Lisa Owen

Sunset over trees in Bagan

Magical Myanmar. Bordered by Thailand, Laos and China, Myanmar is a must do on any south east Asian itinerary. One of the best places to experience this captivating country is the ancient city of Bagan.

Bagan was built between the 9th and 13th centuries, but was abandoned in the 13th century due to invasion, and the many thousands of religious monuments were left to decay. But fortunately, more than 2,000 monuments still remain, scattered across a massive 40 square kilometers.

Your journey through the expansive ancient city starts only a few miles from the airport. As you wind your way to Old or New Bagan, you’ll soon spot the brown stone temples of Bagan peppering  the roadside.

To make the most of your visit to Bagan, here’s my tips on exploring the enchanting temples.

Bagan Temples

Getting There

You can fly into Bagan’s Nyaung U Airport from Yangon, Inle Lake (Heho) or Mandalay. Various local airlines fly into Bagan including Air KMZ and Myanmar Airlines. You can also take a public bus, mini van or private car to Bagan from Yangon, Inle Lake or Mandalay. The journey to or from Mandalay is about five hours. It’s about 10-12 hours between Bagan and Inle Lake and Yangon.

Hot air ballons in the sky

It’s easy to arrange your mode of transport when you arrive in Myanmar. Most hotels and guesthouses will be able to arrange it for you or there are tour agencies represented in tourist areas. It’s also possible to take a cruise from Bagan to Mandalay down the Ayeyarwaddy River when river conditions allow.

If you fly into Bagan, you’ll be asked to pay the archaeological site fee before you leave the airport. The cost is 25,000 Kyat per person. If traveling to Bagan by vehicle, you’ll pay when you enter the archaeological area.

Accommodation

Bagan is split into New Bagan and Old Bagan. The bulk of hotels, guesthouses are located in New Bagan. New Bagan has more restaurants and shops than Old Bagan. Most of the food options in Old Bagan are street food type outlets in a market setting.

Many hotels in New Bagan border the ancient city so you can wake up to a view of pagodas and hot air balloons. There are also accommodation options in the town of Nyaung U but you are further away from the main sites of Bagan.

Temples in Bagan

Getting Around

The best way to explore Bagan is by electric scooters called e-bikes. They can be hired from your accommodation or across Bagan for the day. You can also opt to hire a bicycle. Apparently due to accidents in the past, mopeds are no longer hired to tourists. The e-bikes aren’t very powerful but they’re an easy and cheap way to explore Bagan.

Temple in Bagan

Bagan still retains a very authentic feel with dirt paths leading around the site. Due to the expansiveness of the site and not too many tourists just yet, you will often get temples all to yourself.

Negotiating your way around Bagan can be hit and miss. Many of the trails are wide enough for cars, while others are very narrow and sandy and best suited for those on foot.

When you’re on an e-bike, it’s best to stick to the wide paths as they are easier to negotiate and you won’t end up being cut up by shrub branches. (Yep I tried to go through these narrow paths on the e-bike and have the scratches to prove it). You can also hire a bicycle or hop on a horse and cart.

Bike on dirt track

If you’re on a budget, hot air ballooning will be way out of your price range but it’s another way to see Bagan. Hot air balloons go up both at sunrise and sunset so you can pick your preferred time. Be warned though, prices start at a few hundred dollars!

What To See

There’s more than 2,200 religious monuments across Bagan’s fields so there’s plenty to explore. Here’s a guide to the top spots.

Temple amid trees in Bagan

First up, it’s an early start to head up to the Shwesandaw or Low Ka Oushang pagodas for sunrise. Plan to head out as early as 4.30am in the summer months for a good spot.

Sunrise is a magical time in Bagan with the many temples gradually being lit up across mist scattered plains; streaks of orange and pink painting the sky; and hot air balloons slowing rising above the ground.

The pyramid style Shwesandaw Pagoda is the most popular temple to see sunrise from as it’s the highest. If you’re planning on heading up to this pagoda, organize to get there early to secure a good vantage point as the tour buses also stop here.

Steep stairs lead up to each of the pagoda’s five terraces. The terraces offer 360 degree views and provide a great view of the hot air balloons as they take off so it’s no surprise this is a popular sunrise spot.

The Low Ka Oushang Pagoda is only a 5-10 minute walk from Shwesandaw and is a lot smaller. The pagoda offers one terrace area with  a few higher vantage points. There’s a lot less people at Low Ka Oushang though. You’ll have to pay a small entrance fee to enter this pagoda for sunrise.

Sunset

The Shwesandaw Pagoda is also a popular spot for sunset, but you can also get off the beaten path and head to the Pya Tha Da Pagoda. The Pya Tha Da Pagoda offers a small viewing area to see the sunset but it’s worth getting there early to secure a spot.

Tourists at temple

Make sure you take the time to visit a number of the temples across Bagan. The temples come in all different shapes, colors, and sizes and many contain frescoes and Buddha statues. Currently, you can climb up onto the terraces of many temples and get a great view.

How long to spend in Bagan

You’ll want to do a minimum of one sunrise and sunset in Bagan and have at least one full day to explore the ancient city. Of course sunset and sunrise can be hit and miss due to cloud cover, so you might want to factor in an extra day to make sure you don’t miss out. Sunrise and sunset are simply magical so you’ll likely want to see it more than once. I recommend a minimum of three days to explore the impressive complex.

Temples

Things You Should Know:

  • It’s now easier than ever to enter Myanmar with the introduction of its e-visa scheme. Many nationalities can now apply online to enter Myanmar at https://evisa.moip.gov.mm. Visas are valid for 90 days to enter Myanmar from the date you receive your approval notification. You may receive this within 1-3 days of your application. You simply have to print out this approval confirmation and present it to the Immigration Officer on arrival along with your passport. Check the e-visa website for details on approved entry points. You can stay in Myanmar for 28 days from the date of entry.
  • It’s no longer true that it’s hard to withdraw money in Myanmar. There are now ATMs everywhere across Myanmar. The good news is that they accept foreign cards. Also you don’t have to worry about bringing in pristine US Dollars. Taxi drivers, hotels and ticket booths accepted my crumpled US Dollars that had been sitting in my wallet for months.
  • kUS Dollars will be accepted in many places across Myanmar and many prices will be quoted in US Dollars. US Dollars will be accepted by taxi drivers.
  • Cash is best in Myanmar. While some hotels will accept credit card, cash is preferred. A fee of 3% of the amount charged will be added if you use your credit card.
  • Taxis can be arranged at many airports across Myanmar for a fixed price. For example, the fixed price for my hotel in New Bagan was 7000 Kyat. Look for a Taxi Desk or fee board on arrival into your destination.
  • E-bikes are a great way to get around Bagan. Expect to pay 8000 Kyat for 8 hours. The e-bikes are electric and their charge lasts about 8 hours.
  • Entry into the Bagan Archaeological Area is 25,000 Kyat per person.
  • You’ll need to cover your knees and shoulders and remove your shoes to enter any of the Bagan temples.

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 60 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.