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.
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.