Whilst considering the countries we wanted to visit whilst touring South East Asia, Myanmar always came up as the one which held the most intrigue and unknown. A country relatively few visit in this region, one only just opened up to tourism where the culture is vastly different to that of places like Thailand or Vietnam. A far of land that seemed to sum up the adventure of true travel. The ancient Bagan temples, over 2200 in one relatively small area also epitomises the romance and mystery of exploring Asia, a land with many questions but few answers. We headed over to visit a place our hearts had longed to explore for many moons and left even more entranced!
How to visit these amazing temples:
Visiting Bagan, despite feeling a million miles away, is relatively easy.
Getting to Myanmar:
Firstly of course is getting into Myanmar. It is one of the only countries in the region which strictly requires a visa BEFORE you travel. This however is an easy process which can be done online in only a few minutes. Be sure to print off your confirmation before you travel. Check online the specific requirements for your country but for most it costs $50 and can be done online. It usually takes a couple of days to process but we recommend doing it at least a week or even longer before you travel.
Book your flights or bus to Myanmar here
Overland travel to Myanmar is also not straightforward. Currently from Thailand it is possible to travel from Mae Sot however the situation changes all the time due to on going unrest in some parts of the country. The popular areas to visit are unaffected but border regions can sometimes be unpredictable. We recommend flying into the country if you can to avoid being turned away or caught up in any unrest or even the unpredictable border guards. We paid $30 from Bangkok to Mandalay and it took 2 hours!
Getting to Bagan:
Bagan is easy to reach from most destinations in the country by Bus. However if you are travelling from Yangon you might want to consider flying or breaking up the journey to visit some amazing places along the way such as Bago, Inle and Kalaw.
Once you enter the Bagan temples region you must pay a fee to the tourist board. Usually you will reach a checkpoint and they will board the bus. The fee is US$20 or €20 but it can also be paid in Kyat which is around 25,000
Book your bus or other transport method to Bagan here
Tips for making the most out of your time in this amazing and mysterious place:
Getting around The Bagan temples:
The area in which the Bagan temples lie is quite large and despite the high concentration of temples, over 2000, the main areas are spread out and quite a distance away from each other. The best way to get around this is by renting out one of the e-bikes that are popular here among visitors. They are essentially like scooters only very low power and low speed. They are available almost everywhere and cost around $5 for the day. They allow you to cover a large amount of ground whilst also not being as dangerous as petrol powered scooters and motorbikes.
Get a map of the area from any local shop or your accommodation and section of which areas and temples you want to do. Your first day is more of a tester really and will give you a chance to get an idea of the scale of the area and where things are.
We recommend at least 3 days exploring the Bagan temples as it is so vast!
Plan your day:
There are over 2200 Bagan temples, some spectacularly huge constructions what stick out like beacons amongst the rest, others are smaller and more obscure, featuring intricate details and often being deserted! Its nice to get a balance between visiting the larger and more popular temples and then exploring the lesser visited and abandoned temples to get the full experience. Planning out areas to cover, which temples you want to make sure to visit and which sections of the map you want to explore is a good idea rather than just wandering aimlessly!
Our top tip for exploring would be to get up early and catch the sunrise. Spend a few hours exploring a section of the temples. Return back to your accommodation and catch a couple of hours sleep, take a dip in the pool if you have one and get some food.
Midday in Bagan is unbearably hot, especially when you have to remove your shoes to enter the temples! It is also not great for taking photos either as the light is right above you. Its best to avoid being out from around 10:30am til 2:00pm as Bagan in the dry season is like a barren desert; dusty, dry and intensely hot!
After that time then take the bikes back out and explore another area for a few hours in the afternoon light and stay out until sunset. Make sure to take plenty of water, suncream and a hat with you especially when visiting the lesser frequented Bagan temples and areas as there might not be anywhere to buy water.
Catching sunrise and sunset: The most spectacular light and atmosphere at the Bagan temples:
Bagan is a stunning and mysterious place any time of day, but the light and the atmosphere created at sunrise and sunset is just beyond words. As the dust from this dry desert like place rises into the air, the balloons of Bagan appear over the horizon in the distance against the silhouette of the thousands of spires the bright red glow of the sun appears. Setting your alarm and heading out in the twilight hours is worth the heart stopping beauty you will cast your tired eyes upon!
The Bagan temples themselves alight with the colour of fire as the beating sun of the day casts its last golden rays against the red brick of these ancient constructions. The majestic glow of the light at this time of day just makes this magical area even more enchanting. Photography now really is a treat as the light is just perfect and the lowering temperatures make exploring so much more enjoyable.
Each day pick a different spot for sunrise and sunset, its nice to get a balance between the popular spots which might be a little crowded and finding a temple all to yourself in a more obscure location.
Here are some of the Bagan temples for sunrise and sunset:
Ta Wet Hpaya: Great for both and chances are you’ll have it to yourself!
Thitsarwadi Temple: Great for seeing the balloons at sunrise
Shwesandaw Pagoda: One of the most popular for sunset and sunrise but for good reason
Law Ka Ou Shaung: Usually only a small crowd and great sunrise views over other temples
Pyathetgyi Pagoda: Another popular spot but amazing views nonetheless
Be sure to ask at your accommodation for other locations, we found it easier to search around at sunset due to it being light and it taking a little while. Some days we even climbed one smaller temple for a great view and then scooted around to one of the bigger ones.
Highlights of exploring the plains of Bagan and its incredible temples:
Here is a brief list of the most memorable temples we explored. However there are also so many others we don’t even know the name of as we just stumbled across them whilst exploring! Such a fun place to just get lost in!
Shwesandaw Pagoda: One of the most popular and one of the largest. The steep climb up the many levels allows wonderful views over the entire area. You can walk all the way around too for 4 different views. It gets crowded at sunrise and sunset but during the day isn’t too bad.
Thatbyinnyu Temple: The tallest temple of Bagan and one of the most striking in design. Across from the popular Ananda temple it gets much less traffic.
Ananda Temple: This falls into the category of temple you explore within rather than climbing. The popular temple is still very much in use today and houses 4 huge gold leave adored Buddha, each with their own name and symbolism.
Sulamani Temple: Another well known but enchanting temple. This impressive red brick structure dominates the Bagan skyline and is home to some wonderful ancient frescos and maze like corridors where the beams of light pierce the dusty atmosphere in an otherworldly fashion.
Dhammayangyi Temple: Built by the tyrant King Narathu many of the locals refer to it to the haunted temple as they consider it cursed by the sins of the King.
Gawdawpalin Temple: One of our favourite temples it was built 1175 by King Narapatisithu and is great to climb for yet again some wonderful views over the lands of temples!
Thit Sa Wadi (918) Vietpoint, Temple no: 843 for sunset, Law Ka Shaung viewpoint, Gubyaukgyi, Pathada Temple, Bulethi Temple, Alodawpye Phaya, Htilominio Temple, Shwe Leik Too, Manuha Phaya.
The wonders of Bagan:
Each temple in Bagan is different, some have inner chambers you can explore and get lost inside the ancient web of alleyways and passages. Some have secret stairs where you can ascend to the top of the age old wonder and view the plain of temples from above, taking in the sheer scale of the region and the number of temples in the old town. Others are huge monoliths of strange and unique shapes, like the discarded bells of giants left mysteriously behind, often with ridges and carved in steps that you can use to climb up their steep and tentative edges.
Others are beacons, calling in all visitors as a hive of activity, the crimson outline of the shaven headed monks still wander through the dusty halls of the dimly lit temples and the faithful still crowd around to place gold leaf on the sacred Buddha images of this important sight in this devoutly religious country. Others are abandoned, their detailed exteriors left for the odd off road explorer to see. Many small and unassuming temples offer up the greatest level of detail and history. Many frequented only by local goat farmers and their flock and surrounded by thick overgrowth.
The sheer scale of Bagan allows a magnitude of experiences as wide and deep as the variety of the 2200 remaining temples of what is estimated to have been around 10000 that were built here from the 9th to the 13th centuries it what was then the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan. Each temple, stupa and pagoda is different, reflecting different influences and styles and each has a unique story to tell of this ancient and mysterious land.
Of course in modern times its hard to believe such myth, but somewhat heart warming that the people of this mysterious land still hold on to these magical ideas. Who knows, some say it was to impress the kings of the land, to bring fortune to this region or just as a pilgrimage after a monk professed the area to be blessed.
Maybe, as with many ancient wonders, we will never know, but in truth isn’t that part of the attraction. To imagine thousands of years ago the buzz of energy and commitment here to a cause most of us could never imagine, the people slaving away building these temples as a sign of their devotion. Its inspiring stuff even if you aren’t religious.
Also: Tamarind Flakes, the perfect snack at the Bagan temples!
You can’t leave Bagan without trying out their most famous delicacy: The tamarind flake. You will find there nowhere else, not even in the rest of Myanmar, so stock up and eat as many as you can whilst you are there. They might not look great, but the handmade confection is just a wonder of sweet and sour flavour that melts in your mouth. We may have become slightly addicted!
Have you ever been to Bagan?
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