Make sure that your temple fatigue does not hit at this place, because you’re in for a treat 😀 Visiting the Temples of Bagan is a definite highlight of your trip to Myanmar!
Bagan is a town in the centre of Myanmar and famous for the crazy amount of temples that can be found there! Combined with the easy of exploring by bicycle or e-bike, the stunning sunrises and sunsets and the relatively good touristic infrastructure, this is a highlight on many a visitor’s list! Even though a heavy earthquake in 2016 damaged many of the structures and some temples are closed for visitors, there are still plenty of amazing stupas and pagodas to admire!
Getting to Bagan
As we were travelling with a large group, the travel agency had arranged a private transport for us. With a private bus, they brought our group from Mandalay to Bagan where we would spend 3 nights and 4 days. If you are travelling individually, you can find all modes of transport to get to Bagan here. Flying is a bit expensive, but can you save you a lot of hours! The flight between Mandalay and Bagan is only 30 minutes, while the bus takes about 6 hours. I can also highly recommend travelling by train in Myanmar (especially if you are passing the Gokteik Viaduct !) and there are some overnight trains that get to Bagan.
Staying in Bagan and Navigation
Bagan is quite easy to navigate. You have the old Bagan area, the new Bagan area and Nyaung U. We stayed in Nyaung U, a town in the Bagan area that is filled with hotels, tour agents and restaurants. It’s comfortable to stay in this area, because all you need is right at your fingertips. Also, it’s more affordable than the Old and New Bagan areas. From Nyaung U, you can take an e-Bike and drive to Old and New Bagan in about 10-15 minutes.
We spent our 3 nights in the lovely Thante hotel. Even though the rooms were a bit outdated, they were large and clean. The whole setting with the lush garden and the swimming pool was very nice! The staff was also very friendly and accommodating. All in all definitely a recommendation!
Discovering the temples of Bagan
The first night, after checking into the hotel, we went for a walk. We soon came across some tour agents that were renting out bicycles and e-bikes. E-bikes in Bagan are not really E-bikes as we know them at home, but basically scooters with less power 🙂 We rented two for an hour (which set us back less than $2), and headed off to visit the nearby the Shwezigon Paya. It was getting late already and we arrived at dusk. We thought we caught the last rays of sun, but it turned out to be the lighting on the temple 😉 . We had a nice stroll through the site and admired the amazing lights combined with the darkening sky. Definitely one to visit!
The next day, we went on a horse-cart tour with a guide to get a bit of a feeling for the lay-out of the temples and get some orientation. It was a bumpy road, but quite fun to experience 🙂
The first stop was the Ananonda Pahto, one of the largest and most important temples of Bagan. I have to say, I am a person that is more intrigued by the outside and size of the temples, than by the inside. Still, there are some amazing buddha’s and statues to admire within the temple.
That morning, we also visited the busy and much visited Dhammayangyi Phato and the Sulamani Pahto. We also climbed a smaller stupa to have a view on the Shwe San Daw pagoda which was unfortunately still closed as a result or the earthquake that happened a couple of years ago. You have to dress appropriately to enter the larger temples, so check this packing list for Myanmar to make sure you are prepared!
Tourist traps in Bagan
After having ticked off the highlights of the temples of Bagan, I rented an E-bike to go out for the sunset. I was driving my e-bike by myself and was approached by a local Burmese guy. I guess he was about 20 years old, and he asked me if I was looking for a good place to go watch the sunset. Trying to be cautious not to fall for a tourist trap, I was a bit wary. He told me he was a painter and while showing me a good place to watch the sunset, he would show me some of his paintings. I agreed, told him I may not buy anything from him but wanted to take me anyway. He ended up taking me to an awesome temple where you had to crawl and climb up to get an awesome view. Unfortunately the view was not the standard Bagan view because it was very cloudy!
While we were sitting there, the guy tried to sell me some of his paintings. They were $25 or more. Although I liked the works, I was not interested in buying them. The guy got a bit annoyed and told me I had wasted his time. I told him I was sorry I was not going to buy from him, to stay positive and then we had a chat about opportunities for him to sell his works. In the end he left peacefully, but I did feel a bit uncomfortable! Luckily there were always people around, and he did not really get unfriendly. After all, the people are one of my favourite parts of Myanmar. I was not going to let one bad experience ruin this!
Touring the rural areas around Bagan
Because the weather was still really crappy, we hired a taxi for one morning. The driver was going to bring us to some of the temples that were a bit further away. On the way he asked us if we were interested in visiting a local village. We agreed, because it was a nice change to the temples. There was a local lady showing us around and we got a view into the life of the people taking care of the animals, weaving scarfs and making cigars. Although there were some other tourists, it was a nice place to support the local people by buying some nice souvenirs 🙂 I bought a little bamboo basket, that I now use in the campervan as a fruit basket!
Eating in Bagan
The day we arrived, it was already 2pm and we were famished! We decided to have some food at Sanon Restaurant – a nice restaurant right next to the hotel. The great thing about this place is that it’s not just a restaurant, but a training restaurant. They run the place to give local Myanmar youth a chance on a career in hospitality. Every now and again, 15 new students join the program. They join English classes and receive training in either waitressing or cooking. Even though the food was a bit expensive, it was good – and it felt good to contribute to this great cause. The elderly English teacher came and have a chat with us. She explained that the Australian teacher that had been there for a while had now left so she was back. Maybe a nice volunteering opportunity for one of the readers here? 🙂
At night, we explored the area around the hotel a bit more. Our hotel was a 10 minute walk from “Restaurant Row” (real name: Yarkintar Road). It’s something you don’t see that often in Myanmar: a cluster of restaurants, (classy) souvenir shops and a massage place with a great travellers vibe. It was a real delight to walk around during the day and at night, having a look at the different restaurants and taking your pick. We tried Weather Spoon’s Bagan (great burger and best Thai curry we had in Myanmar), La Terrazza (expensive, but nice pizza and pasta) and a Little Bit of Bagan (mixed menu, I had Indian food which was great). All in all, next to visiting the temples of Bagan, also the food was a real treat 🙂
Although we didn’t have the views we aimed for when coming to Bagan, it was a still an amazing place to visit. Seeing and visiting all the temples of Bagan was awesome and I can recommend this place to anyone! 🙂
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