I’ll tell you all about the train here, but just so you know there is also a bus, van, or boat.
The Bus is ~9000kyat and takes ~8 hours. Stops just near the train station.
The Van is ~15000kyat and takes ~6hours. I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty sure the van will stop directly at your hostel. Ask when you are booking tickets to confirm 🙂
The Boat is ~35usd. The boat sounds like fun and a neat experience, but it does take a full day and is much more expensive than the other options. But it does include a lunch.
There are several different options on the train: economy, standard, and sleeper. I chose sleeper (because I have learned that a decent sleep is super important for my feeling good the next day) so I know that experience very well and you’ll read about that now. But I think the other classes are like this:
– 1000kyat Economy (plastic seats)
– 2900kyat Standard (softer cloth seats, that recline some)
– 4000kyat Sleeper (hard mattress you can lie down on)
The train stops at the Bagan Train station (just near the bus station) – 5km outside of Nguyen-U, 9km from Old Bagan, even further from New Bagan.
Taking The Train
The train was the cheapest and easiest option for us. We stayed fairly close to the train station and I’ve done some sleeper trains in Asia before – they’re a little dirty, but generally an alright ride.
First off, gotta get your tickets. And for these we need to go to the train station -> second floor -> ticket booth -> “9pm Night Train Please”. I highly recommend the small amount extra for a Sleeper ticket. The amount of comfort you get compared to Standard and Economy is very much worth it.
Standard cars are a bit more comfortable than Economy, but you’re still sleeping in a sitting position (never a good rest). I’ve often heard that many of the reclining seats are broken so it may be hit or miss. And maybe it isn’t full and you can kind of curl up on your bench. But just pay the extra $0.70cents to get an actual body length mat to sleep on. It’s gonna be an 8 hour ride.
We got to the station 45min before scheduled departure, 9pm, and the train was already sitting there waiting. I showed my tickets to the gate guard and he led us directly to correct train car. It’s a very old looking train with stains, rust, and discoloration every where your eyes point – and this is the nicest one 😉 Inside the sleeper there are separate rooms labeled A-G. Some have 4 bunks whiles others have 2. Luckily the person who sold us our tickets put us in F, now we have a 2-bunk room all to ourselves.
Riding The Train
The train left precisely on time and I knew it was gonna be a good ride from the very start. One of the guards came around checking tickets, we said “Mingalaba” (Hello) and “Jayzooba” (Thank You). When he heard our Burmese his eyes went wide, as did his grin.
“You speak Burmese?!?” he asked excitedly.
With a brief glance at one another Antonia and I said, “Mmmmm…Not really. Just that.”
The guard then went on a lesson rampage! He pointed to his pen. “In your language, ‘Pen’. In my language ‘Boomba’.” I repeat after him and he lights up.
Then he points to my shoes, “In your language, ‘Shoe’. In my language ‘Nata’.” I repeat and he’s so happy.
Another guard calls to him so he puts out his hand, “Wait 5 minutes.” We’re not sure if he’s really coming back, but as fun as that was I would really like some sleep. We close the door and I lye down. But sure to his word, the guard returns. I sit back up as the lesson continues. He’s pointing to my shirt, pointing to the window, pointing to the door, pointing to the fan, pointing to the pillow, pointing at everything 😀
Something interesting about Burmese is that they have no distinction between “On/Off” and “Open/Close” – it’s the same word. If you want to close the door, you turn off the door. Or maybe you close the fan. That’s a neat language difference for ya.
The guard is having a great time teaching us all of these Burmese words, but it’s too much to take in. I can’t remember all of it and eventually (after 40 minutes) I have to tell him that it’s time for me to sleep. This train arrives at 5am, I’m gonna need every minute of this journey for sleep.
The bumpiest, rattliest, swaying-est train ride ever! This sucker is bouncing every which way. It’s like being on Disney’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (if you remember those good old days of Disney World!). I wake up a bunch of times throughout the night to train horns and jumpy tracks. I don’t know how this thing stays on the tracks it’s moving so much. But overall I sleep just fine. Antonia, however, barely slept at all.
I still recommend it though. If you’re on this train I wish good luck to your sleep 🙂
Arriving in Bagan
Antonia wakes me before my alarm does – she’s been awake the whole time 🙁 Pack up everything, double-check I’m not forgetting anything (which is difficult when waking up in the dark on a train, groggy as all hell), and wait for arrival.
The train stops and we open the door, “TukTuk!!! Where are you going?!? TukTuk!!!” Oh boy….we’re in a tourist town. Not even off of the train and a tuktuk driver is yelling through the train window. Oh well, guys gotta make money. He tells us it’s 4000kyat ($3.70usd) total to take us 5km. I think that’s a fair price so we make the guy very happy getting into his tuktuk.
Driving down the main road the streets are empty, the sun’s not out yet, we stop at a gate. Two guards approach the tuktuk asking for 25000kyat ($17usd) to enter Bagan. Hmmmm, haven’t read about this. That’s a bit expensive just to enter a town. But it’s alright, the fee covers all of the temples and pagodas everywhere in Bagan, of which there are many! It makes life a bit easier for everyone, also I think it’s a way for the government to get most of the tourist money.
A few minutes later we arrive at our hostel. No one is awake yet, but the door is open so we drop off our bags and walk down to the river until the sun comes up and we can explore Bagan.
Set alarm 45minutes before arrival time. It is often very difficult to know what stop you’re at. They aren’t calling stop names and they aren’t knocking on your door when your stop comes up. So you have to be checking your GPS or looking out the window for names at each station.
And the trains can be up to 30 minutes earlier than expected. So although it hurts to wake up so much earlier than I have to, it’s better to not miss my stop.
Get to the train station 30min early. Mandalay’s train station was really easy to navigate and the guard was very helpful. Sometimes it takes some time to find the correct train or find someone who can help. Trains are almost always there early ready for boarding, so show up early and have zero stress.
Have some water with you. There isn’t typically a place to fill water bottles, so if you want to save some money fill yours up before heading to the train station. You’ll almost always be able to buy bottled water at the station so it’s not the end of the world. Also, many trains have a restaurant on board and you might be able to find water on the train, but more pricey!
Pack your things early. Whenever I’ve lost something it has been from getting off of a plane, bus, or train too hastily and not packing ahead of time. Pack up your things before you arrive at your destination and double-check your seats, plugs, sheets, whatever is there to make sure you have everything.