Considered as one of the best archeological sites in the world, Old Bagan is truly a sight to behold. This great ancient city can rival Cambodia’s Angkor Wat or Peru’s Machu Picchu. The setting in Bagan is truly magical. Just imagine a verdant green landscape dotted with thousands of temples and hot air balloons can be seen floating gracefully in the background.
Home to more than 2,000 temples with most of them dating back to as early as the 11th Century, exploring these ancient sights is one of the best things to do in Bagan. To help you plan your trip, here are the top things you need to know about this great ancient city.
Bagan Weather and Climate
The climate in Bagan is relatively predictable with seasons changing at about the same time each year. From March to May, the temperature and humidity will start to rise noticeably. In May, there will be rain in the late afternoon and this will go on until September.
Like most tropical countries, the temperature is relatively high throughout the year. The coolest months are from November until February. During these months, the Northeast monsoon will bring pleasant dry days with very little cloud and some rain. It is also during this time of the year that humidity is much lower, which makes exploring the temples a more pleasant experience.
What To Wear
Old Bagan is hot all year round. Thus, wearing lightweight and loose-fitting clothes is highly recommended. Choose clothes that are made from natural fibers such as cotton, silk, or linen, as these will keep you cool especially when visiting during the hot season. But take note that Bagan is a city of temples and visitors are expected to dress modestly when exploring the religious sites.
Although most temples are unguarded, you should respect the local customs by wearing appropriate clothing. Knees and shoulders must be fully covered, so wear conservative clothing such as long skirts, pants, and shirts. If you can, avoid wearing shoes since you will be asked to take it off when entering the temples. A pair of flip-flops or sandals is ideal. Both men and women will be asked to cover up with sarong if your clothes don’t cover your knees and shoulders.
Best Areas To Stay
The temples are concentrated within the Bagan Archeological Zone and are centered on the Old Bagan area. Since you will be exploring this area in most of your stay in Bagan, it is best to stay in this part of the city. However, most of the hotels here are a bit on the expensive side. If you’re on a budget, you can find budget accommodations at the Nyaung U area.
But if you want convenience, the hotels in Old Bagan are worth checking out. Most of these are high-end hotels built in between historic temples. New Bagan caters mostly to mid-range travelers. This is a residential area, which was built for the locals who were relocated from the Bagan Archaeological Zone.
Bagan Entrance Fee
Upon entering the Bagan Archaeological Zone, your car will be stopped at the entrance and you will be required to pay the entrance fee. This costs around 25,000 Kyats or around $18. If you do not have cash in the local currency you can opt to pay in the US dollar or Euro currency. You will be given a ticket as proof of your payment. Make sure to keep this so you won’t be asked to pay again.
Be careful with some people who will be asking you to pay more. There are reports of people selling tickets at higher prices. So be careful of that and don’t ever pay more than 25,000 Kyats.
How To Get Around
Even if you are fond of walking, it can be difficult to explore all the temples on foot. The entire area of the Archaeological Zone is 13 km by 8 km and the Old Bagan is right in the middle. The best way to explore Bagan is with an e-bike. Most hotels in Bagan offer e-bikes for rent or you can get in touch with a local guide who can arrange it for you.
If you’re adventurous enough and you don’t mind cycling in the vast plains of Bagan, consider renting a bike. However, the e-bike is much more comfortable to ride and you don’t have to build up a sweat as you navigate your way into the various temples and pagodas. The e-bike is just like a scooter but is powered by electricity. A car & guide is the perfect solution if you want to travel in comfort!
Exploring thousands of temples in Bagan is not an easy feat. Depending on your pace, you should be able to visit up to ten temples in a day. If your time in Bagan is limited, then you need to plan which temples to visit.
Regardless of how long you intend to stay in Bagan, there are temples that you should not miss during your visit. These are the biggest, grandest, and most beautiful of all Bagan temples.
If you are exploring the Northern part, here are the temples to see:
- Shwesandaw Pagoda
- Shwezigon Stupa
- Htilominlo Temple
- Ananda Temple
- Thatbinnyunt Pagoda
In the Western and Eastern areas, these are the temples that you should visit:
- Gubyaukgyi Temple
- Manuha Temple
- Nanpaya Temple
- Dhammayazika Pagoda
- Tayok Pye Temple
- Payathonzu Temple
Where To Watch Sunrise or Sunset
Bagan is known for its gorgeous sunrise and sunset views. This is one of the reasons why a hot air balloon ride in Bagan is a truly magical experience. Before, visitors are allowed to climb to the top of the temples to witness the gorgeous views. One of the temples where visitors were allowed to climb is the Ta Wet Hpaya Pagoda, one of the secret temples in Bagan. This temple is located in the middle of the archaeological zone, which makes it a perfect spot to witness both sunrise and sunset views. Another fantastic spot for sunrise viewing in Bagan is in the Shwesandaw Pagoda.
But take note that climbing to the top of the temples has now been forbidden as part of the government’s efforts to preserve and maintain the structural integrity of the temples. So unless your local guide can recommend a new viewing spot, the only way for you to enjoy the gorgeous sunset or sunrise views is to book a balloon ride in Bagan.
Booking a Hot Air Balloon Ride
A balloon ride in Bagan is something that you should not miss when visiting Myanmar. During your balloon ride, you’ll be floating in between temples and enjoy a 360-degree view of the entire archeological zone.
Most of the balloon rides happen early in the morning just in time for sunrise. Your booking already includes free pick-up from your hotel in as early as 5:30 AM. Before taking off, all flyers will be briefed with the safety features. At around 6 AM, the balloons will start taking off on the southern edge of the Bagan plains flying across a section. During your ride, you’ll be treated to the spectacular views of the Old Bagan from above. The endless views of the grasslands surrounded by temples of different sizes, not to mention the incredible views of sunrise, makes your balloon ride a truly magical experience. If you want to book a balloon ride in Bagan, here is the list prices.
Take note that the balloon ride in Bagan is seasonal. Flights generally start in October and will go on until March. But if the weather is bad, there are instances when flights will be canceled for safety reasons. The best time to book a Bagan balloon ride is in November, where the winds are low and the air is quite dry. If you want to find out more tips about Bagan balloon ride click here.
Other Things to Do In Bagan
Aside from exploring the temples and taking a hot air balloon ride, there are several other things to do in Bagan. You can explore the local markets, such as the Nyaung U Market where you can witness local vendors and shoppers going about their daily life. If you’re lucky enough to visit during a local festival, then take advantage of this opportunity and take part in the various local activities.
There are also day trips outside of Bagan that you can take. One of these is a visit to the Salay Yokesone Monastery, a historic Buddhist monastery that’s made entirely of wood. Your visit to the monastery will also include a stop at the famous Mount Popa, where a Buddhist monastery and temple complex sits at the peak of the mountain.
Taking a romantic sunset cruise over Ayeyarwady River is also recommended. On this sunset cruise of Bagan, you will be onboard a traditional boat and enjoy a sumptuous dinner while the boat glides peacefully down the river.
Useful Tips to Keep In Mind
Bagan is a safe place to visit. But if you plan on exploring the temples at night or before sunrise, it is best to bring a torch or flashlight to light your way into the dark. The interior of the temples is also very dark so you need to have a light if you plan on getting inside to explore.
Whether you’re traveling solo or in a group, it’s highly recommended that you hire a local guide. The temples are a bit difficult to explore if you are not familiar with the place. Having a local guide can save you a lot of time in having to locate the temples that you want to visit. Your guide will also share interesting stories about the temples, which makes the experience even more rewarding.