a problem getting one. However, seldom they are not available at certain places.
You can hire motorbikes or tuk-tuk for a whole day for 6,000 kyat, if you discuss a bit, just the bike without driver. This is only worth the money if you are more people or if you want to be sightseeing the whole day from dawn until dusk. Otherwise, single, shared tuk-tuk rides will always be cheaper. Especially the sights at the western end of the city are all in walking distance (20 min or less).
You can get private tuk-tuks or motorbikes at most street corners and sights, however they charge more and will try to rip you off (they want up to 1,000 kyat for a ride, 5,000 kyat for an hour). In that case, just walk away and ask a different one or get a shared tuk-tuks/pickup. Locals pay 500 kyat for a motorbike ride.
Taxi drivers may suggest avoiding the 10,000 kyat government fee for visiting certain pagodas. Make sure you agree on how much extra you're willing to give him for this service as he may demand/expect the 10,000 kyat in return. The fee is only enforced at two places. Easy to avoid it, no need for taxi drivers.
An official government fee of 10,000 kyat is required to visit most of the sights in Bago. However, it is only strictly enforce at Shwethar Lyaung Pagoda, Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda and KanBawZaThadi.
- 1 Mahazedi Pagoda (After the bridge over the rail tracks and before the big turn to the left follow the small road to the right westwards). A big ancient stupa, which looks quite new due to recent restorations. Only men are allowed to climb up to the top, from where there is an awesome view of the city. Overall, this stupa is more impressive than the Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda, which looks quite average and is similar to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Gov. fee not enforced, 300 kyat camera fee.
- 2 Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda (Golden God Temple). At 114 m in height, the Shwemadaw is the talest pagoda in the country. It is similar to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon or the Uppatasanti Pagoda in Naypyidaw, but somewhat less impressive. Gov. fee enforced at all fours entrances.
- 3 KanBawZaThadi / Golden Palace & National Museum (From the clock tower east of the river follow the main road that goes straight east). This palace and its enclosed museum contain some important history information about the city and the surrounding area, especially the ancient fortress Bago apparently was in the past. The museum is not very excessive, but worth a visit if you already have paid the government fee. Gov. fee enforced.
- 4 Shwethar Lyaung Pagoda. Has a Buddha, which at the length of 55 m and a height of 16 m, which is one of the largest ones behind the one in Mawlamyine and the one in Dawei (Tavoy). The Buddha is believed to have been built in 994, during the reign of Mon King Migadepa. Gov. fee enforced when entering the front entrance, the foreigner toll booth is near the feed.
- 5 Myatha Lyaung Buddha (South of its bigger sibling). Probably more beautiful than the one in Shwethar Lyaung Pagoda. This is the one that looks beautiful within the green surrounding as seen from the top of Mahazedi Pagoda. Directly west of it is a small lake with dozens of turtles that turn up when it is feeding time right before sunset. When walking through the temple gardens, take of your shoes. It is possible to walk through the monastery where many monks are living, just ask for the way. Gov. fee not enforced.
- 6 Laymyatnar Buddha (Right at the junction where also Myatha Lyaung Buddha can be found). A complex of four standing Buddhas facing each geographic direction. Only worth it if you are already in that area, e.g. for the reclining Buddha or the Mahazedi Pagoda.
- 8 Kyaik Pun Pagoda (In the southwestern part of the city, a little off track). Most notably the home of the Four Seated Buddha shrine, a 27 m statue depicting the Buddha seated in four positions, sitting back to back.
- 9 Snake Pagoda & Shwetaungyoe Pagoda (A little off track in the southeastern part of the city). If you have never seen a big snake or python, this one looks quite nice. Otherwise the trip (the monastery is a bit off the track) is not worth it. If you're already there, you can go to the Shwetaungyoe Pagoda just north on a small hilltop, which provides great sights over the city. Overall, the hillside pagoda is more impressive than the Snake Pagoda itself. Free.
Except for walking/driving around and visiting the numerous sights, not much more can be done in Bago.
Numberless small and local kitchens are spread all over town, serving soup, noodles and other typical Burmese food. Simply go in and try, they are reasonably clean if frequented well. Many dished go for under 1,000 kyat or even under 500 kyat.
- 1 Market stalls (Across the river from the Emperor Hotel). The morning market has many vendors with traditional foods.
- Clock tower (From the clock tower going towards Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda, the second side street has cafes). Outdoor tables, cold beer, and welcoming atmosphere. Look for the Myanmar beer sign, but they will have other brands as well, such as Tiger, for those who are avoiding government-sponsored products. Bottle of Tiger beer 1,800 kyat, pork noodles with side of soup and condiments 1,500 kyat.
- Star King (Near Emperor Hotel towards the river). Ice cream shop. Free WiFi. Snacks, sandwiches, fruit juice, coffee, beer. The noodle dishes are recommended. The even make French fries.
On the east side of the train station and rail tracks a lot of typical (and sometimes dodgy) Myanmar beer pubs can be found. Otherwise, try the place nearby the clock tower described in the previous chapter.
For the hotels along the main road always ask for a room in the back, because this road is where all traffic from Yangon to the east goes through, also at night.
- 1 Kanbawza Hinthar Hotel (KBZ Hinthar Hotel), No. A1, Bahtoo Road, Quater 2, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. This 3-star hotel opened in December 2014. Nice and perfectly clean bungalows with flatscreen TV and air conditioning. 50$.
- 2 Bago Star Hotel, Kyaik Pon Rd (On the way to Kyaik Pon Pagoda), ☎ . Friendly hotel with a swimming pool. 26 bungalows, but dark and shady rooms without much chique. Includes breakfast. Very quiet due to its location. However, too pricey for the service and quality provided.
- 3 Emperor Hotel, Main Rd (Just west of the river at the foot of the bridge). Rooms facing the road suffer hugely from traffic noise. Rooms to the rear are quieter, but you will certainly be aware of the mosque behind the hotel. Rooms are small and looking quite shabby. You get better value for money at the Mya Nanda Hotel across the street. WiFi included. From 10,000 kyat for private single with air-con, 26,000 kyat for dbl.
- 4 Mya Nanda Hotel, 10 Main Rd (Across from Emperor Hotel into the street), ☎ , , , . Although it looks worse than Emperor Hotel from the outside, the rooms are nicer and bigger. Additionally it has Internet. Same as for Emperor, the rooms facing the road suffer hugely from traffic noise. Breakfast and WiFi included. $10/20 sgl/dbl with air-con.
- 5 San Francisco Motel, 14 Main Rd, ☎ , , . This motel is run by a couple of friendly women, nice and clean rooms although only with fan, no air-con. They have WiFi. 10/15/18/25,000 kyat (sgl/dbl/dbl en-suite/dbl AC).
Bago is located strategically between many onward destinations, Yangon & Ngwe Saung to the east, Kyaiktiyo & Mawlamyine to the southeast, and Bagan & Mandalay to the north via the new & fast highway. It can be a hard choice, but east and north can be combined in a circle, e.g. via the far Mruak U.
- Yangon – Every hour, 2h. Try 3-4,000 kyat. See the comment about the train below.
- Kyaiktiyo – Famous for the Golden Rock. Most buses stop only at Kyaikto from where you have to take further transportation (pick-up) to get to Kinpun ("base camp"), from where the regular and pricey rollercoaster trucks go up to Kyaiktiyo with the Golden Rock. There are some direct buses to Kinpun, just ask for it. Buses take around 2-3 hr and cost 4-6,000 kyat.
- Hpa-An – Famous for its numerous caves and green surroundings. Catch a direct bus or one to Mawlamyine. In case you don't get a direct bus to Hpa-an, get off in Thaton from where pickups or buses can easily be caught from the golden pagoda in Thaton for the last bit to Hpa-an. Frequently, 4-5 h, 5-10,000 kyat.
- Mawlamyine – Famous for the biggest reclining Buddha statue in Myanmar, and it is the 3rd biggest city of Myanmar. 6-7 h, 5-10,000 kyat.
- Inle Lake – One of the most famous destinations in Myanmar, 14 h. The night bus to Nyaungshwe leaves around 6:30 p.m. and is 13,000 kyat.
- Naypyidaw – The capital of Myanmar, not very interesting or busy but allows for a stop on the way to Bagan or Mandalay, and houses the impressive and very little touristic Uppatasanti Pagoda. 8 h, 8,000 kyat.
The quoted prices are for upper class; ordinary class is cheaper but can be full. For more details see Seat61.com, or ask directly at the train station where you also will have to buy the ticket upfront.
- This is the preferred choice to get into Yangon, because, contrary to the Yangon bus station, the train station is in the city center. The 2 h train from Bago to Yangon leaves at 2:45/2:58/3:16/4:13/5:49 a.m. and 12:11/3:24/6:59 p.m. (1,150 kyat).
- The 7.5 h train to Mawlamyine (3,150 kyat) leaves at 9:04 a.m., 8:19 p.m. and 10:50 p.m., also making a stop at Kyaikto (2,450 kyat) after 2.5 h.
- The 7-9.5 h train to Naypyidaw (~5,000 kyat) leaves at 9:43 a.m., 1:16 p.m. and 10:13 p.m., also making a stop at Taungoo after 5 h.
- There is a similar 13 h train the whole way to Mandalay (~9,000 kyat), which leaves at 7:48 a.m., 4:44 p.m. and 6:48 p.m., also making a stop at Taungoo after 5 h, Naypyidaw (~5,000 kyat) after 7-9.5 h and Thazi (~7,000 kyat) after 10 h.