Few ancient sites have such incredible 360 degree panoramic views,
or have great sunrises and sunsets like Myanmar's Bagan (formerly
Bagan is one of the world's most peaceful, spectacular locations, and
one of the three best Buddhist archaeological sites in the world - along with
Angkor (Cambodia) and Borobudur (Indonesia).
Thousands of tourists still come here every year - in spite of the disgraceful government - but quickly disappear into this 40 sq km
(16 sq miles) mass of 2,500 pagodas and stupas built between the 11th and 13th centuries, surrounded by the Irrawaddy River (aka Ayeyarwaddy), peanut and sesame fields.
It's not difficult to feel alone here, except at the best sunset spots, but even then, sitting on a temple, watching the shadows lengthen and
the oxcarts trundle home, it's simply
Pagan is probably not included in UNESCO's World heritage sites
for due to Myanmar's unsavoury government and their erratic restoration procedures.
It is incredibly hot in middle of the day, even in the winter season (December-February).
Get up early, see the sights till 11am, have lunch and good rest,
or even swim if you can (you could pay
a few dollars to use the heavenly pool in the Sakura Hotel, Old Bagan). Then back on track from 3pm to a 5.30pm sunset.
And don't rush off as soon as the sun has set; wait half an hour
for colours to appear.
Four items are essential for Myanmar survival, especially
Bagan: A torch, a hat, sun lotion and mosquito repellent.
Don't go without them!
Some guides suggest that the
best place for this vital part of the day is Mingalazedi Pagoda,
but from there the west view includes no pagodas and east view includes
Views are far better inland from the popular Shwesandaw
Paya, the highest accessible pagoda, with terrific all around
A less crowded pitch is the smaller, more peaceful Ywa-haung-gyi
Pagoda (located between Ananda Temple and Sint Pahto).
Bring a torch with you for post-sunset
walking or cycling and don't forget to take pictures from ground
level for dramatic pagoda silhouettes.
best 3 Bagan buildings:
***Ananda Temple, the finest,
most beautifully balanced temple; ***Thatbynnyu
Temple (Pahto), the highest temple in Pagan but climbing it is not permitted (at the moment); **Shwezigon
Pagoda (Paya), in an elegant bell-shaped design, near the new town of Nyang-U.
Walking along dusty rural paths - empty save for the occasional
ox cart - and stumbling across temples and stupas is the best way
to feel a part of Bagan, at least some of the time.
Cycling is also popular and is useful for distant destinations,
but only with a good condition machine. Don't accept an old bike.
Rental costs are inexpensive.
Hiring a horse cart is also strongly recommended for super ambient
relaxation on winding and complex dirt roads. And don't hesitate to ask the driver to put the roof
down! It can be done easily, though few do.
Horse cart hire not expensive.
Boating on the Irrawaddy. There are some local river cruise boats at the jetty near Bu Paya. You can rent there for 30-45 minutes ride around sunset.
Hot Air Ballooning at sunrise is magnificent but really costly.
email advice: The cheapest option to get a place on the balloons is to contact an agent rather than booking direct, they'll be able to slice quite a few $$$ of the ticket price. Just send an email to a few agents here & see what prices come back, plenty of agents on a google search, they're all pretty much the same.
- Flights. most people choose to hop around Burma by domestic airline due to the condition of roads and slow speed of trains. Several reliable airlines fly to Bagan from Yangon, including Yangon Airways, Air Bagan and Myanmar Airways for a cost of around $60.
- Trains run overnight from Yangon leaving at 10pm and arriving about 8am. Sleepers are not currently available so this is not a comfortable option. Trains also run to Pagan from Mandalay, twice a day, taking 7 hours. Tickets are cheap but conditions more like cattle cars than passenger cars that westerners are used to, with little or no space for bottoms or baggage storage.
- Buses are the backpacker's best friend, with good ones leaving Yangon in the afternoon and arriving the next morning.
- Ferries. The last interesting public transport option is a ferry downstream from Mandalay, taking five hours but costing a pricey $25+. Upstream is also available for less cost but a lot more time, maybe up to two days.
More general domestic transport information.
Stay in Old Bagan if you can afford it and don't mind feeding the government. There are only a handful of top end hotels in the area.
The 5/ 6 km distance to the New Town or Nyaung U is quite a hike especially at the end of the day after
dark, so bike rental and a torch is the cheap way home.
Avoid the out-of-the-way bigger hotels in Nyaung U (aka Naung u and variations!)
that charge prices similar to the great hotels of Old Bagan.
If you like a lively evening atmosphere, stay in Nyaung-U
which has a lot of tourist-oriented facilities such as guest houses,
restaurants and money changing, in addition to the airport.
A couple of riverside restaurants give excellent outdoor shows (traditional
music and dance - touristy but entertaining) while you dine in New
Don't always eat at your hotel. Their kitchens are no more reliable
than other places, their food is expensive and their menus are always
Try local restaurants not targeted at tourists...curry shops,
noodle shops or street food stalls.
Mt. Popa. It's a couple of hour's
drive from Bagan and a steep climb up to *Taung Kalat (monastery)
at the top of the rock.
The drive is more interesting than this geological oddity and its
dilapidated shrines but views are excellent, especially from the gorgeous Popa
Hill Resort hotel.
Mt. Popa is the centre of Burma's Nat (spirit worship) religion,
with the most important and biggest Nat shrine in the country at
the base of the rock, the *Mahagiri shrine.
December-January. The Ananda Festival, when thousands
of monks and locals gather for a huge pagoda festival. Three
days at the full moon.
The full moon time around May-June and November-December. Two big spiritual festivals (Nat Pwes) are held at Mt. Popa.
Lacquerware, the most popular Burma souvenir, is mainly made
There are many workshops and sellers in Pagan, though you can buy
the same stuff in Yangon or Mandalay, and the price is not so different. n.b.
the finest quality goods are often kept in back rooms of many shops.