The former Burmese capital of Bagan is a must visit destination in Myanmar thanks to the amazing amount of temples in this area. Everywhere I looked was a temple, stupa or pagoda with many dating back to the 12th century. There are literally thousands.
What is known as Bagan as actually an area with three different “towns” – Nyuang U, Old Bagan and New Bagan and a spread out area of temples. Nyuang U is the bigger town and home to the train station, jetty and airport. New Bagan is a new village that was created in 1990 to house the people that formerly lived in Old Bagan who were forced to leave at that time. Old Bagan is home to many of the ruins and temples of this region and where you will find the best concentration.
I loved exploring this region, especially around Old Bagan which is where I focused the majority of my sightseeing. There were far less people around than I expected which only added to the experience. Below you will find a Bagan guide to all the information you need to know to have a fantastic time. Remember to also read our overall guide to Myanmar.
If you are wondering what to do in Bagan, it is very easy! Bagan is all about the temples and all activities and attractions are focused on this. Here are some suggestions of Bagan attractions…
The temples in Old Bagan are all quite close together and it is easy to do your own walking tour. I loved the flexibility that walking provided and it was never more than a few minutes between temples. Walking allowed me to stop wherever I fancied very easily. I could also walk between the temples using little paths instead of the roads in many sections and I was able to explore without all the crowds.
I had a map but it was not necessary. I started my “tour” just outside the Old Bagan’s walls at Ananda Pahto and walked in from there. I did a nice round circuit over a few hours including some temples outside of Old Bagan – it is easy to leave accidentally as the walls are not fully enclosed.
I was worried about the heat before I set out, but despite being hot season and the fact that I was carrying all my luggage, I did not find it a problem. I loved being able to set my own path and feel like I was discovering the temples myself. My favourite temples from this tour are listed below.
This shimmering 51 metre high temple just outside of Old Bagan cannot be missed. It is described by Lonely Planet as “one of the finest, largest, best preserved and most revered of all Bagan Temples”. It is thought to be built between 1090 and 1105 and it is a beautiful sight. Inside, there are 4 x 9 metre standing Buddha statues.
This was the busiest temple I visited, but even here I was basically by myself when I wondered around the outside.
This was the first temple I visited inside of Old Bagan’s walls and one of my favourites. It’s small, but I was able to walk up into upper level of the temple where there were great views, particularly of Thatbyinnyu.
This is Bagan’s highest temple at 63 meters tall and built in 1144. Unfortunately, it is not possible to climb up the temple but it is definitely worth exploring this beauty.
This stupa is thought by some to date back to the 3rd century, although it is more likely to be the 9th. The original was destroyed in an earthquake in 1975, but it has been reconstructed. I liked this stupa as it is right by and above the river, so there are great views. There were also big local crowds here which gave it a party like atmosphere.
Another attraction on the list of Bagan things to do is this museum housed in a massive, out of place looking 19th century style temple. There are many artefacts from the Bagan region here including reclining Buddhas, inscribed stones and original images.
There is a wide range of transportation available to take you around the thousands of temples in this region. Pick which temples you want to go to most or find a knowledagable driver to take you to their favourites. It is not hard to work something out. Prices start around $35 a day for a car and driver. Less for other options.
If there is one place in the world to do a hot air balloon trip, this would have to be it! You will quickly find out what to see in Bagan! Take off for a 45 minute journey of Bagan’s sprawl of temples from the air. It is not cheap, but it is amazing. Tickets can be booked out a month in advance, so book as soon as you know where you will go. Read more here.
Once you have seen Bagan by air and land, another option is a sunset boat trip on the Ayeyarwady.
I recommend booking accommodation in advance unless you do not have much luggage as walking possibly long distances in the heat between guesthouses is difficult. None of these suggestions are run by the Government.
You will not have a problem finding something to eat in Bagan. There are plenty of options. I highly recommend this great place…
This place may have a strange name but it is an oasis just outside of Tharabar Gate in Old Bagan. Despite being located in a dusty car par area with many other eateries, the garden set up make this place stand out, as does the delicious vegetarian cuisine, English menus and staff. A great place to stop for lunch when exploring Old Bagan. Read more here.
If you are wondering how to get to Bagan, there are bus, trains and flights from Yangon and these options as well as a boat from Mandalay. You can also hire taxis to wherever you like. The overland journeys can be arduous – everyone I talked to had tales about how the journey time was a lot longer than expected. Things go wrong. One guy was telling me how his boat hit a sand bank and it took three hours to get off it!
I flew which was nice and easy. From Mandalay, I flew on Air Bagan. I originally booked it online via Golden Myanmar Airlines for only US$35, so it is worth looking into flights as that is a similar price to the fast boat (which takes 11+ hours). My flight was cancelled but I was automatically transferred to Air Bagan.
Taxis from the airport are K6,000 to Old Bagan, K5,000 to Nyuang U and K7,000 to New Bagan. Taxis and horse and carts are readily available to take you around. You can hire them between locations or for the day. It’s about $35 for a taxi and half that for a horse and cart.
There is also the popular option of hiring a bicycle, electric bicycle or motorbike. Keep in mind many of the roads are dirt or gravel and it is very hot on the roads.
This is definitely a place to wear long skirts, trousers and ¾ length shorts. All of Old Bagan is considered a sacred area and you need to cover your knees and shoulders. My guide book said to cover elbows too, but locals were not doing this so I don’t think it is necessary.
Taking a sarong around to cover up does not really work here. I recommend lightweight, ¾ length pants like these.
A hat is also essential as is sunscreen. I recommend bringing everything you need from home. In my experience, it was hard to find anything of quality. I bought the long pants everyone is selling here just to have them break the first time I put them on!
Sandals/thongs/flip flops can be the best footwear since you need to take them on and off regularly. However, if you want to go exploring by foot, I recommend good walking shoes. It’s more comfortable to walk across the scrub this way.
The attractions in Bagan are not kid focused. However, I think it would be easy for kids to enjoy exploring temples and the open space. Younger kids will probably get bored quickly, so you may need to be creative to keep them entertained. I would definitely book the hotel mentioned above with a pool.
I spent K40,000 on a day in Bagan including two taxi rides, meals and the entry ticket to Bagan Archaeological Zone. This pass is required to visit this area and you buy it on arrival at the Airport and river jetty for US$20.
Bagan is a fabulous destination. I have never been anywhere like it. There are temples just everywhere. I sat in amazement on the taxi drive to Old Bagan from the airport as the temples became more and more concentrated until it seemed like they were everywhere.
Thanks to it being such a spread out site with thousands of temples, I never felt like I was overrun by other tourists. I especially liked wandering around and exploring by myself. I went to many temples where I was the only one there.
I visited Angkor Wat nearly ten years ago to the day and I couldn’t help but draw parallels. I personally much preferred Bagan. The temples were generally in better condition, and I found it easy to walk around and be by myself. This is definitely going up there with Tikal and Rome as some of my favourite archaeological sites in the world.
I do have one regret – my tight timeframe meant that I did not get to go on a hot air balloon ride – next time!
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Have you ever seen so many temples?
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