Bagan was the most impressive place for me during my Myanmar itinerary. What makes this place so special is that the area is full of ancient temples and stupas. Bagan even has the largest collection of Buddhist temples, stupas and ruins in the entire world! Between the 11th and 13th centuries, no fewer than 4446 Buddhist structures were built on this site, of which 3822 are currently in fairly good condition.
Since July 2019, Bagan is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. As a result of this development, it’s no longer allowed to climb the temples and there are ‘guardians’ at larger temples to keep an eye on things. Most of the temples can still be seen from the inside, but the stairs up in the large temples are closed with gates to keep the condition of the temples.
The best way to explore the area is by scooter. Tourists are not renting normal scooters, but electric scooters. Driving such a scooter feels like driving a toy car. It is certainly fun! They usually go up to 50 km/h. In addition, you can also rent bicycles in some places, if a scooter isn’t your thing.
Renting an electric scooter costs about 6000 – 8000 kyats per day (€ 3.80 – € 5). Often you can rent it at 5:00 am and have to return it around 7:00 pm.
Most of the temples are located between New Bagan and Nyaung-U. Via sandy paths through the grass landscape you can drive from temple to temple with an amazing view everywhere. What I can recommend is to drive through the area for a few days so that you can explore the area optimally. For me it sometimes felt like I was driving through a fairyland and I enjoyed it every moment.
Sunrise and sunset
Bagan is known for the fantastic sunrises and sunsets you can see there. The sunrises in particular are spectacular because of dozens of hot air balloons taking off simultaneously. It’s therefore highly recommended to choose a nice spot around 5:30 am to watch this spectacle.
It can be quite a challenge to find the perfect place. That’s why there are plenty of locals driving around early in the morning who offer to take you to a good sunrise viewpoint. What they often ask for in return is that you take the time to view their paintings afterwards. If you prefer not to buy anything, you can give them a small tip. In general, these people actually take you to very beautiful places, although you may sometimes need a bit of luck.
One place I can definitely recommend is this sunrise viewpoint from a small hill with a stone wall overlooking the Dhammayan Gyi Temple. In the photo below you can see the fantastic view. In this place the hot air balloons fly behind the temple, but some also fly over you.
To watch the sunset, several sunset hills between the temples are popular. These are easily found on the Maps.me app. You can also see the sun setting beautifully on the river in the west. The disadvantage of these places is that it can get busy.
Of course you can also decide to make a balloon flight yourself. For this, however, you have to dig deep, because a balloon flight costs around € 300 per person. If I can believe the stories of others, this is a lifetime experience. Unfortunately, this activity was well above budget for me!
Where to stay in Bagan?
In the area around Bagan you can actually stay in three different places: Old Bagan, New Bagan or Nyaung-U. Most accommodations and restaurants are located in New Bagan and Nyaung-u, and Old Bagan is mainly home to more expensive hotels and resorts.
I stayed 3 nights in Nyaung-U, but I could easily have stayed a few more nights. Every day I rented a scooter and drove through the temple area during sunrise and sunset. During the day it can get really hot, so I would recommend that you go out in the morning and late afternoon just like me.
Popular hostels where you can generally meet a lot of backpackers are Ostello Bello in New Bagan and Baobabed in Nyaung-U. These hostels are also located in many other popular places in Myanmar. In addition, there are plenty of other nice accommodations for different budgets.
How to get to Bagan
Bagan is easily accessible by bus from various popular destinations in Myanmar. The city also has a train station and an airport.
- Bagan – Yangon. This bus ride takes about 9 hours and costs between 13,000 and 25,000 kyats depending on which bus you take. I recommend a VIP bus for this long route, because this is a lot more comfy.
- Bagan – Mandalay. The route between these two places takes about 4 to 5 hours and costs around 15,000 kyats. In addition, you can also decide to take the boat that takes about 11 hours. This option is a bit more expensive, but also relaxed.
- Bagan – Kalaw. For this ride of about 8 hours you pay between 15,000 and 18,000 kyats. A VIP bus is also recommended on this route.
- Bagan – Mindat. This route takes about 6.5 hours and prices are around 20,000 kyats.
- Bagan – Pyay – Ngapali. This minivan ride takes approximately 9 hours and costs 20,000 kyats. If you want to travel further to Ngapali beach, you take a minibus from Pyay for 20,000 kyats that takes more than 10 hours. The entire journey is very long and must be very uncomfortable. Therefore, you could also fly between Bagan and Thandwe.
When you arrive by bus, you will be dropped off at the Bagan Shwe Pyi Bus Station and then take a taxi to your accommodation. The taxi drivers charge ridiculous prices here, but don’t be fooled. Normal prices are 6,000 kyats to Nyaung-U, 8,500 kyats to New Bagan and 9,500 kyats to Old Bagan by car. Still very pricey but transport in Bagan is generally quite expensive.
Entrance fee Bagan
You pay an entrance fee of 25,000 kyats per person for the archaeological site of Bagan. You don’t have to pay for the temples. The bus or your taxi driver often drives past an office where you can buy the receipt. I just didn’t drive past it and didn’t even know about it at first. They actually don’t ask for your receipt in Bagan. The only time I was asked was at Sunset Hill. Then make sure you have a picture of someone else’s receipt or say you forgot it.
Best time to visit Bagan
It is best to visit Bagan at the beginning of the dry season that starts around November. From February it can get really hot in Bagan with temperatures around 40 ° C. The best travel time is therefore from November to February.