Mandalay is a great starting or ending point to any trip to Myanmar. The best of Myanmar is located in this part of the country, and if your main Myanmar itinerary focuses on Bagan and Inle Lake start your trip in Mandalay. On our recent two week Myanmar trip we had a direct flight from Chiang Mai to Mandalay with Bangkok Airways for $225 round trip. We spent 2 nights in a Mandalay hotel giving us one full day to explore all the Mandalay attractions.
After our time in Mandalay, it was time to head to Bagan. When traveling from Mandalay to Bagan you will have several modes of transport options to choose from. There are boats to Bagan, buses or shuttle buses from Mandalay to Bagan, the infamous Myanmar train ride, or you can even hire a private driver to take you from Mandalay to Bagan. We’re going to show you all the options when traveling to Bagan and you can choose what fits your travel budget and travel style.
How To Get From Mandalay To Bagan
Mandalay to Bagan by Boat
We opted to travel from Mandalay to Bagan by boat as we hoped this would be a scenic way to get there. Taking a boat cruise down the Irrawaddy River is the most comfortable way to get to Bagan. There are a few companies running boats from Mandalay to Bagan and the prices and duration vary based on which boat trip you go on. No matter which boat you take it will be an early morning, but the upside is you’ll get to see the sunrise as you’re cruising down the river.
- Price: $35 -$40
- Duration: 8-11 hours
- Distance: 113 miles / 181 kilometers
- Departs: 6am-630am
We wish we would have booked this boat as it not only is transportation to Bagan but it visits the local Myanmar village of Lekkapin. You can sit back and relax on the sundeck or join the crew who will show you how to wear the traditional Longyi, the garment worn by local Myanmar people. The staff will also explain the yellow makeup you may have noticed on the locals, it’s called Thanatkha and they’ll even apply some to your face if you’d like. Breakfast & lunch are included and the meals look way better than what we were served on our boat. Click here to book online, boats to Bagan do sell out in advance so it’s best to book in advance.
We booked our trip with Go-Myanmar.com and the boat we took we would NOT recommend ( MGRG cruise). Our trip included “breakfast & lunch” but it was the saddest looking meal. The included breakfast was: 1 cup of coffee an extra cup cost 500k, 2 pieces of toast, and bananas were available for 500k for two. Lunch was fried rice or fried noodles, but we opted to skip this meal as it looked like it had the potential to get us sick – one of our many Myanmar tips. Other drinks and snacks were available for sale, but we suggest bringing some with you on the boat.
When the boat arrives in Bagan you’ll be swarmed with taxis and horse carriages offering to bring you to your hotel. We were staying at Kumudara hotel in New Bagan, taxis originally wanted 20,000k we said no and walked away to talk with other drivers. After about five minutes of negotiating, we paid 12,000k. If you are staying in a hotel in Old Bagan you shouldn’t pay more than 10,000k and if you are staying at a Nyaung-U hotel it shouldn’t be more than 5,000k.
Mandalay to Bagan Taxi or Private Driver
The fastest way to travel to Bagan would be by taxi or private driver. Prices are much more affordable than you would imagine.
- Price: $69+
- Duration: 4-5 hours
- Distance: 113 miles / 181 kilometers
- Departs: Flexible
The best price you can get is booking online here with Viator for only $69. This is what we would do so that we can pay in advance on our credit card and not have to haggle with a taxi driver while on vacation in Myanmar. Traveling to Bagan by taxi gives you the freedom to leave when you want, let’s get real no one likes to get up super early while on vacation. You’ll also have the freedom to stop along the way for breaks and photo opportunities.
If you prefer to book a private driver in Mandalay we highly suggest Ko Fatty (Yes, Fatty is his name). We booked Fatty for a full day tour to explore all the things to do in Mandalay, but he can also drive you to and from Bagan or Inle Lake. If you are looking to hire a private driver in Myanmar for your entire trip he also does provide multi-day trips in which he’ll be with you on your entire trip. Ko Fatty was awesome and spoke great English, definitely contact him to get pricing. We messaged him on Facebook and he got back to us within an hour.
Ko Fatty – Mandalay Private Driver
Mandalay to Bagan by Train
Traveling by train in Myanmar is an experience, but it’s not for everyone. The Myanmar trains are known to be nutritiously bumpy and one heck of a ride. Even if your train ticket says first class don’t have too high of expectations. If you are open for an adventure we recommend taking a train at least once in Myanmar.
- Price: $15
- Duration: 7 hours
- Distance: 95 miles / 151 kilometers
- Departures: Once a day 7 pm
You can book Bagan train tickets online here but note that the Myanmar Railways doesn’t issue e-tickets and a paper ticket is required to board. If you book online they’ll deliver your ticket to your hotel for free. If you choose to purchase the tickets yourself at the train station you have to go a few days in advance to purchase. We highly suggest getting them online so you don’t have to run around purchasing the tickets yourself.
Related Article: Ulimate Inle Lake Guide
Mandalay to Bagan Flights
It is now possible to fly from Mandalay to Bagan. The nearest airport is in Nyaung-u (NYU) which is one of the three main cities to stay in when visiting Bagan. There are several Bagan hotels here as well as some of the best restaurants. There are several airlines flying in Bagan but only Mann Yadanarpon Airlines has a direct flight from Mandalay (MDL) to Nyaung-u (NYU).
- Price: $60+
- Duration: 30 minutes
- Distance: 77 miles / 124 kilometers
- Departures: Several a day
For some reason taxis to/from the Mandalay, airport is cheap as there is a set rate to & from the airport $10USD or 12,000k. All other taxis rides in Mandalay will cost you at 6,000k to just go to a restaurant 5 minutes away. The Mandalay airport is super small and there would be no need to be at the airport more than 90 minutes before the flight. Once you land in Nyaung-U there will be taxis to bring you to your hotel or most hotels offer airport pickups too. Airport taxis are said to have a set rate of 10,000 to hotels in Old Bagan and 5,000k to Nyaung-U hotels. Always feel to negotiate if you think the rate is inflated. If you’re on a Myanmar honeymoon we suggest flying as there isn’t anything romantic about the buses & boats in Myanmar.
Mandalay to Bagan Bus
When looking for the cheapest way on how to get from Mandalay to Bagan the bus is it. We, however, do not recommend this option. The buses from Mandalay to Bagan or not large coach buses, but instead minibusses. These minibusses are known for driving crazy and overloaded with people. Not only will you see your life flash in front of your eyes but you’ll be crammed in the van like sardines.
- Price: $8-11
- Duration: 5-7 hours
- Distance: 113 miles / 181 kilometers
- Departures: Several a day there are Bagan day buses and Bagan nights buses
Myanmar travel tip SKIP the night bus! Budget travelers in Myanmar often take the night buses as it saves on accommodation for the night but then they are dropped off in Bagan at 4 am. So not only did you not sleep but now what are you going to do considering most hotel check-in isn’t until 2 pm. Our friends took the bus from Mandalay to Bagan and said the driver had the bus full of packages that kept flying all over, the driver was passing other vehicles on turns, driving at high speeds, and said they’ve never been any other bus as scary as this ride.
The above ways on how to get from Mandalay to Bagan can be reversed if you are looking for how to go from Bagan to Mandalay.
Once you arrive in Bagan the journey will be so worth it. Bagan was our favorite place in Myanmar and cannot be missed. We suggest spending at least 3 nights in Bagan, we spent 5 nights and think this was the right amount of time.
Recommended Mandalay Hotels:
- Luxury Mandalay Hotel $100+ Mandalay Hill Resort 5 star resort located just outside the moat within walking distance several Mandalay attractions.
- Midrange Mandalay Hotel $50-$100 The Link 78 Mandalay Boutique Hotel 4 star hotel in the center of Mandalay with modern rooms.
- Budget Mandalay Hotel Under $50 Hotel A1 #10 hotel on TripAdvisor is where we stayed located right in the center of Mandalay, great value
Recommended Bagan Hotels:
- New Bagan Hotel: Kumudara Hotel | Agoda | TripAdvisor
- Old Bagan Hotel: Thande Hotel Bagan | Agoda | Hotels.com| TripAdvisor Reviews
- Nyanung-U Hotel: Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort Bagan | Agoda | Hotels.com | TripAdvisor Reviews
How did travel to Bagan? We’d love to hear from you!
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