We loved the boat (we took it yesterday). It cost $42 including lunch plus a pricey taxi on arrival. It moves slowly. After Sagaing, there's not too much to see. But it was wonderful.
I too enjoyed the boat. Relaxing on my seat or on the rail watching the other boats, the temples, whatever.
Another vote for the boat...
took the boat down,took the train back
loved both trips
The boat would be a relaxing trip but the bus would be the fastest.
I prefer boat.
bus mandalay-bagan 5 hours, morning time, 8 to 13 pm, maybe 10 dollars, best option,
train 10pm , arrive 3am, 2 dollars, very inconvenient time, all hotels closed, unless you have booked, pickup bus from trainstation around 4 am, also motorbikes,
boat takes all day, morning to evening, most expensive and most slowly, not much to see.
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HeinRich there is a morning train as I posted above. I have arrived in Bagan early morning adn got a room, they were used to people on buses arriving around 3am but that was a few years ago now. Boat was good first few hours and then I agree not much to see.