There’s no denying it: Bagan is a touristy destination, despite residing in the middle of an otherwise lesser-explored country. And naturally, that makes it a pricier destination. Though it’s still a steal compared to destinations like Europe, it’s noticeably more expensive than the cost of nearby backpacker hotspots, and we feel your pain transitioning from a $3 dorm bed to ones that start around $10 (especially when it usually means going from a fun hostel with ambience to a cold-tiled motel-style room). Luckily, there are some pretty easy ways to counter-act the tourist traps of it all. For you backpackers trying not to break the budget in Bagan, here are our best money-saving hacks and tips.

 

Budget Travel Tips for Bagan, Myanmar

 

 

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

 

Budget Travel Tips for Bagan, Myanmar

Transportation

  • Arrive by night bus in time to catch sunrise your first day. Most hotels will let you check in by 6am, and you save money by not paying an extra night in a hotel
  • Stay in a hotel within walking distance of the temples so you can see sunrise from one without hiring a taxi at 5,000 kyat per person (check where your hotel/hostel is on the map beforehand). Also, make sure there is food within walking distance for the evenings. We stayed at Winner Hotel, which fit these requirements (details on Winner Hotel here).
  • Plan so that your next destination is somewhere you’ll be taking a night bus to, and save one more night in a Bagan hotel.

Accommodation

  • When getting a hotel room, ask for one with a shared bathroom outside of the room- usually much cheaper but they’ll never offer it unless you ask!
  • Pann Cherry is the cheapest hostel, but often full. Consider staying at another the first night, and inquiring in person at Pann Cherry about the following nights. (Only worth it for those staying more than a couple days…). We stayed at Winner Hotel.
  • Nyaung O is the cheapest area for accommodation, New Bagan is mid-range, Old Bagan is the most expensive.
  • You can find “backpacker” options in Nyaung O and some in New Bagan
  • Even though Nyaung O has the cheapest accommodation, food is cheaper in New Bagan (if you’ll be renting a bicycle or electric bike, you can eat lunch and dinner in New Bagan between exploring, but stay in Nyaung O).

Eating

  • Restaurants in New Bagan are the cheapest (stay in Nyaung O, try to eat lunch and dinner in New Bagan)
  • Ask if they apply government or service taxes before ordering- some menus state a 10% government tax and/or a 10% service tax, some don’t state it and charge it, some smaller spots don’t charge it at all
  • Restaurants serving only local food are always cheaper (and full of locals- you can quickly tell if it’s a local spot or catering to tourists)
  • Identify true local spots by dirt floors or more “temporary” looking establishments. We ate at a lot of them and discovered some awesome local food, too.
  • Sodas and beers are half the price when in bottles (glass or plastic) compared to cans. For example, a can of Coca-Cola is 800 kyat, but a plastic bottle double the size is only 400 kyat. It makes no sense, and is the most annoying way to realize you just wasted money for no reason.
  • Most guesthouses include breakfast (usually quite good). Check when comparing prices as you may get a much better value with a breakfast included (since restaurants usually charge much more)

E-Bikes and Bicycles

  • Electric bikes and bicycles are the two DIY ways to get around Bagan (besides walking, but that will take you about two weeks to explore it all).
  • Both are hard to ride in the sand/dirt, but an e-bike will still get you around faster. If you don’t want to stay too many days, this is a good way to see things more efficiently.
  • The best budget combination? Stay two days, one day with electric bikes and one with bicycles. Hit up the spots further from your accommodation on the e-bikes on day one, do the rest the second day.
  • Some places charge a different price for an e-bike based on if one or two people are riding it. This makes no sense, but be aware of it and plan accordingly.
  • Luckily, the e-bikes don’t use gas (should be duh, but sometimes it takes people a second), so you don’t need to factor that in.

Tax to Enter Bagan

  • In case you haven’t heard, there is a tax to enter the city of Bagan. It will be charged when you enter the city. It is currently $20USD (they accept US Dollars), or you can pay a comparable value in kyat (this exact value changes). If you’re really pinching pennies, download a money-converting app and have it on hand when you enter. We found here and at Inle Lake that the prices in USD and kyat are never equivalent. Usually it’s a better deal in kyat, but not always. If you have both (you should always travel with some USD in Southeast Asia), it’s worth converting. Might save you a meal.
  • Want to save money and take a stand? Since it’s no secret that the government of Myanmar isn’t using the money to actually maintain the ruins (a concept every local and multiple tour guides reiterated), and they’re known for ill-treatment and some of the worst human rights in the world, you’ll find quite a few travelers plotting how to avoid the Bagan tax. And honestly, we’re with them. It is now basically to impossible to avoid passing a ticket booth when you enter the city. It doesn’t matter which local bus you take or whatever, they’ve figured those tricks out. What you can do, is re-use the card of someone who was in Bagan that same week. The entry ticket lasts 7 days (it will say the expiration on the card), and most travelers stay for just 2 or 3. If you’re coming from another destination first, you can get one from another traveler who has already been. For example, you’ll definitely meet people in hostels in Yangon, Mandalay or Inle. Most people will be happy to give it to you, but it’s still a good deal if you pay them half the price. When you arrive to Bagan and they ask you to pay, show it and say you were just in Bagan earlier in the week and are visiting again. If you have a camera or something out, point to that like you’re a photographer and they won’t even question, many photographers stick around this area.
  • Once you buy or borrow a card, keep it with you at all times. If caught without it, you will need to re-purchase one (ouch).

Like that, we explored Bagan on less than $20USD per day, all included. With a little traveler-to-traveler advice and an open-mind, you can make anywhere fit within a shoestring backpacker budget.

 

Have other tips for Bagan on a budget? Share them below!

 

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