Bagan Myanmar is a unique destination that has recently taken the travel world by storm. By now you’ve seen the pictures… Hot air balloons floating into the sky over thousands of pagodas, all illuminated by the beautiful Bagan sunrise. However, there’s more to know and discover in this one of a kind river town! With so much history, culture, and architecture to explore, this is a must see for any traveler visiting the country. Our Bagan travel guide will go over the best ways to get to the temples, prices, and much more in this special place in Myanmar!
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1. Finding the “Best Temples” in Bagan
Once we took in our first Bagan sunrise we set off into the vast area and were overwhelmed by how much we had to see in just a few days. After all, there are over 2,000 pagodas, temples, and monasteries in the heart of Myanmar! It wasn’t long before we realized it would be impossible to see them all, and that our focus should be to just have as much fun as possible.
There are a few must see temples you should circle that we mention below, but the best moments in Bagan for us were the random turns and paths we went down. So don’t dwell on looking for the “best temples” because honestly they are all amazing in their own way. They say sometimes the best plans are no plans, and that definitely applies when looking for what to do in Bagan!
2. Rent an E-Bike
There’s many ways to explore Bagan Myanmar, but our favorite was the electric bikes. For around just $5 USD per day you can cruise around on these environmentally friendly mopeds. What makes Bagan different than other ancient cities is that you can actually ride in between the thousands of historic structures.
We guarantee you’ve never experienced a UNESCO World Heritage Site this way! Other Bagan travel options include tuk tuk taxi’s, bicycles, and bus tours instead. While those might be more informational you won’t have the freedom of driving in and out of the pagodas and temples like you do on an E-bike.
Watch the Battery: If you’ve never used an E-bike before make sure to give yourself enough time to make it back before the battery dies. Most of them don’t have enough juice for a whole day of exploring so you’ll have to plan a break at some point to have your bike recharged.
3. Ask for a Helmet
After seeing how crazy the roads were in Yangon we were a little hesitant to rent an E-bike in Myanmar. However, once we got to the beautiful beaches of Ngapali and Bagan temples we knew we would need one! The thing we were most confused by is that the hotels in both places didn’t offer helmets.
One of the places we stayed didn’t have any at all, and the others you had to request them beforehand. Although the E-bikes do ride much slower than normal motorbikes it’s still wise to stay safe on the roads of Bagan Myanmar. It’s also not a bad idea to wear a face mask while riding as many of the streets are dirt or currently under construction.
4. Enjoy the Bagan Sunrise
Every Bagan travel story starts with an epic sunrise! Waking up at 5:30am may seem like a tough task until you see what awaits you. Every morning the Bagan hot air balloons lift off and dance magically above the temples and rising sun.
Now that you know you absolutely need to see the Bagan sunrise, the big debate is where to watch it. There’s different hills and mounds people gravitate to, and some even climb the walls of the pagodas. Below are some popular areas to see the sunrise, but wherever you decide to experience this time of day is sure to be amazing.
5. Chase the Balloons
Our favorite part of the morning wasn’t the sunrise, but actually what followed it! After we watched the hot air balloons do their initial ascent into the sky we saw them start to float into the distance. Naturally we had to give chase. Instead of standing in one place we jumped on our electric bike and followed the balloons on the small dirt paths.
At some points we were even driving directly under the massive balloons as we cruised from temple to temple. The location they take off from changes daily with the winds and weather.
So as soon as you see them fly up just follow the random dirt roads until you get close. Also, if you don’t want to wake up exactly when the sun rises you can sleep in a little. The Bagan hot air balloons take off just after sunrise and stay in air for around 45 minutes.
6. Plan for Weather
Depending on what time of year you travel to Bagan you’ll most likely experience some hot and cold weather. On our visit it was very cold first thing in the morning. In fact, the first day when we headed out for the Bagan sunrise we were actually freezing!
It’s a good idea to layer up, but the afternoon will hold much warmer temperatures. In peak dry season of April and May most of Myanmar can even reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Sunset will be plenty warm enough to keep your short sleeves on most of the year which is why we were so shocked at the morning weather.
7. Don’t Climb the Temples and Pagodas
Ever since Bagan opened to tourism one of the most popular activities has been to scale the ancient pagodas and temples. However, in 2018 the government actually banned the act of climbing to better preserve the ancient buildings. Despite the fact that it’s technically not allowed many tourists still take the risk.
Even though climbing in Bagan wasn’t for us we still obviously get the allure of it. Just be careful if you’re looking to do it, and don’t be so quick to trust everything you read on blogs. Roof access to basically all the temples we visited had been closed off since the time of a lot of these recent publications.
8. Embrace the Recently Named UNESCO Site
One of the biggest surprises for us about Bagan was finding out it was literally just named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. How was it possible that such an unreal and historic destination wasn’t already part of this prestigious organization? We would learn that it was initially nominated for UNESCO in 1995 by the the military junta that ran the government.
They were originally rejected because the restoration efforts on the structures weren’t up to par with the U.N.’s qualifications. Since the country switched from military rule in 2011 there have been increased preservation efforts in Bagan. Just this past year in 2019 they were finally given the honor of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
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9. Get the Best View of Bagan Myanmar
If you’re not looking to risk climbing the pagodas there’s still plenty of ways to get the best views of Bagan! There are manmade mounds and hills around the area that give similar views of the temples and beyond. Also, there’s the Bagan Viewing Tower that we’d highly recommend checking out on your first day to get a lay of the land.
It cost $5 USD to enter, and there’s even a happy hour on the top floor from 4-6pm. These are all other great options if you’d like to do your part in preserving this UNESCO World Heritage Site while still getting these stunning views.
10. Take a Bagan Hot Air Balloon Ride
If you’re the adventurous type and looking for what to do in Bagan then there’s only one choice! The Bagan hot air balloons have become world famous and it’s easy to book your ride. There’s a select few companies such as Balloons over Bagan, Golden Eagle Ballooning, and STT Ballooning that offer 8 to 16 passenger rides.
They take off around 6am so you’ll get to enjoy the picturesque scene of the Bagan sunrise over the temples. The average price comes in around $350-450 USD per person which is definitely worth it for the once and a lifetime views!
11. Use an Offline Map
Even with spontaneously exploring the open road you’re still going to somewhat need to know where you’re going. That’s where the offline maps come into play.
We’ve always recommended Maps.me as the app we use, and there are many other great services out there. Not only will this allow you to find your way home after a day of adventure, but you can also get to those must see temples you’ve read about.
12. Try a Vegetarian Meal
With all the action in between exploring and the beautiful Bagan sunset you’re going to need to eat! Myanmar and in particular Bagan, are known for it’s great and healthy vegetarian food.
Throughout our time in Yangon, Bagan, and Ngapali Beach we had countless vegetable curries, tea leaf salads, and eggplant just to name a few. One of our favorite spots we found in Bagan is called the Moon Vegetarian Restaurant, and they have two locations in the city.
13. See History at the Bagan Archaeological Museum
Located next to the Gawdawpalin Pagoda, the Bagan Archaeological Museum is the perfect compliment to your Bagan travel. Here you’ll get the complete backstory on the incredible architecture you’ll see around the ancient city.
The museum includes many relics and artifacts dating back to the 11th century Bagan Dynasty. The entrance fee is just 5,000 MMK and it’s opened daily from 9:30am to 4:30pm.
14. Visit the Mani Sithu Market
Every city and town in Myanmar has an awesome market, and Bagan is no different! Take a stroll through the colorful fruits and vegetables and see where the locals buy their goods.
If you’d like to see it at its busiest make sure to stop by first thing in the morning. In addition to the endless produce you’ll also find clothing and wood carving trinkets you can take home as souvenirs.
15. Know the Three Sections of the City
The three main parts of town that everyone stays in are Old Bagan, New Bagan, and Nyaung-U. With the area recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the accommodations in Old Bagan where most of the temples are have been forced to relocate.
This led to a surge of hotels in New Bagan, and where you’ll most likely end up staying. The airport is in Nyaung-U which makes it the furthest from the pagodas and temples. Still, no matter what you decide you’re just a short tuk tuk or E-bike ride away! Take a look at the bottom of this post for our recommended hotels.
16. End Your Day With the Bagan Sunset
So you’ve seen the incredible sunrise and Bagan hot air balloons… Is there anything that can beat it? The Bagan sunset is a special time of day where the colors really come out.
We couldn’t believe our eyes the first night as we watched the sun drop down from sky over the hundreds of pagodas. Whether you’re watching it from the rooftop of a temple, on your E-bike, or from the viewing tower, it will be a night you’ll never forget!
Have any questions about Bagan travel, or want to share your own awesome tips? Comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
Where To Stay in Bagan Myanmar
Ultra Luxury – Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort Bagan – As one of the only hotels surrounded by the historic temples, Aureum Palace will be a unique luxury stay in Bagan. Enjoy the beautiful pool overlooking the pagodas, and all the great amenities before you head out exploring.
Fun Vacation – Bagan Star Hotel – This accommodation near the airport in Nyaung-U has everything you need to enjoy a stay in Bagan Myanmar. The convenient location and rooftop bar give the feel of an upscale hotel stay at a fraction of the price.
Budget Travel – Bagan Empress Hotel – Located in the heart of New Bagan, this family hotel has a welcoming vibe that draws you in immediately. With a stay at Bagan Empress you’ll have access to E-bikes and a wonderful breakfast on their 3rd floor roof.
Hostel Life – Ostello Bello Bagan – Ostello Bello has many hostels around Myanmar, and the Bagan location is one of the best! Enjoy high speed wifi, a fun common room, and learn all the best spots to see the Bagan sunset and sunrise!
For more places to stay near Bagan Myanmar you can explore the latest prices here!
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