I now understand why no one travels overland between these countries. Even though roads are nicely marked on maps (including my beautiful map from Kinokuniya that has been a lifesaver) everything is dirt in the countryside, and has no road signs. That dirt turns into mud when it rains. We had the unfortunate luck (or fortunate, because it was a lot cooler than usual) of being in Myanmar just as the cyclone passed over our heads.
Mud. It wasn't quite as bad as when we were all in Phong Nha (for that I say if you really are a die-hard minimalist shoe wearer like me, then get a shoe that has real traction because sneakers with smooth soles (though I love my Lems shoes) really suck when it comes to mud). We weren't really able to ride bikes with all the mud and the rain (5000 kyat for a day) so we hired the hotel car (their taxi) to drive us around for the day (which if I recall, was about 30,000 kyat for the half day). Although we couldn't see much out the windows (thanks to the annoying shade-dot-logo things), it did mean that we could hunker down and hide in air conditioning (and get eaten by mosquitoes).
We asked our waiter at Zfreeti Hotel (who had great English for only learning for one year in Yangon) about some recommendations for places to visit. I will say that one of the temples he pointed out was phenomenal. In some sense we made the mistake of going there first (beautiful area, carved/built into the cliff, has underground tunnels that are sort of blocked by the sand but they do lead to the other major temples in the area) and it was so cool because we had the place all to ourselves. Now that would probably be a pretty sweet archaeological dig to lead.
Be Kind to Animals / The Moon-- great tea, so-so food. Maybe I felt disappointed (after all it was rated #1 on Trip Advisor) or the fact that I'm a hard-core meat person, but nothing here felt really satisfying.
Weathervane-- Super Western with decent Burmese food. The first place I've eaten Tea Salad at (quite tasty with whatever crunchy/roasted bean they put inside). Their curry was also yummy (didn't burn like the Shan curries) and a lot thicker than what we had previously seen at most other Burmese places. If you want a burger (my friends said both burgers were good) and a selection of pretty decent desserts, and you're craving good western food, not a bad place to come.
In general if you come during low season you can stay wherever you want. New Bagan (to me and my friends) didn't seem interesting (though the older folks we met who were easily in their 40s/50s liked it) and we preferred our accomodation in Nyaung Oo. Unless you really want to spend time learning about Lacquerware, or want to eat at a local tea house, I can't see why you would want to be in New Bagan.
Zfreeti: Not the best hotel ever (spotty wifi, kind of old rooms) but it does have a swimming pool, spa, nice E-bikes to rent, and all of their staff who might have to interact with customers speak decent English.
Crown Prince Hotel: Things I liked: Wifi (best I've had the whole trip), Good selection of TV channels (oddly the satellite/international news and stuff only kicked in at night), and great in-room air conditioning.
Things I didn't like: Restaurant (stuffy and slow food-- seemed like 1 guy took your orders and cooked in the back), and honestly I don't know how well these folks are doing because the manager came out and asked me to write a good review for them. As far as I could tell they didn't have any E-bikes to rent, and it felt a ways away from everything that was sort of "going on."
Shwesandaw (sunrise/sunset temple--though you won't see those when it's rainy)
Ananda (one of the largest temples)
Upalithein Unesco mural one