25 July, 2012
We purchased our bus tickets for Bagan to Bago directly from the bus station in Nyaung U. We went with Mandalar Minn, since we had a very good experience with them from Yangon to Mandalay. The cost was 15,000 Kyat/person. If you are going to Yangon or Bago the price is the same. When we inquired aboutgoing to Bago from Bagan, the ladies at the desk insisted that it wasn’t possible since the bus now takes the new highway which completely bypasses Bago. However, you can still get to Bago by telling the driver ahead of time that you want to get off at junction #3. Or just let them know that you are going to Bago and they will know where to let you off. We got a confirmation from a different employee that you can get off and take a taxi to Bago,but our experience was more exciting than that.
The Mandalar Minn Bus picked us up in front of our guest house, May Kha Lar at 7:15 AM . You make arrangements with the ticket office by telling them where you are staying and if you are near the main road, I believe they will pick you up, which will save you a ride to the bus station.
This bus was also nice, but a little worn compared to the first. Also, unlike the ride from Yangon to Mandalay this bus stopped frequently for the first couple of hours picking up passengers along the way. Some even in the middle of nowhere with nothing but rice paddies! This was probably because our bus was mostly empty when we left Nyaung U. But within a couple of hours the bus was full with mostly locals.
We stopped for our first break at 10:30 AM and we decided to have an early lunch since we didn’t have breakfast and that our last bus also stopped at 10:30 AM for lunch. This rest stop was the nicest yet. The restaurant Feel Express had a selection of coffees, cappuccinos and frappaccinos! They also had a buffet style lunch setup. Of course we couldn’t resist and ended up spending 7,400 Kyat, which is a lot for lunch! Heidi also got a Thai iced tea with whip cream that was surprisingly good! Overall the food was good too, just on the expensive side.
The bathrooms were also very clean and they even had paper towels to dry your hands! This was a first and a big surprise bonus! Ah … the little things that mean so much!!
A few hours later, at 2:30 PM we stopped again for second lunch (or break) for 30 minutes. This was at the 115 mile Yangon/Mandalay Highway rest stop, which happened to be the same place we stopped for lunch on our trip to Mandalay from Yangon! We also pulled into the same restaurant, the Pioneer. Now I am 100 percent convinced that there is an affiliation between the restaurant and Mandalay Minn (the bus). The water served on the bus is also called Pioneer and as mentioned before, there is a large Pioneer logo on the bus. However, this doesn’t mean you need to eat here, but remember, you only have 30 minutes, so if you want to try one of the other places you better get off the bus quickly and head to a different restaurant.
One bonus of the Pioneer rest stops is that they have free wifi with a decent connection. There wasn’t time for me to check out any of the other restaurants so I can’t comment on them. I was able to check my email and Google maps to see where we were. We knew that the Bago junction was coming up soon but didn’t know how far. Even with Google maps we could only make a guess, but it was still useful.
After the break I reminded one of the bus employees that we were going to Bago before boarding the bus. He nodded his head, but I wasn’t sure he understood. Two hours later we were getting concerned because we thought we might be getting very close to Yangon. It turns out our estimate was wrong. Bago is actually very close to Yangon and the reason why it takes two hours to get to Bago from Yangon is because from the junction it is still another hour. We were told from the bus ticket office that Bago was 20 to 30 minutes from the junction.
Not surprised, we arrived at the junction to pouring rain. It is monsoon season, but we had only experienced heavy rain when we were in the southern part of the country. We were told that there would be taxis waiting at the junction to take us to Bago, but that was not the case. Luckily, we happened to get there when a covered pickup truck (a pickup truck with a tarp like canopy on top), one of the local forms of transportation, was waiting for passengers! The bus employees and one of the pickup employees quickly helped us with our bags. The scrawny but strong pickup employee whisked our heavy backpack up to the top of the pickup in the pouring rain as if it only weighed a couple of pounds. Then he grabbed by camera backpack and did the same. These are both very heavy bags and it was pouring rain. But I asked him to get me my backpack since it had all of my camera gear and I didn’t want that to get soaked! Fortunately, he understood enough English.
The pickup was completely packed with people. Inside there were two wooden benches on either side and there were small stools in the middle. All places were taken, but without hesitation some guy quickly moved to make room for Heidi and he was now standing on the open door part of the pick up in the pouring rain with me, and the employee. Then another quy got out and they insisted that I sit down under the cover of the truck. I felt very bad but also very special as these complete strangers offered us their seats and stood in the deluge with the employee on the back edge of the pickup bus as we drove off. I offered my hat to one of the guys, as he was completely drenched, but he politely declined even though I insisted. All three men stood in the rain and wind with calm faces as they held on to the back of the truck by a metal bar, something that didn’t seem to faze them at all.
Packed like wet sardines, we zoomed off towards town. The truck stopped frequently as some passengers got off and others got on. We got a lot of friendly looks from the locals who were clearly wondering what a couple of foreigners were doing on their local bus! As more got off we moved towards the back but we also had no idea if we were heading in the right direction or if we had already missed Bago. Finally, we decided to crawl out the back at one of the stops but the employee quickly told us “No!” and waved for us to get back in the semi dry truck bench. We assumed that our bus, Mandalar Minn, had told him where we were going and trusted him from there. We were only concerned because we thought Bago was only 20 – 30 minutes from the main highway junction. About 45 minutes into the ride the pickup was empty except for me, Heidi, and the bus employee. He pulled our bags from the top and set them inside, out of the pouring rain. Then the employee finally sat inside with us and asked us where we were staying. As it turned out, it took an hour from the junction to being dropped off right in front of the Empire Hotel. All that hard work that cost us only 3,000 Kyat total.
Bus from Bagan to Bago (Yangon) Tips:
- You can still go to Bago by bus, but if you are coming from Bagan or Mandalay, you will need to get off at a junction to get there. Be prepared to take a local pickup transport!
- It takes at least an hour from the Yangon/Mandalay Highway junction to Bago.
- Bring a cover for your bag if traveling in rainy season as there is a good chance the transport will be full and you will be required to place your large bags on top of the vehicle exposed to the elements.