Bagan’s landscape is similar to some medieval era’s movie set. In fact, it is one of the dreamiest landscapes I got a chance to experience. An ancient city in Myanmar’s Mandalay region and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bagan simply is a collection of 2000 Buddhist pagodas lying scattered, some in ruins and a few still intact, both attracting lakhs of visitors every year.
In a land of immensely beautiful pagodas and stupas, you might fail to find peace in the places you expect to find it the most.
Move around, look for corners full of solace, turn a blind eye to the crowd and find your moment.
Once a capital to a powerful ancient Pagan kingdom, Bagan in Myanmar is now a site to almost 2000 beautifully preserved stupas and pagodas. These structures were built in the early 11th and 12th century before being swept away by earthquakes and Mongols. Yet the destination remains one of the most glorious places in Burma to visit.
YANGON TO BAGAN
After spending a few days in Yangon, our landing city, we thought of ditching the conventional touristy spots and move to some offbeat places in Myanmar. This meant chucking Bagan too. But here we were, boarding an overnight bus from Yangon’s Aung Mingalar station to reach Bagan by the next morning.
Yangon to Bagan Overnight (Scania Company) Volvo cost: 19500 kyat/15 USD
Bagan’s dreamy photographs made us change our minds.
At 5 am, we were dropped at Bagan’s Shwe Pyi Highway Bus Terminal.
Looking for a place to stay
As soon as we got dropped at the bus terminal, we weren’t sure of where to stay for the next 2 days. We hired an auto and asked him to take us to a good yet cheap hostel. He showed us several economical options and finally we settled for BaobaBed after confirming about the prices and comparing the facilities with the other places to stay.
TOP TEMPLES TO SEE IN BAGAN
Bagan temples are a heritage treat scattered in a huge plate full of artificial mud-mounds and low-lying vegetation area. The temples have a variety of Buddha statues, colourful frescos and rock carvings.
We hired a Grab auto (Download the app in your phone to book local transportation in Myanmar) for a 4-hour sightseeing tour in which we were taken to several visit-worthy temples of Bagan.
Make sure to do your research before heading out with your auto driver. Do tell him which al temples do you want to cover specifically in your 4-hour tour otherwise he will end up taking you random temples.
Old Bagan Archaeological fees: 25000 kyat/19 USD (for 5 days)
4-hour Auto ride: 5000 kyat/4 USD
Shwezigon Pagoda, Nyaung-U
This first gold-plated temple of Burma enshrines a bone and a tooth of Gautam Buddha. The beautiful stupa has a circular gold leaf-gilded top. The three rectangular terraces have Jataka tales illustrated on them.
The pagoda beautifully gets reflected in this small puddle of oil. Many tourists wanted to witness this phenomenon as well.
Coordinates: 21.195398, 94.893927
Ananda Temple, Nyaung-U
This temple has 4 buddhas, each facing the 4 cardinal directions. This magnificent temple is a fine fusion of Mon and Indian temple architecture. Because of the Indian similarities, the temple is being restored with the help of Indian government. The archaeological museum is near Ananda temple only.
A week-long festival happens at the Ananda Temple, somewhere between December to January. Monks perform a continuous 72-hour chanting of scriptures during this festival.
Coordinates: 21.170837, 94.867699
Sein Nyet Sister Temples, Nyaung-U
The stuccos from this temple depict mythical creatures like dragons and ogresses and animals like lions, peacocks and birds. Both the temples are in a single enclosure and literally translate to ‘elder sister’ and ‘younger sister’.
Coordinates: 21.141634′ N, 94.859009′ E
Sulamani Temple, Nyaung-U
While touring the village of Minanthu, you can visit this temple as well. This temple is filled with beautiful Buddha frescos.
Coordinates: 21.164921, 94.881331
Thambula Temple, Nyaung-U
The temple has beautiful carvings like all other temples in Bagan but this one a bigger temple
Coordinates: 21.1630° N, 94.9042° E
Gawdawpalin Temple, Old Bagan
This is the second tallest temple in Bagan after Thatbyinnyu temple. This one is a hollow gu-style temple, a kind which is used for meditation and other Buddhist rituals.
Coordinates: 21.1700° N, 94.8565° E
Dhammayangyi Temple, Old Bagan
Most of the Bagan temples are similar-looking but what differs in all these temples are the fresco details, mudras of the Buddhas and their overall architectural style. Dhammayangyi Temple is the widest temple in Bagan though it is still incomplete in its construction.
Coordinates: 21.162058, 94.872911
Thatbyinnyu Temple, Old Bagan
The white stucco style exterior architectural style of this temple is somewhat similar to Ananda temple and is the second major construction by King Sithu I. This is the tallest temple in Bagan.
Coordinates: 21.1688° N, 94.8629° E
Best time to visit Bagan
We took this trip to Myanmar during the onset of the touristy season and not at the peak of it. So, we were lucky to find empty temples at many places and some hidden ruins where there was absolutely no one. Thus, early October to early December is a good time to visit Bagan as well as other regions of Myanmar. During these months, you will find sunny afternoons and pleasant evenings.
The other offbeat season to visit Bagan or Myanmar are the rainy months from June to early October. Yes, there will be a lot of rainfall but you will find empty touristy spots which are otherwise difficult to find in the peak season of Myanmar.
But during the rainy season, hot air balloon rides don’t take place.
THINGS TO DO IN BAGAN
Start Your Day on an E-Bike
We rented an e-bike for half a day and went around looking for less touristy stupas. Most of them were surrounded with wild grass. I was happy to see them clean and renovated though.
E-bike rent for 4 hours to half-a-day: 6000-8000 kyat/4.54-6 USD (per person)
Cycle rent: 2000 kyat/1.51 USD
The fee (5 USD) that one needs to pay to enter Bagan Archaeological Zone is utilised well in keeping these areas neat and clean.
For 2 continuous days, we chased stupas and sunsets on an e-bike. Prakriti wanted to ride badly but her broken finger didn’t allow. Ankita was once a pillion to me and another time to Roberta (a foreigner we met in at BaobaBed Hostel in Bagan).
The longest ride was when we were looking for currency exchange shop that too after an officer came twice requesting us to pay the fee for the Bagan Archaeological Zone. It was polite of him though. So always carry your archaeological area ticket while driving around in Old Bagan because you actually can’t make out when you cross Nyaung-U town and enter Old Bagan. Also, there are no definite ticket points from where you can buy the entry ticket but you can wait for the officer to find you himself.
Undoubtedly this is the best way to see Bagan, or you can rent a bicycle also. We didn’t rent a bicycle because we had less time in hand and it was too hot. Make sure to download offline maps before heading out in search of temple or ruins.
We rented our e-bike from a small shop in front of BaobaBed Hostel.
Watch the Hot Air Balloons During the Dawn
This was something that made us to come to Bagan in the first place and we had a lot of expectations with this thought, ’this better be good, this better be good’. And it indeed was. BaobaBed Hostel suggested us to accompany them till ‘KO MOUK POND VIEWING MOUNDS’ during the sunrise. We rented an e-bike for half-a-day (8000 kyat/6 USD) and set out to witness a morning which turned out to be magical.
Around 10 hot air balloons rose gradually from the direction of the rising sun. The stupa landscape and hot air balloon collectively looked something straight out from a Disney movie. The actual size of the balloons dawns upon when they are fully up in the sky and the only thought that pops up within you that time is, ’may be come back to Myanmar to experience this dreamy hot air balloon ride’.
Hot Air Balloon, Bagan cost: 501853 kyat/380 USD
Months for Hot Air Balloon ride: October–March
The other offbeat spot from where you can watch this spectacle unfold is from the Low Ka Oushang Pagoda. If you don’t get permission to watch sunrise from here, then try the nearby Thein-mazi temple.
Low Ka Oushang Pagoda Coordinates- 21.1623708, 94.8633914
Shwesandaw pagoda is also a sunrise spot to see balloons over Bagan but it’s usually crowded and is a well-known destination.
Shwesandaw pagoda Coordinates- 21.1638° N, 94.8661° E
Coordinates: 21.178849, 94.872101 – these are the coordinates of an unnamed temple and even from here, the sunrise looks spectacular.
Go on a walking Tour
If you have chosen your stay in Old Bagan then walking tours can cover many temple ruins and stupas of Old Bagan. But it is too much walking in case you want to make a transit from Old Bagan to New Bagan or Nyaung-U.
Explore the Lacquer Village
Our last stop of the day was the lacquer village in Myin Ka Bar Village. These lacquerware pieces are some other great products to pick up as souvenirs from Burma. They are made by coating 7-20 layers of lacquer on thin bamboo strips, wood or horsehair which are kept moulded to form a utensil like a piece. The lacquer in Myanmar is made from the mixture of sap from the Thitsi tree.
These villages are a gateway to traditional Burmese life. You can even try to have traditional lunch at a villager’s house. The other villages that you can visit are Yandabo, West Phwa Saw village and Mi Nan Thu.
Places to see Lacquerware pieces being made:
- Lotus Collection in New Bagan
- Mya Thit Sar workshop in Myin Ka Bar Village
- West Phwa Saw village
- Mi Nan Thu village
Go Souvenir Shopping
I found these puppet dolls being displayed at a roadside stall and thought of them as a good souvenir to take back to India from Myanmar.
Since Burma or Myanmar was there for quite a few years on my travel bucket list, I decided to take something memorable from Myanmar. And there’s nothing more memorable than to buy a Bagan Umbrella and use it at various places to pose for pictures throughout your trip. The beautiful Bagan umbrella is made up of waterproof cotton and bamboo sticks. You can watch them being made at many workshops across Myanmar. Inle is another place to see these being produced.
Bagan Umbrella cost: 5000 kyat/4 USD
Bagan archaeological museum, Old Bagan
Bagan archaeological museum is a great place to know about Bagan’s culture, its people, the temple architecture, all just in one place. This museum is just near the Ananda temple.
Timings: 9 am-4.30 pm (Tue-Sun)
Entry ticket: 5000 Kyat/4 USD
Day Trip from Bagan to Mount Popa
50 km (90 minutes) from Bagan, Mount Popa is a dormant volcano with glistening gold stupas built on top of it. You have to climb 777 stairs (40 minutes to 1-hour climb) to finally reach the top of the sacred mountain. The views from Mount Popa are incredible and worth the climb even in Myanmar’s blistering heat.
Make sure to leave your bags, eatables and drinkables behind since there are a lot of monkeys at Mount Popa. While returning, take a stop at one of the palm workshops to buy palm liquor or the tasty palm caramel bonbons.
Entry fee to Mount Popa: 6534 Kyat/5 USD
Round trip private taxi cost: 39620 kyat/30 USD
Shared Minivan from Bagan to Mount Popa: 10000 kyat/7.5 USD (Tour timings: 9 am or 2 pm onwards)
Bus to Mount Popa from Bagan: 1500 Kyat/ 1.1 USD
You can choose to stay for a night at Popa Mountain Resort located nearby Mount Popa.
Choose Your Favourite Sunset Spot
One day we followed everyone from the hostel to catch the sunset by the Irrawaddy river. Shwe Kun Cha Hpaya was our destination. We sat for an hour by the riverside waiting for dusk to turn the Bagan sky into a bright orange endless ceiling.
The other day we went to Mi Nan Thu village for a glorious sunset over the stupa landscape.
Bagan Viewing Tower (Bagan Nan Myint Tower), highest viewing point in Bagan, is also now open to for sunrise or sunset (5 am to 7 pm) and the entry fee is about 8000 kyat/ 5 USD.
PLACES TO STAY IN BAGAN
You can choose between Old Bagan, Nyaung-U and New Bagan to stay. It’s just that old Bagan is closer to the temples. But we stayed in Nguang-U though.
BaobaBed Hostel, Nguang-U
This was undisputedly our best hostel experience till date, not just in Myanmar but in a whole lot of years that we have been travelling for. BaobaBed isn’t the cheapest place to stay in Bagan city for a backpacker. But the various facilities like free buffet breakfast which was really tasty by the way, terrace swimming pool, spacious dorm beds with lockers and clean washrooms with hot and cold water; this is what made BaobaBed our choice of stay.
Hostel cost: 20500 kyat/night (15.50 USD)
Other Budget Places to Stay in Bagan
Nyaung-U has several budget-stay options for backpackers. But in case you are looking towards pricey options and luxury family stays, choose places from Old Bagan.
- Ostello Bello, New Bagan
- Hotel Yadanarbon Bagan, New Bagan
- Lux Pillow Hostel, Nyaung U
- Hotel Royal Bagan, Nyaung U
- Shwe Na Di Guesthouse, Nyaung U
Fancy stay Options
- New Park Hotel, Nyaung U
- The Hotel at Tharabar Gate, Old Bagan
- Bagan Aureum Palace Hotel, Old Bagan
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT IN BAGAN?
From European to Burmese to Italian cuisine, Bagan has some of the finest cafes, restaurants and bakeries.
We had this delicious breakfast at Bagan Begalia cafe on our first day in Bagan just for 3500 kyat/2.65 USD
There are no specific big restaurants that we tried in Bagan. We used to stop at small roadside cafes and restaurants and order various consisting of fried noodles, rice and vegetables.
We used to have dinner at the Golden emperor restaurant which was just next to our hostel, BaobaBed.
Average cost/meal: 4500 Kyat/3.5 USD
You can also try meals at Bibo Restaurant, Perfect Restaurant in Nyaung-U, The Moon (2) Be Kind to Animals in new Bagan, Sanon Training Restaurant (a non-profit training local students for the hospitality industry), La Terezza for a fine Pizza, 7 Sisters Restaurant and Nanda Restaurant (puppet shows too). Do try coffee at DATE Cafe & Bakery in Nyaung-U.
HOW TO REACH BAGAN?
There is a regular bus service to Bagan available from major cities of Myanmar like Mandalay, Yangon and Inle. We came from Yangon to Bagan by Bus at a cost of 15000 kyat/11 USD.
Mandalay to Bagan by Bus: (6 hours) 8 USD
Yangon to Bagan by Bus: (10 hours) 8-23 USD
To reach Bagan, you can also avail a train journey from Yangon (17-hour journey) and Bagan (8-11-hour journey).
Yangon to Bagan Train: 4,500-16,500 kyat/3.5-12.5 USD
Mandalay to Bagan Train: 1,300-1,800 kyat/0.98-1.36 USD
The third option is to cruise over the Irrawaddy river from Mandalay to Bagan or vice versa. The journey takes about 10-12 hours and costs about 45000 kyat/34 USD.
BAGAN TO LAKE INLE
We asked at our hostel reception to book overnight bus tickets for us till the Inle region and they were happy to oblige. We boarded a 7:30 pm bus from Bagan and were dropped at 4:30 am in the Inle region.
Bagan to Inle bus cost: 25000 kyat/19 USD
Bagan to Inle Minivan cost: 12-15 USD
You can also take a cruise over the Irrawaddy river from Bagan till Inle zone. The ship departs at 5 in the morning. Air travel is a quick alternative to all these mentioned modes of transportation but is expensive as well.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
- Make sure to take your Old Bagan archaeological ticket.
- Don’t take your e-bike beyond the duration of half-a-day. Its battery only lasts for a few hours.
- Make sure to check if your e-bike is fully charged before leaving.
- Don’t climb on these stupas like people appear to be doing all over the internet. Not only it is not allowed but also it is disrespectful to this region’s religious sentiments.
- To catch the sunrise in time, leave around 4: 30 or 4:45 am from your place of stay.
- Dress conservatively for your visit to the temples and pagodas.
- As per local sources, the government keeps closing and re-opening the sunrise/sunset viewing spots from time to time to redistribute the crowds. Check with your place of stay or a local guide if these viewing points are still open or closed.
Read other details on Myanmar here (COMPLETE GUIDE)
HOW TO GET A VISA TO MYANMAR FROM INDIA?
Currently, visa on arrival facility is not available to Indian tourists coming to Myanmar. But eVisa makes the process easy. We spent 3600 INR (48USD) on a tourist visa which had a 28-day validity.
HOW TO TRAVEL TO MYANMAR FROM INDIA?
IMPHAL (MANIPUR) – MOREH BORDER (INDIA) –TAMU BORDER (MYANMAR) – MANDALAY
Indo-Myanmar border crossing is an experience that is meant to be taken for a backpacker but due to unstable border condition in December 2019 at Manipur side, we chose flights as an alternative.
The other border crossing that is open from Indian side is RIHKHAWDAR -ZOWKHAWTAR in MIZORAM.
Both passport and e-visa will be required while crossing by road.
We got a good deal at 12000 INR (160 USD) for Kolkata (India) – Yangon – Kolkata flight. Mandalay as a landing city from Kolkata seemed expensive in comparison to Yangon.
For other countries, flying till Bangkok and then crossing the Myanmar border by road is the cheapest option currently.