A Guide To Visit Bagan, Myanmar
Bagan is one place you cannot miss while in Myanmar. With over 3,100 temples hidden in the forest on the banks of the grand Irrawaddy river, its easy to spend many days just wandering from Pagoda to Pagoda.
In this blog post, you’ll find everything you need to know to plan a visit to Bagan including how to reach Bagan, which temples to visit, where to stay in Bagan and even how to explore the forest. Also, find some interesting tips on a classic sunset cruise on the Irrawaddy river.
History of Bagan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Known to be one of the greatest kingdoms from the 9th to the 13th century, the region had named as its capital. Over those years, 4,446 temples were built by the emperors on the plains of the Irrawaddy. Today, about 3,126 temples have survived with nature and wars having destroyed the others.
The kingdom of Bagan was predominantly Buddhist with influences of Hinduism, which is apparent in the architecture of most Pagodas. Today, Bagan is famous for these remnants of great architecture and how beautifully nature has reclaimed most of it, making Bagan worth visiting on a trip to Myanmar.
Tip: The best season to travel to Bagan is between October and February, although afternoons can be quite hot. Evenings are cold during that time. It is best to avoid the hot and wet summer during the other months.
Which temples to visit in Bagan?
Of the many temples, there are some that stand out for the architecture, the history and the accessibility. Here is a list of some temples to visit in Bagan:
1. Sulamani Temple:
It is one of the most popular temples in Bagan and is located in the Minnanthu village. It is a red brick temple and was a monastery in its time. The temple is close to a man-made mound which is the best place for sunrise and sunset in Bagan (considering you cant climb up any temple in Bagan now).
Tip: Buy a Bagan Archaeological Zone ticket for MMK 25,000 (INR 1,200 or USD 17) to enter the city of Bagan. There is no separate ticket for the temples.
2. Ananda Temple:
Most people in Bagan start their morning with a visit to the Ananda temple, a pristine white complex with a golden pagoda at the top. Popularly known as “Westminister Abbey of Burma”, it is a architecturally similar to Indian temples. Infact, the Indian Government place an active role in its maintainance. Mornings are pleasant with resounding prayers of the monks.
3. Dhammayangi Temple:
This is the largest temple in Bagan. Althogh this temple is closed for entry, the views from the outside are enough to stun you. Most hot air balloons fly over the Dhammayangi temple early in the mornings and this makes for a great picture from the nearby fields.
4. Thatbyinnyu Phaya:
It is very close to the Ananda temple and is very photogenic. There is a pathway leading upto it from the main road, which further connects to the Bagan Archaeological Museum. You can also visit the Mahazedi Pagoda which is right behind it.
5. Other Temples to visit
Can you climb any temple in Bagan?
The temples in Bagan were earlier open for visitors to climb, but now all temples are closed to protect the temples from damage. This has been enforced since Bagan was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Best spots for sunset in Bagan
There are three places in Bagan which are best for sunset:
1. Sulamani Mound (free)
2. Nyaung Lat Phet Mound (free)
3. Nan Myint Watch Tower (entry fee: MMK 8,000 per person)
These mounds or sunset hills were created since no tourists are allowed to climb the temples anymore.
Sunset Cruise on the Irrawaddy River
If you’re spending two nights in Bagan, spend one evening at a Sunset Hill and another here on the banks of the Irrawaddy river. Most fishermen have their boats out on the river for small sunset cruises. The sunset cruise includes a 30 minute ride from the shore and sometimes, a serving of tea and traditional Burmese snacks as well.
Tip: A sunset cruise on the Irrawaddy river costs MMK 15,000 (USD 10). But, if you have booked any bus journey on MyanmarBusTicket (our tried-and-tested recommendation to book bus/train to Bagan), then the sunset cruise is FREE.
Visit the Bagan Archaeological Museum
The Bagan Museum is a great place to spend two hours in the city. There are many interesting photos, scale models and historical tales which have been curated inside a beautiful building, built in a similar design as the pagodas. There is a MMK 5,000 (USD 4 or INR 250) fee to enter the Museum.
Tip: Bagan is uncomfortably hot in the afternoons. The best way to escape the heat is to visit this air-conditioned museum after lunch.
How to explore Bagan while visiting the temples
There are four easy ways to explore the temples in Bagan:
1. e-Bike (best option):
e-Bikes are available in nearly every hotel, hostel and homestay in Bagan. There are many stores on the street as well, renting e-bikes. Rent a two-seat e-Bike at a cost of MMK 8,000 per day, whereas the cost of e-Bike (single seat) is MMK 5,000. The range is usually 35 kms per charge which is sufficient for visiting the temples and the cafés. e-Bike Rental includes a free and immediate replacement if you run out of charge anytime. There are bicycles too, but we wouldn’t recommend.
For MMK 35,000 (USD 24 or INR 1,700) you can rent a tuktuk for the day with a driver, at your hotel/hostel. Its is more comfortable in the sunny mornings and afternoons.
3. Private Taxi:
A more expensive option is to take a private taxi from the street or the hotel to visit the temples in Bagan (if you need air-conditioning).
Joining a group bus tour is another cheap way of sightseeing in Bagan. Although there is air-conditioning, these tours visit specific temples only and you will share the experience with over 20 people.
Tip: Join a three hour guided e-Bike tour to explore the temples in the morning. This way, you will visit the prime temples with a guide at your own pace. Guide charges MMK 10,000 per person (you have to bring your own rental e-Bike).
Where to eat in Bagan
Bagan is filled with many quaint cafés and restaurants. Although most of them are in New Bagan and Old Bagan, it is far easier to rest at one of the cafes in the Minnanthu village inside the forest during mid-day. We had lunch at the Minnanthu Kitchen, where the food was tasty and all tables had a bed to rest on – probably, the best way to escape the heat in the noon.
Here are a few vegan cafés worth checking out in Bagan:
1. The Moon Café (Old Bagan)
2. Khaing Shwe Wha (Old Bagan)
3. The Moon 2 (New Bagan) – best for spendinf a few hours playing board games and eating
Most dishes are reasonably priced. Try the refreshing Orange and Avocado Juices in Bagan.
Tip: Carry a reusable waterbottle. Purified water can be filled at most of the big Temples. There are water-pots on the streets as well. Restaurants charge for bottled water.
How to travel to Bagan
Getting to Bagan involves many options:
Air: There are many daily flights from most cities in Myanmar, to Nyaung-U Airport in Bagan. The flight prices are high considering the demand is mostly from foreigners.
Bus: The most convenient way to go from Yangon to Bagan or Mandalay to Bagan is by an overnight sleeper bus (cost is less than USD 15 or INR 1,000). You can also take a bus from Inle to Bagan or even do the Ngapali-Bagan route for about the same price.
Train: This is the cheapest way of travelling in and out of Bagan. We took the overnight train from Mandalay to Bagan and it was crazy! Buy only first class tickets (check for an AC coach).
Cruise: The most luxurious option is to do a one day cruise on the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay to Bagan. It includes food and drinks and takes a full day to reach the pier at Bagan. You can also consider taking the cruise from Bagan to Mandalay.
Book your bus and train tickets here
What to wear in Bagan
Bagan is a city filled with temples, so it is naturally more conservative than other Burmese cities, so it is good to respect the culture there by avoiding Buddha prints, sleeveless tops, shorts and short skirts. It is best to wear full-sleeved cotton clothing to be comfortable in the heat. Evenings can be cold.
Tip: Buy a traditional Burmese shirt and long pants or Lungyi at the stores outside the big temples. Reasonable bargain price: MMK 8,000 for the set. Also, buy a traditional Bamboo umbrella to avoid the sun.
Where to stay in Bagan
Bagan is made of three localities: Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung-U.
Old Bagan is home to a variety of luxury hotels and stays. There are a few nice hostels as well. It is also closest to the large temples.
New Bagan is an upcoming neighbourhood and has many hotels, budget-friendly hostels and funky cafés. It is a little farther from the temples, but not inconvenient.
Nyaung-U is the backpackers’ neighbourhood in Bagan. It is close to the Bagan Airport and the Bagan Railway station too. Its easy to find cheap group tours here.
Tip: We stayed at this amazing little place called Ever New Guest House on the east side of Nyaung-U. With breakfast, wifi and air-con, a room costs only MMK 24,000 (USD 16 or INR 1,100) a night. We used the in-house e-Bikes to visit the temples in Bagan.
See all accommodations here
How many days to spend in Bagan
Spend atleast two nights to experience Bagan in different ways. We spent the first day visiting three-four temples and doing the free sunset cruise. The next day, we started early with a visit to the sunrise rise hill and a few more temples. We had lunch at some of the Cafés in Minnanthu Village and in Old Bagan, followed by sunset at the Sulamani Sunset Hill and dinner at The Moon 2 in New Bagan.
Where to go from Bagan
Bagan is very close to Mandalay and only takes a few hours by road. But thats not all, you can even visit Asia’s third best beach here! All of Myanmar is very well connected and the easy visa process makes it a delight to explore too.
So, when are you traveling to Myanmar?