A wrap on some of our favourites
For first-time visitors to Burma (Myanmar), Bagan is a must-see destination. Spread across a vast plain, hemmed in on two fronts by the Ayeyarwady River and home to thousands of monuments, it's an evocative and fascinating place to explore, whether for two days or 10. While some of the monuments are fabulous, the accommodation is generally less so. Spread across three towns kilometres apart, it can be a little difficult for travellers to initially decipher. Here's our primer on the best places to stay in Bagan, for both budget and the more upmarket traveller.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, some orientation is in order. Bagan's accommodation is split across three main areas: Nyaung-U and Wetkyi-Inn (which I'm going to refer to as just Nyaung-U) to the northeast, Old Bagan to the northwest and New Bagan to the southwest. Broadly speaking, Nyaung-U has the bulk of the budget accommodation, New Bagan has the midrange digs that tend to appeal to tour groups and Old Bagan caters to the more upmarket traveller.
Each has its pros and cons. Nyaung-U has the best selection of places to eat, is most likely where your night bus will drop you, is closest to the airport but is also furthest from the monuments. Old Bagan is the closest to the monuments -- at least one hotel has two monuments within its grounds -- but this isn't as useful as it may sound as the rest of the monuments are still miles away. There's also some good eating in the area. The main disadvantage is the hotels are quite expensive, and in many cases woefully overpriced.
New Bagan is closer than Nyaung-U to some of the monuments but you will still need transport to see the others. The accommodation is mostly midrange, and, in our opinion, not great value.
Budget guesthouses in Bagan
If you're travelling on a budget, Bagan is going to involve a little bit of wallet pain, but minimise it by staying in Nyaung-U. At $8 for a fan-cooled room with a shared bathroom, the very basic Pann Cherry Guesthouse is difficult to beat. As a bonus it's straight across the road from Weatherspoon's Cafe -- one of our favourite places to eat in Bagan.
If Pann Cherry is too basic, our pick of the budget digs in Bagan is Shwe Na Di Guesthouse, which has a range of options from $15 up to $30. The rooms are clean, the WiFi works and the staff are friendly and helpful. A newer orange building out back will have flashpackers sleeping very comfortably. This is our pick of the bunch, and with loads of rooms, Shwe Na Di Guesthouse shows plenty of promise. If they're full, Winner Guesthouse out in Wetkyi-Inn isn't exactly a winner, but is popular, similarly priced and far closer to the monuments. A couple of places close to Shwe Na Di are also worth a look should you not want to trek out to Winner.
If for some reason you've ended up in New Bagan and are having trouble stomaching the prices, try Mya Thida Hotel, which has spartan but very clean four-bed dorms for $15 a head and doubles from $30 -- check online for discounted rates. It's a friendly spot and they're trying to build it into a bit of a traveller centre.
Midrange hotels in Bagan
Bagan is a very mixed bag when it comes to the midrange, but one absolute standout is Oasis in Nyaung-U, which was doing its $80 rooms for $50 when we passed through. With a small pool almost completed at the end of its lovely little garden, this is our absolute number one choice in Bagan.
For a little less money (and a lot more wear and tear), Bagan Umbra Hotel, at the eastern reaches of Wetkyi-Inn, is a solid choice with comfortable though very basic rooms in the $30 to $40 range, with a fair-sized swimming pool thrown in. Spread over spacious grounds, this is a good option for those travelling with kids -- the room next to ours had a very serious collection of My Little Ponys left out every morning. The rooms could do with a solid revamp though and as the hotel has recently changed hands, perhaps that's on the way.
In New Bagan, we liked the Thiri Sandar Royal Bagan Hotel, with clean and very well kept modern rooms in the $22 to $35 range. Piping hot showers, very good WiFi (by Bagan standards) and a good location for local eateries make this a good flashpacker option.
Further afield, the Kumudara Hotel (from $38) is popular with groups, and we loved the quasi-desert poolside setting, but the rooms can be variable -- be sure to ask to see another if the first isn't up to scratch. The location, a solid 10-minute walk down a dusty road, isn't one of New Bagan's better ones.
If you want to stay in Old Bagan, the Bagan Thande Hotel has some standard rooms squirrelled around the back going from $65 -- we'd much rather spend that money at Oasis, but if you simply must stay in Old Bagan and can't afford to set your wallet on fire, this is your best semi-budget bet.
High-end hotels in Bagan
Bagan does not do the high end well. The hotels are uniformly overpriced for the offerings, sometimes ridiculously so -- but it seems those with more dollars than sense continue to pay these amounts. When shown a "river view" room at Bagan Hotel River View, we almost fell over after being told they rent it at $250 per night in low season, only then to be hit with a double whammy of the high season rate -- $350. Complete madness.
If you want to stay in Old Bagan, the pick of the bunch is absolutely The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate with rates starting at $150. The rooms are lovely, well decorated, and, in a change for the cluster of high-end madness around here, the staff actually know what they're on about. The pool is on the small side, but it's a lovely hideaway should it fit your budget.
In high season Bagan can get pretty busy and booking in advance can be a sterling idea, but bear in mind that many places (as of yet) cannot be booked online, so do pick up the phone and give them a call. Online rates with Agoda for those that can be booked online are very variable, with some are considerably cheaper online, others cheaper as a walk-in; like many things in Burma, it's complicated. All rates listed above are what we were quoted as a walk-in customer.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 23rd April, 2015.