THREE DAYS IN BAGAN
TEMPLES, PAGODAS, HOT AIR BALLOONS, EBIKES. EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING BAGAN, MYANMAR.
We arrived in Bagan by an overnight bus from Yangon, It was so early the sun had not even started to surface yet. We had learnt that 'a must do' in Bagan was to watch the sunrise atop one of the many thousands of pagodas that spread over the area. So despite being tired with barely any sleep, we thought what better way to view it for the first time.
Our taxi driver hastily drove us to one of the pagodas for the sunrise. On the way in, we were required to purchase an Archaeological pass for 25000 Kyat which is valid for 5 days and allows you to access anywhere within Bagan. We only just made it to the pagoda in time, quickly grabbed a jacket from our bag to cover our shoulders ( necessary and respectful to do so ) After climbing the stairs of the huge pagoda, we perched ourselves on a step that had a truly magnificent view over all of Bagan. As the sun rose, it illuminated thousands of pagodas. Some big, some small and scattered as far as the eye could see. What a sight it was, we were finally somewhere we had wanted to come and experience for years and by no means did it disappoint.
There are three main towns within Bagan. Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyuang-U. We stayed at a guesthouse called The Royal Bagan, located in Nyuang-U. It was a beautiful hotel with comfortable rooms, a lovely pool area and a close walk to the main street of restaurants and bars. We stayed in a double room for a cost of $32 a night. They also house dorm rooms for the solo travelers so we had the pleasure of meeting many other travelers in our stay. Some of whom we continued our travels with throughout Myanmar and still remain good friends with to this day.
Ebikes (electric scooters) are by far the best way to experience and see Bagan. You can hire them from your guesthouse or hotel but we rented ours from a small general store for about 4000 kyat for the day ( $2.80 USD ). They have a battery life of about 8 hours and must be returned before it is dark, unlike other South East Asian countries, it is not possible hire motorbikes and scooters in Myanmar. They are quiet and easy to handle once you get used to them. They aren't overly quick but they are so much fun, definitely the best way to properly experience Bagan. Hiring these allowed us to ride and explore at our own leisure.
The main roads are quiet, barely any traffic at all so sharing the road is easy and the roads leading to the pagodas are empty dirt paths. The joy of exploring Bagan is having no plan and simply jumping on your E-bike and finding a new adventure. Turn down a street and head in the direction you think you want to go, the exploration of this place is endless. Every pagoda different but equally as beautiful.
Due to the earthquakes in previous years, there has unfortunately been a lot of noticeable damage incurred and efforts to refurbish to save the pagodas means some are covered in scaffolding. None the less...they are breathtaking. The larger, well known temples will be outlined on any map and are worth visiting. But the smaller, off the beaten track pagodas were what interested us the most. Bagan is populated by over 2000 pagodas, so we gave ourselves 3 days to try to see as many as possible. You will never see them all, but you will have fun trying to!
We organised for our last afternoon to make our way to the biggest pagoda to watch the sunset. We of course became lost...fortunately we met a couple of young boys who knew the best unknown spot for sunset and escorted us there. The pagoda we arrived at was large, beautiful and as far as we knew not marked on any map. They led us to the top, climbing eroded stairs in the dark and squeezing through old doorways that could barely fit a child. Once we reached the top, we were blessed with perfect view of the sun slowly lowering towards the horizon. Sending rays of golden light over what then became silhouettes of thousands of pagodas. We sat, and we watched. It was magical, a feeling of contentment where everything stops. So quiet and so unbelievably beautiful. We submersed ourselves in the stunning sunset, just us atop an ancient pagoda in Bagan. A very special and 'bucketlist' place so grateful to be able to experience.
WORDS: TRACEY HARRIS
PHOTOGRAPHER: KRISTEL CHAPLIN
6 THINGS TO DO IN BAGAN
Spend a minimum of 3 Nights in Bagan. It is a decent trip from the International Airport in Yangon or Mandalay. You will want to experience as many sunsets and sunrises as possible and this is only done with spending a good amount of time there.
1. Enjoy an incredible sunset or sunrise on top of a temple
As mentioned, we happened to do this on our way into Bagan from the lovely advice from our taxi driver. Bagan is so famous for its sunrises and sunsets and are well within some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. We were allowed to climb the pagoda to watch the sun rise over the horizon, I think its becoming increasingly more difficult to be able to do this now as more people flock to Bagan. It is a beautiful sight and one to definitely wake up for.
Tip – Don’t forget something to wear over your shoulders. The pagodas are places of worship and you need to be respectful.
2. Sunrise in a Hot Air Balloon over Bagan
October to April < remember these dates
Who: Balloons Over Bagan
Price: $350 for 45 Minutes
This is an absolute must do if you are making the trip to Bagan. In saying that, we were so disappointed to learn that when we would be travelling Myanmar this was the wrong season for it. Unfortunately, we already had rough plans to travel Myanmar at this time and basically just had to face the inevitable. I have heard beautiful stories from so many people I know who have experienced a morning of ballooning and it is 100% worth the money. Hoping to revisit one day to experience it.
3. Explore the most beautiful temples in Bagan
It goes without saying, Bagan owns many beautiful temples and pagodas, over two thousand in fact. You can’t possibly visit them all but you can definitely try.
Best Five Temples to Visit in Bagan
2. Dhammayan Temple
3. Swessandaw Pagoda – Our Sunrise Pagoda
4. Thatbyinnyu Temple
5. Ta Wet Hpaya – A more “secret pagoda” shown to us by locals that we watched Sunset from, climb through the dark crawl spaces and find your way to the top!
4. Rent an e-bike in Bagan
Roughly $4-5 a Day (4000-7000Kyat)
You can rent them anywhere you please really, they’re everywhere. As far as I know it is still not allowed for foreigners to hire motorbikes and cars in Myanmar. That is why it is so great that you can rent these quiet e-bikes to scoot around and explore the temples. You must bring them back after dusk though.
Tip - Check your e-bike before you rent it, we had a group of people where someone was continuously getting the VERY slow e-bike, as hilarious as it was you don’t want to be that person. Check lights, indicators and all the rest.
5. Visit The Bagan Market in Nyaung-U
Nyaung U Market is a local market in the village of Nyaung U. The market provides some real good photo opportunities as well as the chance for you to get amongst the local Myanmar people going about their daily lives. Fresh produce, tea, handmade items and clothes all amongst the bustling nature of farmers delivering their produce via bull and cart or old tractors.
Nyaung U Market is located near at the east end of the main road. You can easily reach the place by e-bike or walk their from your hotel in Nyaung-U
6. Chill Out and Relax in the Afternoon
You will need it after your early morning explorations, relax in the afternoon before setting off on your sunset adventures. It can get pretty hot and most Hotels/ Hostels will have a pool. There’s also many bars and restaurants to chill at which are easily found by exploring on E-Bike or walking (most noticeable area for this was in Nyaung-U).
Bar - Bagan Zay – Chill Vibe, Cheap drinks, Good food and board games
Restaurant - A Little Bit of Bagan – These guys can do a mean curry! Might even be controversial and say it beat many I had in India. Amazing Food here!
How to get to Bagan
Yangon to Bagan by Bus
We 100% recommend to go by bus.
Cost: $14-$20, depending on the Bus Company
Length: 9-10 hours
Departs: Aung Mingalar Bus Station
How to book your ticket.
1. Via your hostel or any reputable hostel.
2. Flymya.com – super easy to use online before you go
Bus is By far the most popular and efficient way in terms of price, comfortability and time. Use JJExpress or similar fleet for top quality service. Most you find on Flyma.com are fine. You receive a box of snacks, blankets, wifi and a real comfortable recliner that resembles something from your parents living room
You will have a pit stop half way through at a large roadhouse where you can use the toilet and grab from food. However! Take caution when you are choosing your food, ours had maggots in it…yikes. .
Leave Central Yangon no later than an hour before your bus departure. It may only be 30km from Central Yangon but the traffic is absolutely mental.
Takes roughly ten hours. You’ll arrive at the Bagan Shwe Pyi Bus Station. Lots of taxis will be waiting for you, our taxi took us straight to Shwesandaw Pagoda for the most amazing sunrise and to our hotel afterwards.
Yangon to bagan by train
If you are to take the train. Definitely do the sleeper car.
Cost: $19-$30 for sleeper car tickets.
Length: Approx 20 hours
Departs: Yangon Center Railway Station
“You have to ride the crazy trains at least once” was among the first few comments said to us when we first learnt about Myanmar. They are one of the most rickety, slow and crazy trains I have been on. However, this leg by train is a lengthy 20 hours so maybe save ‘the crazy train journey’ for a shorter journey. Even if you can obtain a sleeper car ticket, this is a decent trip and we have heard less than ideal reports back on it.
Yangon to bagan by plane
Length: 1h20m for a direct flight
Departs: Yangon International Airport
If you’re in a hurry, a plane may be most ideal for you. The airport is a good hour drive from central Yangon due to traffic, just like the bus station.
Book these online on Skyscanner, Flymya or at the airport.
Where to stay in Bagan
Bagan can be a little confusing at first as there are three areas to stay. Nyaung-U and New Bagan being the more popular choices as they offer more hotels, amenities and restuarants. Old Bagan is much quieter and does not offer much.
This is where we stayed, it is much more affordable and it is why we recommend it. Nyaung-U has many restaurants, bars and is home to the Bagan Market. It had everything we needed.