An overnight bus from Yangon to Bagan

After a few days adjusting to Myanmar, it was time to move on. To minimise wasted time travelling (and to save on Myanmar’s relatively expensive hotel costs) we opted for an overnight bus from Yangon to Bagan.

The journey to the bus station alone was something of an endurance test. In a rather deranged piece of town planning, Yangon’s bus station is set out of town. Quite far out of town. An hour and a half taxi ride, to be precise, which is unfortunate when you’ve allowed an hour and a quarter for the journey. Our taxi driver however, was determined we would get to our bus on time.

I loved our taxi driver a little bit. He didn’t see problems – he saw solutions. Traffic jam with gridlock for a good mile or two? Easy – this is what the opposite outside lane is for! We sped into oncoming traffic, undertaking an entire traffic jam, weaving in and out of cars and trucks like we were playing some human-sized version of Frogger. There wasn’t a moment of our journey when we weren’t at very real risk of causing an extremely large pile up. I noticed Craig surreptitiously reach for his GoPro – presumably to assist with the inevitable Travel Insurance paperwork.

overnight bus from yangon to bagan
Traffic in Yangon? No problem. Photo © 2013 Leigh Griffiths via Flickr

Yangon’s bus station is a cavernous mini-city of growling engines and horns, set to swirling exhaust fumes and a cacophony of shouting passengers and hawkers. Turning sharply across three lanes of traffic, Taxi Driver miraculously found the right bay and we screeched up to the ticket desk on two wheels with minutes to spare. Legs shaking, we thanked him profusely and staggered on to our bus.

Despite travelling for seven months, and racking up a fair few memorable bus journeys, this was our first overnight bus. Our seats were quite comfortable, so I popped a drowsiness-inducing travel pill and snoozed. Half an hour later, my doze was rudely interrupted by the bright lights of an extremely downmarket service station. Everyone was hustled off the bus and made to stand – staring balefully at our comfortable seats – as some last minute repairs were made to the wheels. Reassuring.

The overnight bus from Yangon to Bagan takes about eight hours (including unwanted service station stops). The journey was surprisingly comfortable – our seats reclined quite far – and, once we’d got used to the bouncing, we both managed a few hours sleep.

I don’t mean to pick holes in the overnight bus timetable, but I’d be happier to leave Yangon at say, 10pm and arrive at 6am. I think we can all agree that 4am is a ridiculous time to arrive at a place, and I think our guesthouse owner would be inclined to agree after his early wake up call. We awoke – groggy and disorientated – in the Nyaung-U bus station, which was lit only by the glow of a tv showing a Premier League game. Oh, and the crowd of waiting minivan drivers demanding to know “where you go?”. Marvellous.

We managed to negotiate a more reasonable fare and headed to our guesthouse to give the owner a (very) early wake up call.

If you plan to take an overnight bus from Yangon to Bagan
  • Our night bus left Yangon at 8pm and arrived at 4am. We planned to use JJ Express, but couldn’t get a ticket and Hninn Si suggested an alternative VIP bus. I forget their name, but a ticket was $18 (£12) each. The seat was comfy and reclined quite far – my only complaint was getting kicked off the bus at the two rest stops when I was just getting to sleep!
  • When you arrive (yes, even at 4am) you’ll be greeted by minivan drivers ready to take you to your hotel. The distance isn’t too far but I wouldn’t want to walk it at that time. We laughed at the suggested price of K6,000 – the going rate (as of March 2015) is K2,000 (£1.25) per person.
  • On the way, the minivan stops at the checkpoint for your “tourist tax” of $20 for the area of Bagan. This isn’t optional, unfortunately, but given we were never asked for our proof of payment again I suspect this goes straight into the pockets of the junta. Wikitravel has some suggestions for avoiding it, which were far beyond our abilities at 4am. We paid in dollar bills that we’d brought for this purpose; they had change for $100.
  • Travel-sickness pills are always wise on long bus journeys – if they induce drowsiness so much the better! It’s also a good idea to wear mosquito repellent – every bus we’ve been on seems to have a resident mosquito.

6 Comments

  1. De'Jav said:

    The taxi cab story seems like one of those epic travel stories that will render forever

    April 20, 2015
    Reply
    • Katie said:

      Haha! No travel adventure is the same without a crazy taxi journey or two!
      Thanks for stopping by!

      April 20, 2015
      Reply
  2. Jazz said:

    Hi, i will visit myanmar this coming jan 2017 im planning to take the nightbus from yangon to bagan. Should we book a ticket a month before or its okey to just walk in?

    We are also planning to take the nightbus from bagan to inle lake and another nightbus from inle lake to mandalay. Is that possible? We are kinda short of time because we already booked a flight back to bangkok from mandalay what bus company do you recomend? Thank you

    November 7, 2016
    Reply
    • Katie said:

      Hi, we booked our ticket via our guest house on the day we arrived in Yangon, which was probably 2-3 days in advance. I think a bit of notice is sensible – the buses do get booked.
      I think there are night buses from Mandalay to both those destinations but I don’t have direct experience. The TripAdvisor Myanmar forums are really helpful here.
      By far and away the best company was JJ Express – if you can book with them do but be aware they get booked up more in advance than others. They are also a bit more expensive (entirely justified, in my experience). Do read my posts on Mandalay – if you are limited on time you may prefer to focus on bagan and inle lake with a bit of time in Yangon at entry and departure.
      Enjoy Myanmar – it’s a fabulous country!

      November 7, 2016
      Reply
  3. Brian Davies said:

    Pls let us know what is the difference between the buses? Why is the bus that takes 1 hour longer dearer than the other? We are wanting to leave in the morning.

    I want to travel from yangon to bagan by domestic flight. Which airline would you recommend for reliability and how much would it be?

    September 16, 2017
    Reply
    • Katie said:

      The JJ Express buses (in our experience) were far more comfortable and I think you are paying for this more than anything, and I think the route times were better. Worth noting that all the buses will stop at service stations; again I think the ones the JJ were a bit nicer.
      They did get booked in advance so worth trying to reserve as soon as you know when and where you want to travel.

      We gave the airlines a miss! As I recall their safety record wasn’t great and the flight cost was quite high. Do let us know if this has improved though as it’s a few years since we were in Myanmar. Enjoy your travels!

      September 17, 2017
      Reply

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