Bagan is a city of breathtaking beauty in Myanmar. The city, tucked away on a curve of the Ayeyarwady River, is home to temples, pagodas, delicious Burmese eateries, and an overall laid-back vibe. Those visitors lucky enough to visit this incredible city will have one too many top sights and attractions on their itineraries, so Culture Trip has whittled down the options by creating this list of the best things to see and do in Bagan.
The early bird gets the worm in Bagan, as one of the best times to view the amazing Bagan Archaeological Zone is at sunrise. Visitors will likely have to get up at 4:30 a.m. or so to give themselves enough time to get to the temple of their choice to watch the sun come up. There are some popular temple destinations in which the majority of tourists seem to flock to for this stunning affair; however, it is better if they sort out an off-the-beaten-path temple to frequent, as one too many people all trying to get a photograph of the same thing can certainly be a frustrating endeavor. There are thousands of temples and pagodas scattered across the plains of Bagan, giving people plenty of options.
Myanmar is leading the way to a more greener form of exploring cities with loads of electric bikes, or e-bikes, available in Bagan. Visitors cannot venture far into the city without seeing an e-bike shop lining one of the dusty roads in town. This form of transportation is almost identical to mopeds, except for the fact that they run on batteries as opposed to gasoline. In addition to being better for the environment, they are extremely quiet and do not go as fast as their noisy counterparts. The absence of the roar of an engine makes riding along the winding, dirt roads to visit all the temples certainly a relaxing experience.
The Bagan Archaeological Zone is some 26 square miles (67 square kilometers) in size. These amazing ruins dot the city in the most random and odd of fashion, with no rhyme or reason as to why the religious structures sit where they do. How do visitors know which of the thousands are worth visiting? Ostello Bello, a hostel located in New Bagan, offers those who stay there a free tour of the archaeological ruins with their tour guide. Christopher, an energetic and young local, is extremely knowledgeable about the country, the city, and the religious structures found throughout. He gives the seven-hour tour for free and accepts donations at the end (participants must rent their own e-bikes).
Cuisine does not get much better than what the locals in Bagan are cooking up in the many eateries found around the city. From streetside shops equipped with nothing but a chef and some plastic seating to European-Burmese fusion restaurants serving up some unique finds, there is a restaurant or stall ready to please all appetites in this historic city. Some of the best restaurants in town include Weather Spoon’s Bagan, Be Kind to Animals the Moon, and Seven Sisters Restaurant. Myanmar has a number of famous dishes, so be sure to try at least one of these before leaving this fascinating country.
The Mani-Sithu Market is a wonderful spot for visitors who find themselves growing a bit tired of exploring the temples. There is a wide variety of Burmese handicrafts to browse through, with some unique finds including the bark needed to make thanaka, the face mask many Burmese men, women, and children wear. Vendors are friendly, speak a fair amount of English, and are ready to barter as people take to the many stalls in hopes of finding souvenirs, delicious Burmese snacks, and more. Mani-Sithu Market also has its fair share of faux lacquerware, one of the most coveted Burmese handicrafts in the country. Real lacquerware can cost upwards of hundreds of dollars, while the very realistic-looking and stunning pieces found at stalls across this market will leave shoppers with plenty of kyats to spare. This market sits at the very end of Lanmadaw Road; visitors will know they have arrived when they reach a small roundabout, and there is a covered bazaar straight ahead. The market is open every day (except Sunday) from 6 a.m. until about 5 p.m.
The lacquerware found in shops around town as well as the Mani-Sithu Market are certainly convincing; however, those on the lookout for some authentic dishware and pieces need to check out one of the lacquerware workshops in the city. One of the most noteworthy places in the city is the Bagan House Lacquerware Workshop found in New Bagan. Lacquerware is specifically unique to the area, though visitors will find it in cities around the country, in locals’ homes, inside ancient temples, as well as in the monasteries in Bagan. People who frequent one of these workshops will watch as locals craft the bamboo base of each piece, then later glaze and paint it, store it in a dry cellar, and decorate it with traditional designs made with a needle. The crafters glaze the pieces at Bagan House Lacquerware Workshop anywhere from eight to 16 times, and their elaborate and stunning pieces can take up to one year to finish.
As incredible as the sunrise is over the Bagan Archaeological Zone, the sunset is seemingly even more incredible, and visitors do not have to get up at an ungodly hour to capture a photograph of it. Head to any one of the religious structures at around 5:30 p.m. in order to watch as the sun falls over the rustic, red-brown temples and stupas that dot the desolate plains of Bagan. For those on an e-bike, be sure to head back to your accommodation as soon as the sun sets; the bugs seemingly all come out after dark and love nosediving into drivers as they zip back home.