At the end of our first day in Bagan, Kimberly and I each admitted to each other that we had thought it was a mistake to come to Myanmar. Yangon had a few grand sights to see, but overall was a terrible disappointment. The city was dirty and in great disrepair, and we found the people were mostly cold and smarmy (a big exception was the proprietor of our hotel, Beautyland II, who was very helpful and friendly). Bagan was such a great change of scenery that we decided to skip Myanmar’s second city, Mandalay, and stay in beautiful Bagan a while longer, and go directly to Inle Lake.
We were faced, then, with a few options on how to get to Inle Lake. The first option was by plane, but this was far out of our budget, especially since there would be a hefty taxi ride from Heho, the airport town, into Nyaungshwe, the gateway town for Inle Lake. The train service is nearly nonexistent.
The option recommended by a certain omnipresent guidebook was to take the “local” bus. We would be picked up at 3:30am to catch the 4am bus, which would arrive in Shwenyaung approximately 12 hours later. From there, we would have to catch a pick-up (basically a local bus service on make-shift benches on the back of a pick-uip truck) or a private taxi. All this for 10500 kyat per person, or a little over US$12. I had researched this bus ride online, however, and heard terrible horror stories. You can read some here and here. Highlights include being crammed in so tight that you can’t move your feet, let alone recline your seat; all the windows being open all the time, so you get a good mouthful of dust and smog every once in a while; and vomiting locals.
We walked up and down restaurant row several times to look for alternatives. Three private taxis were willing to take us all the way to Nyaungshwe, with their first named prices being US$120, US$150 and US$180, respectively. Even if we could talk them down significantly, these prices were far too high for us. All the transportation information kiosks told us that our only options were bus, private taxi, or plane.
We had nearly given up hope when we arrived at Ever Sky Information Service. The woman working there gave us the bus option, but also told us that they would be starting a brand new service starting in October (i.e. we would be riding on their first trip!), because they knew that the bus service was so terrible. The twice-weekly share taxi would leave every Tuesday and Friday at 7am (luxuriously late in the morning compared to the bus!). The US$25-per-person taxi was a van which can seat eight people and they would run the taxi even if there was only one passenger. We thought about it overnight and signed up first thing the next day. We even told another traveler about it, who also signed up the following day.
The ride arrived for us right at 7am. The van was quite comfortable – possibly the most comfortable seating I’ve ever had for ground transport. The woman at the kiosk had told us it would seat eight people, but it was really seven plus driver. The van was fairly wide but only had two seats per row, so Kimberly was able to sleep lying down – what a luxury! The generously padded seats also had generous suspension, which were very much put to the test on the treacherous dirt highways through the mountains after Thazi.
My only complaint was that our lunch stop had the worst service I had had in a restaurant since I arrived in Southeast Asia – it took them an hour and a half to get us our food, even though the only other party being served had left halfway into that time, and they got our order wrong. By contrast, the bus from Yangon to Bagan had stopped at a rest stop staffed by a small army of children, so efficiently run that we had wandered around looking for the bathroom, used the bathroom, wandered around looking for a seat, finally took a seat, ordered, ate, and paid, all in twenty minutes. Not that I’m advocating that we should have stopped at a restaurant with child workers, but it seems to be that they should pick a restaurant that keeps us moving along.
Around 6:15pm, a little under 11 hours after we picked up the last passenger in Nyaung U, we arrived about 220 miles away at the entrance to Nyaunshwe.
The next day, we went on a boat trip around Inle Lake in a group with a Japanese man who had taken the bus from Bagan. The way he described the trip, it was nearly as bad as I had read online, except no one had vomited – he did say there were lots of small empty plastic bags placed for easy access, however.
So there you have it. If you’re in Myanmar and looking to get from Bagan to Inle Lake, I highly recommend that you visit Ever Sky Information Service at their kiosk on restaurant row and book your share taxi before it fills up. It really is the best US$25 I spent in Myanmar.