Bagan, also known as the “Land of Pagodas”, is a city located in central Myanmar. It is home to over 2,000 ancient Buddhist temples and pagodas, making it one of the most impressive and beautiful places to visit in Southeast Asia. When my friend Serena suggested we go to Bagan during our trip to Myanmar, I was intrigued. I had not heard much about this city and did not know anyone who had been there before. However, our journey to Bagan turned out to be an unforgettable experience, filled with unique cultural encounters and breathtaking sights.
In this article, I will share my travel tips and recommendations for activities to do in Bagan, along with some photos from my trip. Whether you are planning a solo trip or traveling with friends and family, Bagan has something to offer for everyone. So pack your bags and get ready for an adventure in this ancient city!
Travel Tips for Bagan, Myanmar
Before diving into the activities and places to visit in Bagan, here are some essential travel tips that will help you plan your trip smoothly.
Visa – Yes, You Need One!
Myanmar has only allowed citizens of SEVEN countries to visit without a visa, so chances are you probably need one. These countries include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. If you are not a citizen of any of these countries, you will need to apply for a visa before your trip.
I recommend applying for an e-visa ahead of time if you are eligible. The process is straightforward, and you can easily apply online through the official government website. The e-visa is valid for 90 days from the date of issue, and you can stay in Myanmar for up to 28 days.
Cash Situation – Bring New Notes of USD
In Myanmar, the local currency is Kyat (MMK), but US dollars are widely accepted and preferred. However, it is crucial to bring crisp, unbent USD notes that are fresh off the bank. Many places in Myanmar will not accept old or damaged bills, as they fear they may be counterfeit. So make sure to exchange your money for new notes before your trip.
Also, keep in mind that credit cards are not widely accepted in Bagan, so it is essential to have enough cash with you during your stay. There are ATMs available now, but it is always better to have some cash on hand, especially if you plan on visiting more remote areas.
Dress Code – Respect the Culture
Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, and it is essential to respect their culture and traditions while visiting. When visiting temples and pagodas, make sure to dress modestly and cover your shoulders and knees. This applies to both men and women. It is also customary to remove your shoes before entering these sacred sites.
How to Get to Bagan
The most convenient way to get to Bagan is by flying into Nyaung U Airport, which is located just 10 minutes away from the city center. You can book flights from major cities in Myanmar, such as Yangon and Mandalay, as well as from neighboring countries like Thailand and Singapore.
Another option is to take a bus from major cities in Myanmar, including Yangon and Mandalay. The journey can take up to 10 hours, but it is a more affordable option compared to flying. You can also opt for a private car or taxi, which will take around 8-9 hours from Yangon and 4-5 hours from Mandalay.
Where to Stay in Bagan
There are various accommodation options in Bagan, ranging from budget-friendly guesthouses to luxurious resorts. Most of the hotels and guesthouses are located in New Bagan, Old Bagan, and Nyaung U. Here are some recommendations based on different budgets:
- Budget: Ostello Bello Bagan, Shwe Na Di Guest House, Zfreeti Hotel
- Mid-range: Bagan Thande Hotel, Bagan Lodge, The Hotel at Tharabar Gate
- Luxury: Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort, The Heritage Bagan Hotel, Amata Garden Resort
No matter where you choose to stay, make sure to book in advance, especially during peak season (November to February).
1. Rent a Bicycle and Visit Bagan’s Pagodas and Temples
One of the best ways to explore Bagan is by renting a bicycle and cycling around the city. You can rent a bike for as low as $2 per day, and it will give you the freedom to visit temples and pagodas at your own pace.
There are over 2,000 temples and pagodas in Bagan, and each one has its unique architecture and history. Some of the must-visit temples include Ananda Temple, Dhammayangyi Temple, and Shwezigon Pagoda. Make sure to also stop by smaller, less crowded temples, as they often have hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
Pro tip: Start your day early to avoid the heat and crowds. Also, make sure to carry plenty of water with you, as it can get scorching hot during the day.
1.1. Ananda Temple
Built in the 12th century, Ananda Temple is one of the most well-preserved and significant temples in Bagan. It is known for its impressive architecture, with four standing Buddha statues facing each direction. The temple also houses beautiful frescoes and intricate carvings, making it a must-visit for any traveler in Bagan.
1.2. Dhammayangyi Temple
Dhammayangyi Temple is the largest temple in Bagan, and it is believed to have been built by King Narathu in the 12th century. The temple’s unique architecture, with its pyramid-like structure, makes it stand out among other temples in Bagan. It is also known for its dark history, as King Narathu was assassinated before the temple’s completion.
1.3. Shwezigon Pagoda
Shwezigon Pagoda is one of the most sacred and revered pagodas in Bagan. It is believed to house a tooth relic of Buddha, making it a significant pilgrimage site for Buddhists. The pagoda’s golden stupa can be seen from afar, and it is especially stunning during sunrise and sunset.
2. Watch the Sunset from Shwesandaw Pagoda
Watching the sunset in Bagan is a must-do activity for any traveler. And what better place to do it than from the top of Shwesandaw Pagoda? This pagoda is famous for its panoramic views of Bagan’s temples and pagodas, making it the perfect spot to catch the sunset.
However, keep in mind that this pagoda can get crowded during sunset hours, so make sure to arrive early to secure a good spot. Also, be respectful of the monks and locals who come to pray at this pagoda.
3. Wake Up Early for Sunrise!
Just like watching the sunset, waking up early to catch the sunrise in Bagan is a must-do activity. The city comes alive during the early hours, with hot air balloons floating above the temples and the sun rising over the horizon.
Pro tip: You can book a hot air balloon ride to experience the sunrise from above. However, these rides can be quite expensive, so make sure to budget accordingly.
4. Hot Air Balloon Sunrise
If you have some extra cash to spare, I highly recommend booking a hot air balloon ride in Bagan. It is an unforgettable experience, and the views from above are simply breathtaking. You will get to see the temples and pagodas from a different perspective, and it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The hot air balloon rides usually take place during sunrise, so make sure to book in advance and arrive on time for your flight.
5. Take a Half-Day Trip to Mount Popa
Located about an hour’s drive from Bagan, Mount Popa is a popular day trip destination for tourists. It is a sacred site for Buddhists, with a monastery perched at the top of the mountain. To reach the monastery, you will need to climb 777 steps, but the stunning views from the top are worth the effort.
On your way back from Mount Popa, make sure to stop by the local palm sugar farm and try some fresh palm juice. You can also purchase some palm sugar candies as souvenirs.
6. Try the Burmese National Delight: Mohinga
No trip to Myanmar is complete without trying their national dish, Mohinga. It is a traditional breakfast dish made with rice noodles, fish broth, and various spices and herbs. You can find Mohinga being sold by street vendors all over Bagan, and it is a must-try for any foodie.
Where to Go Next After Bagan
After exploring the ancient city of Bagan, you may be wondering where to go next. Here are some recommendations for places to visit in Myanmar:
- Mandalay: The second-largest city in Myanmar, known for its rich culture and history.
- Inle Lake: A picturesque lake surrounded by mountains and home to the Intha people.
- Yangon: The former capital of Myanmar, known for its bustling markets and iconic Shwedagon Pagoda.
Bagan is a city like no other, with its ancient temples, stunning landscapes, and unique culture. It may not be as developed as its neighboring countries, but that is part of its charm. From watching the sunrise over the horizon to cycling through the temple ruins, Bagan offers an unforgettable experience for any traveler.
So if you are planning a trip to Southeast Asia, make sure to add Bagan to your itinerary. And don’t forget to follow these travel tips and recommendations for an enjoyable and memorable journey. Happy travels!