It’s no wonder the UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered a world wonder. To experience Bagan is like a dream. It’s otherworldly, especially at dawn.
Pastel hues of daybreak blend well with misty layers of stupas and hot air balloons in the distance. It’s scenes like this that make Bagan one the top destinations for Myanmar’s tourism industry.
Bagan’s famous pagodas were built in a relatively short amount of time between the 11th and 13th centuries. The majority of the remaining temples have been heavily renovated, and several are still in use today.
A 6.8-magnitude earthquake damaged hundreds of Bagan’s temples in 2016 – some of which are indefinitely off-limits to the public. But, the draw of the region stays strong and its beauty endures. Bamboo scaffolding can be seen clinging to various historic structures as restorative efforts are underway.
Whether soaring high up in a hot air balloon, or finding a spot atop a temple, there are plenty of perfect perches to take in an iconic sunrise or sunset.
Hot air ballooning is the best way to truly experience Bagan’s vastness from an aerial point of view. There are a handful of hot-air balloon tour operators, each with a small fleet that can fit up to ten passengers per basket.
Sunrise is the ideal time to ride in a hot air balloon over Bagan. Prices range from approximately $320 to $500 USD for a 45-minute flight depending on season, availability, and extras such as breakfast included. Booking a tour far in advance is suggested.
As Bagan is still a functioning sacred place of meditation and spiritual awakening for both locals and tourists, playful novice monks are easy to spot in and around its temples. Dark red robes are a signature look for Myanmar’s Buddhist monks. Light, bright pink ones are worn by nuns.
Daytime dramatically pours through window slits and wall cracks of temples, giving a whole new look to Bagan from the inside out.
Bagan’s temples are mostly able to be explored. Some have a sort of groundskeeper who may allow full run of the place, or restrict access to certain tunnels and stairwells. Others are completely open to search without another person in sight. Sunlit archways to walk through and ledges to relax on create the ultimate set for photos, so be sure to step inside.
There are three main areas of Bagan, which are known as Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung U. Each caters to a different type of traveler, and all are worth exploring.
Old Bagan is the site of many high-end hotels, and is centrally located – close to the main, big temples. New Bagan, founded in 1990, is best for mid-range overnight options alongside attractive restaurant river views. Several eccentric cafes and entertainment options can be found in Nyaung U, which is also the place to be for the cheapest available accommodations.
Restaurants serving international fare and fusion have gained popularity in Bagan in recent years, as an influx of tourists continues to sculpt the zone’s culinary future. However, various local vendors and roadside eateries specializing in a mouthwatering assortment of Burmese cuisine continue to thrive. Sniff around the outskirts of Old Bagan’s palace walls, near the Tharabar Gate, or venture to Nyaung U for more of a Myanmar-style dining experience.
Vibrantly-colored souvenirs such as handmade traditional paper umbrellas, dangling wooden puppets, and meticulously designed lacquerware can be seen spilling out from shops and outside of temples throughout Bagan. Visitors are able to stop by a number of workshops to see these Burmese handicrafts being made.
Electric scooters are a recommended mode of transport to see the sights in Bagan. Many guesthouses offer e-bikes for a small fee (approximately $10 per day), or find an independent rental provider within walking distance. They’re everywhere.
A fully charged battery allows for a full day’s worth of exploration (about eight hours). Be cautious. Bagan’s landscape is quite rocky, muddy or sandy depending on the time of year. If there are any problems, most e-bike providers have roadside assistance.
A day or two in Bagan is a good amount of time to zip around. If a longer stay is desired, plan to travel by car to a nearby attraction such as Mount Popa.
There are countless temples in Bagan to view the sunrise or sunset from on top of, but not all are safe or able to be scaled. Respect local rules and regulations. For a front row seat at dusk; though, beat the crowds by finding a lesser-known pagoda ahead of time.
The magnificent artistry of Bagan can be seen in the delicate etchings and crumbling murals within numerous pagodas. Temples are filled with grandiose details of what once was, and ornate statues of Buddha abound.
June to October is rainy season in Myanmar. This time of year brings cooler temperatures, lush greenery and cheaper prices to Bagan. November to February is peak tourist season for a good reason. Expect clear skies, bearable temperatures, and a more expensive stay. March to May is extremely hot. Plan to stay out of the sun during the midday hours if daring to go to Bagan during the sweltering summer months.
A dusty morning haze or wistful evening fog are common occurrences in Bagan, adding another element of allure to the already picture-perfect scenery.
The show isn’t over yet. After the sun sets, travelers are in for another spectacular performance as Bagan’s skyline lights up with warmly illuminated spires dotting the plain.
Bagan’s remarkable horizon made up of thousands of pagodas will have you questioning whether it’s even real. What was once a well-kept secret ancient city of Myanmar is now a not-to-miss hotspot. With new restaurants popping up all over, more options for reasonably priced lodging on the rise, and a vibrant, backpacker feel in the making, it’s time you experience Bagan’s sheer amount of religious structures and laid-back vibe for yourself.