A trip to the iconic and picture perfect Bagan is a must do during any Myanmar adventure. Our memories of the pagoda and temple filled landscape, the endless sunrises and sunsets and the early morning bike rides on the dusty Bagan roads will stay with us forever. From sunrises and sunsets, to what to pack for a Bagan adventure, here’s our Bagan travel guide with 15 top travel tips to help plan a perfect Bagan visit!
The Bagan Temples and Pagodas
1 | Research the temples and have a sunrise, sunset and visiting shortlist
Bagan is home to 2,200 temples and pagodas and it’s highly unlikely that you will have time to visit every single one! Do your research in advance and make a shortlist. Our favourite sunrise temple was Lowka Oushang and North Guny topped our sunset list. In between, we narrowed down our favourite daytime pagodas to the Shwezigon Pagoda, Bupayathein and Ananda. Check out our top tips on discovering the best Bagan sunrises here! For our fave sunset spots read this post!
2 | Visit a pagoda or temple every sunset and sunrise while in Bagan!
Not every sunrise and sunset are equal but many in Bagan are absolutely spectacular. We squeezed in 2 sunrises and 3 sunsets during our Bagan stay and, while both sunrises were outstanding, only one of our sunsets was postcard worthy.
If a hot air balloon ride is on your bucket list the sunrise balloon rides are immensely popular in Bagan and they are equally as amazing to watch as balloon after balloon drifts over the temples.
3 | Try to stay in Old Bagan or Ngang Yu
Most of the Bagan experience is centered around Old Bagan making it the perfect place to set up camp when you’re there. We stayed in the Zfreeti hotel in Ngang Yu and it was the perfect base for exploring Bagan. The hotel is on the cusp of Old Bagan and, as well as being slighty cheaper than the Old Bagan options at US $120 per night, it was the perfect spot close to all the tourism. It’s a Bagan hidden gem and the e-bike rental directly across the street was an added bonus.
Our best Bagan hotels for visiting the temples
Bagan hotels tend to book up fast so book your hotel as far in advance of your travels as you can. Hotels in Bagan are located across three areas: Old and New Bagan and Nyaung-U. Nyaung-U, a mix of boutique hotels and local residents about 3km from the temples, is our favourite. Old Bagan, in the heart of the temples, houses many of Bagan’s luxury hotels while New Bagan is home to larger hotels and new builds. We use Agoda for all our South East Asia bookings as it has the widest inventory and cheapest prices across the region.
- ZFreeti Hotel: we stayed in the Zfreeti, a small hotel with lots of great restaurant options in the surrounding streets and an inviting swimming pool! We rented electric bikes from the store across the street to get around – Check for lowest prices here
- Other good options in Nguang-U include the Sky View Hotel and Motel Zein.
- Aureum Palace Hotel and Resort: located within the actual Bagan Archaeological Preservation Zone amongst the ancient temples themselves, this hotel give you the very best views of the Bagan plains. It’s definitely one of the most unique hotels we’ve ever seen – Check for lowest prices here
- Other good luxury options in Old Bagan include The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate and the Bagan Thande Hotel
- Bagan Lodge (New Bagan): If you prefer New Bagan this might be your best option – Check for lowest prices here
- Another good option is the Blue Bird Hotel.
4 | Look inside the temples and pagodas
Bagan is famous for its rooftop views of endless temples under the sunrises and sunsets but the inside of the temples and the pagodas are worth a visit as well. Reclining Buddhas, rock carvings and stone statues are abundant in the temples and pagodas throughout Bagan. Our favourites were Sulemani and Manuha for indoor adventures.
5 | Temple Sellers
There’s no avoiding the souvenir and elephant pant sellers that frequent every sunrise, sunset and in between period of Bagan’s most popular temples. Many are young kids who have their sales technique extremely polished and it’s easy to feel like you need to purchase from every single one. If you don’t, a firm NO goes a long way to being left alone to enjoy the experience.
6| Families who look after the pagodas and temples
The temples and pagodas are opened and closed by the families who live on nearby land and are entrusted with the key to the temple. It’s custom to give them a tip for opening for sunrise and staying open for sunset as it’s considered a kind gesture. Their children are also likely to illuminate the dark stairways with candle light and request a present. It’s custom to give a little as, without their services, the sunrises and sunset experiences would be a very different experience.
7 | Mind your head!
The temples are most certainly not built for anyone over 5 foot! Mind your head and expect to squeeze through small spaces to get to the top. There’s often a lot of climbing involved in getting to the prime sunrise and sunset positions and sometimes great heights have to be scaled! I’m not a huge fan of heights but there are lots of protective walls which made the experience a lot easier!
What to pack for Bagan
8 | Bring a torch or a headlamp
A significant portion of Bagan adventures happen around sunrise and sunset. So, to put it more bluntly, in the DARK! A torch or headlamp is essential to successfully navigate the pre sunrise and post sunset Bagan roads and sidewalks as well as the dark temple stairways. Put a flashlight on the top of your packing list!
9 | Dress conservatively for temple and pagoda visits
Most of the locals dress conservatively and cover their shoulders and legs despite the high temperatures. Knee length shorts, long skirts, elephant pants and t-shirts were our attire of choice. These are strongly encouraged and often enforced for entering the temples and pagodas. We did see short shorts and vests tops but we felt more comfortable keeping in line with the locals.
10 | Flip flops are essential
Every temple and pagoda requires bare feet from its visitors and flip-flops are the easiest option. You’ll notice that the every Burmese persons feet are adorned with flip-flops: probably because it’s no fun messing with shoelaces in the dust and heat! Cleansing wipes are also useful to clean off said feet after a barefoot visit to the pagodas!
11 | Stick around and explore the pagodas and temples after sunrise
A Bagan sunrise typically requires a middle of the night wake up of call so it’s understandable that the moment the sun rises there’s a mass exodus of crowds who return back to their hotels for some well deserved naps and breakfast. Resist the temptation! The post sunrise hours are the perfect opportunity to catch some amazing light in the now deserted temples!
A perfect post sunrise photo op!
12 | Rent E-Bikes
The freedom of independent travel, the lack of physical effort required, cheap rental prices and speedy travel make e-bikes an excellent option in Bagan. Our favourite Bagan memories are from riding our bikes on the dusty paths surrounding the temples and wishing the moment would last forever. Just be careful when driving on the main roads and, remember, sand and wheels are an awful combination so take it easy on the dust paths!
Sightseeing in Bagan
13 | Water, sunscreen and bug spray are essential
Bagan is warm and dry and sunscreen and water are essential for any sunrise and sunset jaunts. Unless you prefer the bright red, gasping for a drink look! Mosquito bites were a frequent occurrence so be sure to invest in a good bug spray to protect your limbs!
14 | There’s a lot of stray dogs but they don’t really bother you
As with most other Myanmar tourist parts stray dogs are plentiful in Bagan. Luckily they’re a docile bunch too busy fighting the heat to bother with tourists. The only close encounter we had was on one occasion when we were zooming along on our e-bikes at 20km/hr and a large dog jumped out a few inches ahead of my front tyre. A loud yelp from us both and he jumped off the road and out of my path with the grace and speed of a 100m sprinter. A good result all around!
A Bagan Day Trip
15 | Mount Popa
Mount Popa is a popular day trip from Bagan. Mount Popa is a sacred mountain with glistening gold temples perched precariously atop of a dormant volcano. 777 steps lead the way to the top and, not only are the steps climbed in 40 degree temperatures, they are also lined with many monkeys who are in search of food!
Mount Popa from our hotel, Popa Mountain Resort:
So there you have it: our guide to Bagan with 16 essential tips for a perfect Bagan adventure in Myanmar. For more Myanmar advice check out our roundup of our trip and our general tips for visiting Myanmar.