how to go from mandalay to bagan

Taking the MGRG Express Boat from Mandalay to Bagan

Traveling in the off season means that there are fewer options for taking the traditional “Road to Mandalay” .  That’s what the Ayeyarwady River from Bagan to Mandalay was called. First of all the companies that say they have daily sailings don’t actually mean that they have daily sailings from Mandalay. They mean that one day they sail from Mandalay and the next day they sail from Bagan. We took the MGRG Express on the Ayeyarwady River from Mandalay to Bagan.



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The Easiest Way from Mandalay to Bagan

Sadly, the easiest way to go from Mandalay to Bagan is not the river, its to take the bus, which you can book online.

We’re here in Myanmar in September.  The “season” doesn’t start for a good three weeks, therefore, our options depended on when we wanted to take the boat.

  • We checked out the Ayeyarwady River Government Boat which ran on Wednesday and Sundays.  It sets off at 05:30 and arrives (by their estimate) at 20:30 into Bagan.
  • And then we looked at the Malikha River Cruises, which ran to a published timetable – most hotels will have this – and it will change.  You can book with your hotel or “online”.  Hotel booking rates for the cruise are US$45, if you book directly its US$42. This includes breakfast and lunch. Booking directly means sending them an email and then they’ll send someone to your hotel.  You can also go to their offices.  The boat leaves at 07:00, and arrives in Bagan at 16:00.
  • Finally, we checked out and decided to go with the MGRG Express.

Taking the MGRG Express from Mandalay to Bagan

The MGRG Express (also known as Pioneer Cruises) costs US$42 either directly or with your hotel.  The ticket includes breakfast, lunch, water and coffee.  The boat leaves at 07:00, check in is at 06:30 and the boat arrives 17:00 ish.

We booked with our hotel, the 79 Living Hotel. We took a taxi from the hotel at 5,000 Kyat (chat) to the MGRG Express Jetty.

And a fortuitous choice it was too. The Malhika might have pulled out 15 minutes before us, but there were many more people on the boat.  Seats on the MGRG looked much more comfortable too.

The Malhika boat leaving Mandalay on the Ayeyarwady River

Here on the MGRC there were five of us for the first couple of hours, and then another four joined us.

Departing Mandalay on the River

Setting off was easy. So we had these fabulous reclining bamboo chairs and a huge downstairs area to ourselves.

Bamboo chairs on MGRG Express from Mandalay to Bagan on the Ayeyarwady River

There were more staff than passengers for the first couple of hours.

MGRC Ayeyarwady River cruise from Mandalay to Bagan

So moving around to avoid the sun was easy and we all chair hopped, snoozed and drifted away as we motored downstream for 10 hours to Bagan.

Seats on the MGRC boat from Mandalay to Bagan

Facilities on the MGRG Express on the Ayeyarwady River

The boat has two incredibly clean western toilets, with hand wash and paper hand towels (bliss).  There’s a lower deck with Recarro style seats and the “dining room”, where we eat lunch.  There are more undercover Recarro seats on the top deck, as well as reclining bamboo seats under cover.  The rear top deck lets you sit as king of the castle. All in all, a far better experience and much more luxurious than our Yangtze River cruise on a Chinese boat.

Covered seating on the boat from Mandalay to Bagan

Food and Drink on the MGRG Express

Drinks including beer can be bought, but coffee is free. Breakfast is supplied in a box and endless good coffee is available pretty much as soon as we leave.

Breakfast included on the boat from Mandalay to Bagan

Sightseeing on the Ayerwaddy River Boat

Pretty quickly we get to the only bit of the river that is particularly interesting comes into view – and that is Sagaing.

Sagaing seen from the Ayeyarwady River

20 km to the east of Mandalay, Sagaing is a religious centre of Myanmar., another of it’s ancient capitals.

Buddha seen from the Ayeyarwady river

After Sagaing we pass under the bridges  and follow the twists and bends of the river, seeing local families fishing, washing and making their lives.

Bridge over the Ayeyarwady River

We collect our additional passengers, a Spanish group of four from the far bank a short time after Sagaing, beach a couple of times while trying to get back into the river and settle down to the journey.

Lunch on the MGRG Express

Lunch orders are taken – fried rice or fried noodles – and an hour later we’re all sat down below eating the pretty good (but cold) veggie fare.

Noodles for lunch on the MGRG Express from Mandalay to Bagan

And then it’s several more hours – we pass the Malhika boat and hit a head wind as Bagan comes into view.

Bagan seen from the Ayeyarwady River

Arriving into Bagan from Mandalay

At 17:00, jockeying for position with two large log filled ships, we’re heading to the shore.

Arriving by boat into Bagan

And that’s all there is. Shore. Bagan is Myanmar’s biggest tourist draw.

Somehow I’d expected a jetty. But all there is is a muddy beach. We nose in and consider that we might be wading ashore, but a couple of long planks of wood appear and we’re here.

Disembarking in Bagan

And of course, so are the taxi drivers. No one else is going where we are – we’re staying in Nyaung U – the cheap backpacker area of Bagan (other options are Old Bagan or New Bagan).

It’s about 2.5 kilometers to where we have a booking at the Shwe Nadi Guesthouse, but even at 17:00, its stinking hot and humid. We pay 4,000 kyat for a few minutes of blissful aircon to get there with the taxi guy who’s obviously been assigned to us on the beach.

Paying the Bagan Tourist Ticket Fee

We’ve barely driven 100 meters before we have to get out and buy the foreigner tourist ticket. Its US$20, 20 Euros or 27,000 kyat.  We pay in kyat, we’ll be exploring Bagan by bike over the next couple of days.

Buying the Bagan Tourist Ticket

Our ticket will be checked twice in our time here, but there seems little way of avoiding paying it, I’m pretty sure the country needs the 20 dollars more than I do.

It’s been a lazy day on the river,  expensive but so luxurious with our small complement of passengers. We could, of course, if we’d traveled yesterday, have taken the government run boat for US$15 and taken our chances that we’d find a seat (plastic chairs are an optional extra) and that we’d still be sane after a 05:00 start and a projected arrival of 20:30

Better this way I think.

Travel Tips for Exploring Myanmar

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