How to get from Bagan to Mandalay by boat: cruising up the Irrawaddy River!

by | Feb 22, 2019 | Latest Posts, Myanmar

This post may contain compensated links. Find more info in our disclosure policy.

Having endured our fair share of cross country Myanmar bus adventures we decided to mix it up and travel by boat from Bagan to Mandalay. The anticipation of fresh air, the opportunity to witness Myanmar river life and the prospect of an entire boat (WITH TOILETS!) to wander around during our 12 hour trip meant that, despite a 4am wake up call, we were excited for the day ahead! For any Myanmar trip planners, here’s our guide on how to travel between Bagan and Mandalay by boat!

Book Bagan to Mandalay cruises here


Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Bagan to Mandalay by boat

We travelled from Bagan to Mandalay on the MGRG Express.

Booking the boat: We booked the boat trip through our hotel (we stayed in ) and paid US $32 per person for the tickets.

Top tip: MGRG express only accept USD when paying in cash.

Boarding the boat in Bagan

The Bagan to Mandalay MGRG Express boat departs from Nyaung Oo Jetty in Bagan at 5:30am with check in opening at 5am. Our hotel in Bagan (the Zfreeti hotel in Nyaung U organised a taxi to pick us up at 4:45am for the short journey to the pier at a cost of 5,000kyat (around US $4).

Top tip: ask your hotel/guest house to prepare a breakfast box as it’s a long day and food helps!

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Our carriage awaits!

We arrived at the pier shortly after 5am and it was a hive of activity with passengers being dropped off for the boat to Mandalay.

Top tip: bring some locks for your baggage as it is stored in an accessible room during the journey.

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Boarding via some wooden planks!

It was cold and dark when we boarded the MGRG Express and we were fortunate to grab the last 2 remaining seats indoors. There are around 20 seats inside and some late arrivals had to sit out on deck which was chilly pre sunrise.

Top tip: arrive with plenty of time before the boat departs to secure a seat inside the boat and bring a blanket for the early morning part of the journey to cosy up for some extra sleep time!

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Brrr, it’s cold out here!

Our best Bagan hotels for visiting the temples

Bagan hotels tend to book up fast so book your hotel as far in advance of your travels as you can. Hotels in Bagan are located across three areas: Old and New Bagan and Nyaung-U. Nyaung-U, a mix of boutique hotels and local residents about 3km from the temples, is our favourite. Old Bagan, in the heart of the temples, houses many of Bagan’s luxury hotels while New Bagan is home to larger hotels and new builds. 


  • ZFreeti Hotel: we stayed in the Zfreeti, a small hotel with lots of great restaurant options in the surrounding streets and an inviting swimming pool! We rented electric bikes from the store across the street to get around – Check for lowest prices here
  • Other good options in Nguang-U include the Sky View Hotel and Hotel Zein.

Old Bagan

  • Aureum Palace Hotel and Resort: located within the actual Bagan Archaeological Preservation Zone amongst the ancient temples themselves, this hotel give you the very best views of the Bagan plains. It’s definitely one of the most unique hotels we’ve ever seen – Check for lowest prices here
  • Other good luxury options in Old Bagan include The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate and the Bagan Thande Hotel

New Bagan

Click here for the best Bagan hotel prices


Departing Bagan

Bagan sunrises are spellbinding and we were treated to another epic sunrise as we began our trip up the Irrawaddy River towards Mandalay. The gorgeous sunrise was one of the highlights of our journey.

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

The lights will guide you! Leaving Bagan

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Another legendary Bagan sunrise

Food and Drinks on board

A breakfast box was provided as we boarded the boat and consisted of a banana, a croissant, a jam pastry and a boiled egg. 5am is a little early for breakfast for us so we saved the boxes for later when we’d woken up and were properly hungry! Tea and coffee were plentiful throughout the morning.  

The crew came around and took our lunch orders with a choice of chicken fried rice or noodles. Lunch was served around 12pm and the food was good. Afraid of starving at sea, we’d also brought breakfast boxes from our hotels and snacks from the supermarket. Do this!

Top tip: bring snacks as there are none available to purchase on board. It’s a long day and there’s nothing worse than being hungry in the middle of a river!

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

As the boat approached Mandalay we were served sandwiches with tea and coffee.

Tea, coffee and bottled water were served regularly on the boat. Beer and soft drinks were available to purchase on board with a large Myanmar beer costing around USD $3.


Seating is available both indoors and outdoors. Bagan and the Irrawaddy are dark and chilly at 5am and we opted to start the day with a pre sunrise nap inside where the seats are padded and very comfortable to curl up on and relax. On deck the seating is a mix of cane seats and padded benches and both are perfect for chilling out on during the day.

Top tip: use sunscreen! It doesn’t seem super sunny on the river but it is!

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Indoor seating


Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Deck seating

Bathroom Breaks

Having come to terms with the lack of toilets on Myanmar buses (yep, even the VIP ones) it was amazing to travel with not one, but two bathrooms on board the MGRG Express!

Top tip: bring some tissue in case supplies run low later in the trip. Hand sanitizer is also a good idea.

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

En route to check out below deck!

The Journey in Pictures

The promise of a glimpse into life along the banks of the Irrawaddy was one of the main reasons we were so excited to embark on our boat trip to Mandalay. We spent most of the day sitting on deck and snapping pictures of our journey!

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

One more sunrise pic!

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

The bridge backdrop

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

On the banks of the river

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

River life

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Spotting the water buffalo en route

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Hard at work on the Irrawaddy River

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground


Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Crowded boats

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Those views

Arriving in Mandalay

Over 12 hours of river fun later we were greeted with the familiar sights of city life as we approached Mandalay. Traffic on the river increased, golden pagodas glistened on the hilltops and monasteries lined the banks of the river. Disembarking the boat required a quick climb through another boat parked alongside us and then a skip across a small wooden jetty until finally we were back on dry land!

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

A kick about between the monks

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

The golden pagodas

Bagan to Mandalay by Boat (MGRG Express) ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Mandalay jetty

Mandalay transport