Bagan is the land of mystical pagodas. More than 2,000 still exist today. Each slightly different, yet familiar. There are some big and some small. Ones you can walk through, and ones that have just a small metal gate to peer your eyes through. The best part is getting lost, driving through the network of dirt roads on an electric scooter – all at your own pace. You’ll have memories for a lifetime – ones of the hot, dusty winds blowing against your face, the unexpected turns you made that led to your favorite pagoda, and stillness – a calming aura – that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s an archaeological complex to be rivaled with Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, and the Great Pyramids – and you’ll love it.
The best memories are from the early morning wake ups to see sunrise. The rush of waking up early in the morning before the light comes up and the eagerness of what you’re going to see. If you arrive in the afternoon or evening before, then you won’t have any idea of what the scenery looks like. When the light does shine, and you are able to see, the surprise and joy of what’s before you will be enlightening and the view splendid. In this post, I’ll try to give a few suggestions of places to view sunrise, and will try to avoid any spoilers.
Located six hours away by bus from Mandalay, Bagan is separated into three different places to stay. You’ll want to stay in Nyaung-U (use View Point Inn as a reference) and then drive every time towards Old Bagan and New Bagan (directly south of Old Bagan) to see the temples. The bus from Mandalay, or any other Myanmar city (i.e Yangon), drops you off about 20 minutes away from Nyaung-U – close to the airport, so you will have to catch a taxi or hitchhike into the town to stay.
Where to Stay:
Budget Options, Value Options, Luxury Picks
Ananta Bagan – This is the best luxury pick for anyone looking to relax within Bagan – but don’t write it off as “expensive” because of the word luxury. It’s also one of the highest rated places at 9.5/10 stars and 184 reviews, but it’s affordable – especially for couples. Everyone who has stayed mentioned the friendly staff, and spaciousness of the rooms and bathrooms, and swimming pool. I haven’t seen this good of reviews on any other Myanmar hotels.
Wut Hmon Thit 2 – This is one of the best budget places to stay in Nyuang-U. It’s located slightly out of the way, at the end of a street, but this means it is quiet during the night. It is basic, but covers your needs. The staff are also helpful.
Royal Bagan Hotel – The Royal Bagan Hotel offers a balance between Hotel and Hostel life. There’s a free pool to use, and on-site restaurant. It’s one of the most reviewed places in Bagan, with over 2,000. This is a great option for anyone who is solo traveling.
What to Do & Pagodas to Visit:
You came to Bagan to explore the ancient ruins of earlier civilizations. So here is a list of the best sites to mark on your maps, and to see during your visit. Please see the Maps.me app for their correct location.
Shwezigon Pagoda – not to be confused with the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon – this is the main temple in Bagan. A remarkable golden stupa that will complete your visit to Myanmar as soon as you visit. It’s worth stopping by during the day – and stopping by at night, when it is lit up with all the lights. See the photos below.
Gaw Daw Palin Phaya
Find a Spot to Watch the Sunrise
Other Notable Temples:
Thatbyinnyu Temple, Shwesandaw Phaya, Thitsawadi Paya
Visit the Post Office, Relax by the Pool
How to Get Around:
Renting a electric moped is the best way to get around Bagan, as they only allow electric bikes and not motorized ones on the roads. You can also hire a tricycle driver to take you to all the sights, which would likely include more of a history lesson than if you explored on your own. Horse-drawn carriages are also available for tours.
As of March 2018, the government has implemented a 25,000 Kyat entrance fee to the park (approx. $16 USD). While I can’t verify where the funds go directly, I can say that introducing a fee to users of the area (excluding the locals), creates a better environment, one that will help preserve this treasure of land for the future. The 25,000 Kyat entrance fee will give you unlimited access to the park for the next five days. (Update 2019) – according to the Myanmar Times and its sources, only 2% of this fee goes back directly towards preservation.
During sunrise, many touts will come up to you and offer their services to direct you to a particular site for sunrise. I chose not to partake, however, if you are pressed on time and can’t decide where to go, then let the guide take you to a spot for a few dollars. It’s how they make a living in this part of Myanmar.
Bagan is also home to sunrise hot air balloon tours. These run upwards of $300 but gives you an awesome perspective of the thousands of temples in the area. If you are dying to do a hot air balloon, then head to Cappadocia in Turkey for a cheaper, equally amazing sunrise float.
More Myanmar Guides Here:
These are my other guides for Myanmar:
Explore the whole country: Your Travel Guide to Myanmar
Explore Bagan: Your Travel Guide to Bagan
Explore Inle Lake: Your Travel Guide to Inle Lake
Explore Loikaw: Your Travel Guide to Loikaw
Explore Hpa-an: Your Travel Guide to Hpa-an
Explore Yangon: Your Travel Guide to Yangon
Get Inspired for Myanmar: Top Five Reasons to Visit Myanmar