Sunrise over Bagan

  • Accommodation: May Kha Lar Guesthouse ($35/night for a triple with A/C & fan) – NOTE: there is no electricity during the day, so the fan and A/C only work at night. The people who work here are very nice and helpful. Our room was clean and spacious, and the air con worked well at night. From the “bus station” in Nyuang U (just an outdoor dirt parking lot), it’s an easy 10-15 minute walk to the guesthouse. It’s a blue building with a gate in front on the left side of the main road. You don’t need to hire a horse & carriage to pick you up, so decline the offer if the guesthouse asks you in advance (it’s not included in the price of the room).
  • Restaurants: Overall the restaurants in Nyuang U are pretty average, but at least there’s a good variety.
    1. A Little Bit of Bagan – We ate here a few times as the food was decent and they also had an internet cafe & wifi. Their Indian food was pretty good and they had good fresh fruit.
    2. Best Friends – We actually rented bikes from this restaurant (2,500 kyat for 2 days), and the guy who runs it was so nice and spoke really good english. We ate lunch there one day and ordered the veggie curry, which was pretty good.
    3. Cheriland – Bad pizza, I’m not sure what the rest of their menu is like
    4. San Kabar – Average pizza

Temple in Bagan

Bagan is truly one of the most unusual places I’ve ever been. And I highly suggest going now before it becomes over-run by tourists and there starts to be unchecked development (which is already slowly starting to happen). There are a few different base towns in which to explore the temples. Most budget travelers stay in Nyuang U and those looking for nicer accommodations and restaurants usually stay in Bagan or New Bagan. I’m not sure what they are like because we never went there, but Nyuang U is just a small, sleepy town that is dependent upon tourism. The electricity doesn’t work during the day, so there is no place with A/C to escape the heat. It was brutally hot when we were there in early May. We literally went out for sunrise and sunset because we could not be out during the day.  We’ve traveled throughout India – including Calcutta and Delhi in May and June – and I think Bagan is still hotter than anyplace we’ve been. So I would try to avoid visiting during April and May, although it’s so amazing that I’m still so happy I got a chance to go there, even if it was dreadfully hot!

Bagan landscape

I think the magic of Bagan lies in the fact that it’s still off the radar. Even though there are a lot of new developments in New Bagan and more and more tourists are starting to visit, it’s still very difficult to get to. And truthfully I never even heard of Bagan before I started doing research on where to go in Myanmar. It’s crazy to think that it’s one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to, and yet I didn’t even know it existed a few months ago! There are over 2,000 temples scattered throughout a vast, dry plain in the middle of nowhere that used to be the ancient city of Bagan. You can explore and wander into most of the temples on your own, which would be unfathomable in most other countries. We brought a flashlight with us and we would literally take off our shoes and explore these hidden staircases inside temples with huge Buddha frescos on the wall. I’m sure this will inevitably change in the future, as it should in order to conserve the architectural integrity of the place, and the last thing anybody wants is for a bunch of tourists to completely over-run and destroy these ancient monuments. But I have to say that there was something really amazing about being the only people sitting on the top of an ancient temple, gazing out at this magnificent plain filled with stupas, watching the sun come up.

Biking between temples

Upon entering the Bagan region if you’re traveling by bus, you will make a stop at a small archeology office to pay a $10 fee (payable in USD). When you reach your guesthouse, ask for a map of Bagan. While it doesn’t really matter which temples you visit since the best part is just exploring the small ones on your own, there are a few big ones that stand-out from the rest. We rented bikes from a restaurant in town and biked around to the various temples. Unfortunately all the bikes in Nyuang U are old and the chances of you getting a flat tire riding around in the sandy pathways between the temples is very likely. I got a flat tire and had to ride back as best I could. The places renting bikes basically expect you to get a flat tire so usually they’ll trade bikes and give you a different one.

Buddha fresco

Below are some of the larger ones I recommend visiting. You can’t go inside all of them, but they’re impressive to look at nonetheless. Besides, some of the larger temples where you can go inside aren’t worth it anyways. The tourism bureau has made them super cheesy by stringing flashing lights around buddha statues and doing other bizarre things, so sometimes it’s best just to admire from afar. It’s also important to note that it took me a day to get my bearings since it’s not like there are marked signs and roads giving you directions to the various temples. My suggestion is to bike down Anawrahta Rd and there will be hundreds of temples lining both sides of the road. If you study the map you can try to figure out where you are based on the relative distance to other temples.

  1. Ananda Temple
  2. Mingala-zedi Pagoda
  3. Dhammayangyi Pahto
  4. Sulamani Pahto
  5. Pyathada Pagoda – Great place to watch the sunset/sunrise
  6. Shwesandaw Paya – Great place to watch the sunset/sunrise

Waiting for sunset atop Pyathada Pagoda

After having visited the temples of Angkor, Bagan and Borobudur, it’s hard to say which one is my favorite, but I’d probably have to go with Bagan because the lack of crowds made the experience more enjoyable. As a collection of temples, Angkor is definitely the most impressive in terms of size and intricacy. While Borobudur is only one large temple, it’s an amazing structure and the view from the top at sunrise is pretty special. But there’s something about Bagan that made it feel entirely different and peaceful. To be by ourselves perched on top of a temple, watching the sunrise over a plain scattered with thousands of temples from an ancient civilization, was an ethereal experience. I’m sure one day in the not too distant future Bagan will become just as popular a tourist destination as Angkor, but for now it’s sublime.