Bagan is like a fairy tale. If you are at those strategic viewpoints, then you will actually see the surreal landscape you mostly see when you google “Myanmar”. The dreamy mist hovering over the green landscape and the silhouettes of pagodas as long as your eyes can see is all real. Most of these temples are now maintained. Many contain superb frescoes and statues of Buddhas. But in almost all the temples, the frescoes are in a sorry state. Bagan Archaeological Zone is now the main attraction of Burmese tourism. Here is our Bagan Travel Guide that will help you plan your days in Bagan.
Sprawling away from the banks of Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River, Bagan is believed to have been founded in the 2nd century AD. Between 1057 and 1287, the kings of Bagan had built more than 10000 Buddhist temples or pagodas. The number stands to about 2200 now. Most of them were destroyed either by the vagaries of an earthquake or by Kublai Khan and the invading Mongols. The last earthquake in 2016 had destroyed almost 400 temples there. Bagan is now on the run to become the next UNESCO Heritage Site. Tourists are gradually increasing and we were happy to visit Bagan before it became a crowded destination.
How many days should I spend in Bagan?
Minimum 2 days are required to explore Bagan. The rest depends on your interest. We would suggest not rushing through your Bagan travel. It is a place to be enjoyed and experienced. But however many days you plan in Bagan, you would end up wanting a little more. Also, try to make to every sunrise and sunsets. These are the most magical moments in Bagan. Unless you see it for yourself, you will not believe it. We had stayed for 2 days in Bagan and now contemplating to go back again.
Things to do in Bagan – our Bagan Itinerary
Bagan is known for its ancient Buddhist Temples or pagodas. So all the activities are generally centred around them. Make your own plans at Bagan. The best thing is to get a map, rent an e-bike and explore Southeast Asia’s greatest archaeological heritage site. Here is our day-wise itinerary of Bagan.
We had initially planned to take a cruise ride from Mandalay to Bagan. But unfortunately, we found that the cruise did not run on that particular day. And we have to wait for a couple of days for the next cruise. So we reluctantly gave up the idea of the cruise and got ourselves a bus from the Kwe Se Kan Bus Station in Mandalay. We reached the bus stop at around 2 PM. We had to take another car to our hostel at Nyaung U.
Cruise Ride on Irrawaddy:
In the afternoon, we decided to go for a cruise ride on the Irrawaddy. Well, it was not a big cruise per se, but a small one, more like a private boat. The boat took us along the waters of Irrawaddy. We got the view of few pagodas from the boat. A dreamy afternoon led to a beautiful evening. The sky was cloudy but we could make out the sky changing colours from grey to orange.
It rained that night. The chances of seeing a sunrise were grim. Even though we kept our fingers crossed. If the sky clears miraculously!
The miracle did not happen. When we woke up early in the morning, the sky was not only cast with angry clouds, but it was raining as well. But when could rains dampen the plans of travellers like us. We hired an e-bike, took our rain jackets and were ready for the day. The hostel provided us with a free guide for Bagan tour and along with a few more enthusiasts, we were all ready to explore Old Bagan.
Exploring the Temples of Bagan:
There are pagodas all around wherever you look. It is not quite possible to explore all of them. For this day, we followed our guide and he took us to the best of the lot. Inspite of the rain, we enjoyed our trip across the main temples and a couple of viewpoints. A few of the pagodas have very beautiful murals and frescoes most of which are not maintained at all. Some of the walls of the temples have been painted over with lime in the name of preservation. But slowly, the Burmese authorities have understood the value of these and are now trying to preserve and protect them in the proper way.
The rain did not stop even in the afternoon and evening. So the chance of watching a sunset of Bagan eluded us.
Sunrise at Bagan
The miracle happened on our last day at Bagan. We woke up to a clear sky. Without thinking anything, we rushed out, borrowed a bike and were off to a temple from where we could see the sunrise. And it was a magnificent one. Whatever we had seen all these days in pictures were just before our eyes! It is said that watching the sunrise at Bagan on the hot air balloons is a lifetime experience. What we saw from the top of a temple was not less anyway. And a little later, we saw a few balloons moving all over. I would not say much, but let the pictures do the talking.
Exploring more Pagodas
After watching the sunrise, we explored a few more temples and pagodas. We started from the nearest one at Nyaung U, Shwezigon Pagoda.
Visiting Bagan Museum:
The Bagan Archaeological Museum is situated within Old Bagan city near the Gawdawpalin Temple was established in 1998. Inside there are the bronze statues of four kings of Bagan named Anawyahta, Kyansitthar, Alaungsethu and Kjaswa. In the main gallery is the “Myanmar Rosetta Stone”, dating from AD 1113, which is inscribed in Pyu, Mon, Pali and Myanmar (Burmese). There is an entry fee of 5000 MMK for the museum.
While return, we went through some really bad roads (all because of previous days’ rain) and also lost our way. We found we were quite away from the main town and was near the village. This was something we did not have in our plan. Seeing the village was a bonus! I think sometimes getting lost is a good thing. It springs some pleasant surprises. What do you think?
At 5 PM, we had our train from Bagan towards Yangon. We wanted to experience a train ride in Myanmar and so decided to cover this journey by train. It was another good ride, but that will be another post.
More things to do at Bagan
Hot air Balloon ride over Bagan at sunrise.
This is perhaps the most spectacular experience that you can have at Bagan. What can be more magical than fleeting around the ancient pagodas as the first rays of the sun gently touch you? A balloon ride at Bagan is a unique experience. But it does come with a cost. A 40 to 60 minutes ride costs around USD 340. It is definitely not the cup of tea for budget travellers like us.
Go to the Mounds or viewpoints
There are a few viewpoints near the Sulamuni Pagoda and Dhammayangyi Temple. Once you are there, you will see the signboards. Go to the mounds and you will get some mind-blowing views of Bagan.
Visit Minnanthu Village
The local village is located a little away from the main places like old Bagan and new Bagan. You can go around the village and see how they make their products.
Watch a puppet show at Bagan
String puppets were a form of entertainment in the Burmese royal court since the 1700s and the art flourished under royal patronage till British invasion. Later it was revived again in the 1990s. it is quite interesting to see the puppet shows that have casts of the king, queen, prince, princesses, alchemist, the prime minister, ogre and many other. Nanda Restaurant at Nyaung U, Pho Cho Restaurant at New Bagan is quite famous for their puppet shows.
You can also see a lot of puppets and colourful umbrellas displayed by the locals on the street.
How to reach Bagan?
You can reach the place by bus, taxi and flight from Yangon, Mandalay and Inle. There is also a cruise service from Mandalay to Bagan. There is an airport at Bagan with daily flights to and from Yangon. From the bus station, airport or Railway station, you need top get another car to take you to the hostel. That would take another 8000 – 10000 Kyats as per the location.
As I had mentioned before, renting an e-bike is the best way to explore Bagan. The rent is 6000 Kyats for full day (12 hours) and 3000 Kyats for half day. If you are renting for 2 days or more, then you can negotiate the full day price to 5000 Kyats. But the e-bikes do not pick up speed. On both the days, our bike refused to pick up speed more than 40.
Cars and horse cart are also available to take you around. You can also hire a bicycle to roam around. Keep in mind, that it would be hot and the roads might be covered with dirt and gravel.
Where to stay at Bagan?
Bagan consists of 3 parts – New Bagan, Old Bagan and Nyaung U.
Old Bagan: Old Bagan is the place where you will find most of your monuments and pagodas. But it is also the most expensive spot to stay. Most of the high end hotels and resorts are in this part of the town.
New Bagan: New Bagan was created in 1990 to accommodate the locals and the offices. Because now no new construction can be done at Old Bagan. You will find most hotels of various ranges as well as budget hostels here.
Nyaung U: This is where the airport, main bus stop and train station of Bagan is located. Here you will find plenty of accommodations for budget travellers. Most of the banks and ATMs are also found in Nyaung U. We stayed at Lux Pillow Hostel at Nyaung U.
Places to Eat
We do not usually think much about food while travelling and mostly try local food from local restaurants. Bagan has a number of good restaurants at both Old Bagan and Nyaung U. There are a couple of Indian restaurants at Nyaung U as well.
A few more useful tips and guides for Bagan
- You need to pay an Archaeological Zone fee of 25000 Kyats per head for entering Bagan Archaeological Zone. The ticket is valid for three days from the date of issue. Earlier it was valid for 5 days. They had changed it to 3 days recently.
- Old Bagan is considered to be a sacred area. So you need to dress conservatively. You must cover your knees and shoulders as is found in all the pagodas of Myanmar.
- Carry a hat and sunscreen.
- For footwear, it is better to wear sandals or flipflops. You have to open your shoes at every place you enter. If you are planning to explore Bagan by foot, then do get proper walking shoes.
- Mind your head. Most of the temples have doors that are quite low. So you might have to bend down or squeeze yourself through narrow spaces especially when you are climbing temples to watch sunrise or sunset.
- Start your day early at Bagan. Do not miss any sunrise or sunset. I am sure each day will be a different one.
- Bring a torch or headlamp.
- Explore the Temples of Bagan just after sunrise. Well, sunrise will see a number of tourists and travellers at the area. But after the sunrise, most of them go back to their hotel for another quick nap or breakfast. After all, to see a sunrise, you have to rise early! The post-sunrise period is thus perfect to explore the temples that remain relatively less crowded.
- Photography was allowed inside the pagodas. But our guide told us in jest that we are quite lucky. Very soon photography would be banned inside the temple.
- If you have an extra day, then go for a day trip to Mount Popa. The place is considered quite sacred among the Burmese. Mount Popa has a lovely golden temple perched over a dormant volcano. There are 777 steps leading all the way to the temple. We have heard that the place is also full of monkeys!
Bagan is a dreamland – so beautiful and peaceful. It has some of the greatest archaeological delights of Southeast Asia. And all the people simple and smiling. We sincerely hope that the place remains such for a long way and does not get ruined by tourism.
A few more pictures for you!
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