One of the most amazing places I’ve even visited! Just imagine fields of green sprinkled with thousands of ancient temples, whilst hot air balloons float overhead at sunrise. This place is nothing short of magical!
Bagan (formally Pagan) is an ancient city in Mayanmar, it was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom from the 9th to 13th centuries. It was the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later become modern Myanmar. During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed on the Bagan plains, of which you’ll find the remains of over 2,200 today!
As of 2018 you will need to pay a 25,000 Kyat entrance fee which will give you access to the area for 5 days. We had to pay this fee on entering the zone by taxi to our hotel – so make sure you have enough cash on you when you arrive here!
If you’re travelling around Myanmar make sure you check out my blog “Why Myanmar should be on your travel bucketlist”.
WHERE TO STAY
The Bagan archeological zone is a 13 x 8 km area centred around Old Bagan, consisting of Nyaung U (where the airport is) and New Bagan.
As you probably want to explore the whole area (and it’s easy to get around), where you stay will depend on your budget. Nyaung U has the most budget accommodation and restaurants (I stayed here), plus it’s nearer the transport coming in and out of Bagan; Old Bagan, which is mostly high end hotels built inbetween the historic temples; and New Bagan, which was built for people relocated from the Archaeological Zone and mostly caters for mid-range visitors.
You can use booking.com to find accommodation to suit your needs, create an account with my link to get a 10% refund off your first stay!
Usually I am an avid walker, but with an area of over 100 km2 there are much easier ways to travel about!
I would recommend getting an e-bike as it’s not that much more expensive than a bike, and you don’t have to worry about building up a sweat or navigating the sandy roads. The e-bikes are scooter like vehicles which run on electricity, they are not overly powerful so they are a lot less scarier than actual scooters (I’m terrified of scooters!)
We hired our e-bike from our hotel for 10000 Kyat a day which we later found out was a rip off. I would recommend renting from an individual dealer away from hotels as you might be able to get a deal for 5000 Kyat a day. Bikes are around 2000 to 3000 Kyat a day.
Alternatively you might choose to relax on a more traditional mode of transport, the horse and cart. For around 20000 Kyat for a day you can (very) slowly make your way about the temples.
The most expensive way to visit Bagan (but most comfortable) is by taxi. This will cost you around 45,000 kyat a day!
The latter 2 modes means that you will have locals to show you the best places but also it means that they will try to take you to places where they will get commission (restaurants, shops etc) and they might try to cut the day short.
Personally I preferred being in charge of where I went so the e-bike was perfect for this!
WHAT TO WEAR
Unlike some other temples in Asia that I’ve visited, Myanmar is very strict. Bagan is no different and both men and women are expected to cover their knees and shoulders, and no shoes OR socks when entering the temple (it’s fine for when you’re moving around the plain though).
If you are a guy and have only packed shorts you’ll easily be able to pick up a sort of traditional man-skirt to whip on each time you enter a temple.
WHERE TO GO FOR SUNRISE / SUNSET?
Firstly you should know that it is now forbidden to climb up a lot of the temples in order to preserve them. You can check with your hotel to see which ones are currently open.
I watched the sunrise twice over Bagan and it was nothing short of magical! Both times I went to Ta Whet Hpaya, which is currently open for climbing up (Jan 2018). It also wasn’t very busy (especially in comparison to the neighbouring Myauk Guni (technically this one is not open for visitors but the gate has been broken so you can climb in) and is ideally located in the centre of the archeological zone, so you are surrounded by pagodas and stupas! The hot air balloons fly from north to south staying towards the east of Bagan so you’ll have a great view of them from here.
*please be aware that the hot air balloons only run from October to March, so make sure you choose wisely when you want to come.*
I think our sunrise could only have been surpassed by riding in one of the hot air balloons, but at over 300$ per person that was a little too rich for me!
I also heard that the view from the Shwesandaw Pagoda was fantastic too for sunrise.
For sunset I would recommend watching it once from a temple and once from the ground, this way you get a beautiful and varied perspective!
If you are planning to watch the sunset from up a temple you may need to go up about an hour before in order to get a good spot. The 2 temples I mentioned above are also great spots for sunset with Myauk Guni being less busy than Ta Whet Hpaya at this time. The Buledi stupa also has a great view and is located further east (so a great view west over the temples) and Thitsarwadi located to the south. Also if you’re not up for climbing but would like to go somewhere elevated, there are a couple of viewpoint mounds located around the site.
The magnificence of Bagan is not so much in the individual temples but the site as a whole. With over 2200 temples it would be impossible to visit them all, my suggestion would be to just explore at your own pace and find your own secret spots! Quite a few times I seemed to be the only person in one area which was just magical!
Make sure to at least visit Thatbyinnyu Pahto and Mahabodi Paya in Old Bagan, as well as Ananda Pahto, Dhammayangyi Pahto, Sulamani Pahto and Dhammayazika Paya.
I’ve marked on this maps a few of my favourites!
Enjoy Bagan, a place that should be one of the seven wonders of the man made world !
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