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On his recent round-the-world trip, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen visited Myanmar for a week. He wrote about his tips for visiting Myanmar, his experiences in the country’s largest city, Yangon, and how to book flights within Myanmar. Today he discusses how he booked his stay in Bagan and reviews the Hotel at Tharabar Gate.
When planning my trip to Myanmar, my primary objective was to get to the ancient city of Bagan. It lies along the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) River about an hour’s flight north of Yangon and covers a sprawling area that is now a national archaeological park thanks to the 4,400 (or so) stupas that distinguish this former royal capital. Some of them date back nearly 1,000 years, and their spires dot the dry, dusty plain as far as the eye can see.
As I mentioned in my post on tips for traveling to Myanmar, I was a little concerned about the timing of my trip since it was in June, which is the beginning of wet season. However, Bagan is in a very dry, hot part of the country, so even though they do have a wet season with heavy rains, it is less of a concern than in other parts.
While many of the luxury and even more budget river cruises in the country also ply the Ayeyarwaddy and stop in Bagan on the way to Mandalay, because the water level was still low while I was there, cruises were not an option, so I decided that my best bet would be to fly from Yangon to Bagan and spend two days there exploring the ancient sights.
Planning and Paying
As with my domestic airline tickets, I enlisted the help of the business center ladies at the Shangri-La Sule in Yangon, where I would be spending my first two nights in the country, to help me make my hotel reservations in Bagan and at Inle Lake. When I gave Stella (the person primarily helping me) my dates in Bagan, she got back to me within a day with rates at the hotels they usually recommend to their guests.
Those hotels included the Bagan Lodge (rates around$160-$280 per night), the Aureum Palace Hotel ($220-$260 per night) and the Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort ($80-$300). I considered the Sanctuary because it is right on the river and near the ruins of Old Bagan, but several friends had recommended the Hotel at Tharabar Gate to me.
It is right amongst several temples with two decent restaurants next door, and at the gate of Old Bagan, so the location was pretty much ideal. I asked Stella to look into rates for me there instead and she found ones ranging from $80-$225 inclusive of breakfast. I settled on the Deluxe Garden View room for $105 a night (it’s the second room category) and she booked it for me and sent me a confirmation. The only requirement was that I bring cash with me to pay for the room in person when I got to the Shangri-La Sule in Yangon – so it’s sort of like the Shangri-La paid for the room for me and then I paid them back when I arrived. Unlike the airline tickets, however, I had to pay for my hotels in cash, so I factored that into how much money I brought with me.
As with many accommodations in Myanmar, the touristy areas are starting to get expensive with prices coming more into line with more developed destinations. However, there are still very cheap guest accommodations available including guesthouses, apartments, hostels and other budget hotels where room rates can be as low as $15 or $25 a night. For my needs, the rates suited me – I wanted to be sure of clean accommodations, air conditioning, WiFi (albeit spotty) and proximity to the ruins because of my short stay, so the Hotel at Tharabar Gate worked for me.
As I mentioned, the Hotel at Tharabar Gate is right in the midst of many of the major temples and stupas you’ll likely want to see, and right off one of the main roads that runs through the national park. The lobby is open and airy with lots of sitting areas (and the strongest WiFi signal), and after check-in, one of the staff took me along the path past the shady swimming pool and open-air restaurant to one of the blocks of rooms, all of which were one-story row houses.
My first room had two twin beds, so I asked if there was a king room available and was shown to one across the path. However – and this was important – the king room had a much older air conditioner that did not seem to be working that well, and a TV that looked like it might have been older than I am, so I switched back to the twin room, which had a new air conditioner and a flatscreen (not that I watched TV at all during my stay). So if you stay here, be sure to ask for a newer room, or at least to see all yoru options before settling into your accommodations.
The room itself was very spacious, with high ceilings, a nice work-desk area, a closet area with room for suitcases and dressing, and a full bathroom with soap, shampoo and body wash provided as well as several bottles of water each day. The room also had a private little back patio with lounge chairs.
There was even a minibar with a small refrigerator, some beer and Burmese whiskey, and potato chips. I also liked that the room had plenty of electrical outlets so I could charge all my gadgets each time I was there.
The hotel says it has free WiFi throughout the property, but that is not an entirely accurate claim. Yes, the WiFi was free, and at times it worked in my room, but that was usually before 7:00am or between 8:00-10:00pm. Other than those times, my only hope of a signal was to head to the lobby and pray that there was enough bandwidth to upload a photo or send a short email. It usually worked. Usually. That said, I was prepared for it and warned friends and family I would likely be out of touch for a few days, so nothing urgent came through and I was happy to be offline for big chunks of my day.
As I mentioned, my rate included breakfast each day, with a plate of fresh fruit, coffee or tea, and a selection of cold and hot dishes including everything from omelets and pancakes to cereal with fruit.
The staff was also very gracious and friendly, so all in all, my stay was really pleasant and I would recommend the property to anyone considering a visit.
Have you stayed here? How was your visit?