From mystical temples and local, cultural experiences to hot air balloon rides during sunrise, Bagan is one of Myanmar’s most beautiful places to visit. There isn’t anywhere quite like this in the world. There are many things to do in Bagan but you’ll want to spend your days here exploring temples like Indiana Jones, discovering long lost treasures and culture of this tremendous area. In this Bagan itinerary discover how to see the temples and find out all the information you need to know to plan your trip and visit well.
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WHAT IS BAGAN?
Much like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Bagan is an archaeological zone located in the central Mandalay Region of Myanmar (Burma). The area consists of over 2,000 temples strewn across this vast plain of dry grasses and shrubs. The temple complex is surrounded by small villages, Nyaung-U, Old Bagan and New Bagan which all make great places to base yourself to see the surrounding area. There are so many things to do in Bagan and with the complex being so huge, make sure to save this Bagan itinerary for offline reading, in case you lose service during your time here.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Much like the rest of South-East Asia, Bagan has a hot, tropical climate for most of the year. The best time to visit is during the cooler season which falls between November and February. March-May is the hottest time to visit when temperatures can easily soar over 40°C (105°F) making sightseeing extremely difficult. The rainy season falls from June to October which can also make transit difficult.
HOW TO GET TO BAGAN
There are three ways to get to Bagan from the city hubs of Mandalay and Yangon.
By plane- The closest airport to the temple complex is Nyaung U airport from which you can continue to the centre of Nyaung U by taxi. Destinations to and from Nyaung-U airport include Mandalay, Yangon and Heho. While this is the fastest option, tickets cost upwards of $200 return.
By Bus- The most comfortable, budget and sustainable option, buses in Myanmar are cheap, comfortable and reliable. Buses take about 8 hours from Yangon and 6 hours from Mandalay. It’s well worth upgrading to a VIP bus service as you’ll pay only a few dollars more for a lot more comfort- think business class on airlines.
By train- for those wanting a slow and local travel experience the train is also possible, especially from Yangon. The journeys lasts 18 hours where you can absorb yourself in the lush Burmese countryside from the comfort of your sleeper cabin. Train times from Mandalay are about 8 hours.
WHERE TO STAY IN BAGAN
There are three main areas to stay in Bagan; Nyaung U, New Bagan and Old Bagan. Nyaung U is the most popular budget option due to its range of budget guesthouses and local restaurants and cultural options. New Bagan is where many of the relocated locals live and you’ll find many mid-range hotels here as well as a few restaurants. Old Bagan is the best place to head for resorts and luxury hotels.
Here are some of my favourite accommodation options in Bagan.
Budget- Morning Star Guesthouse – A lovely, simple guesthouse located on the edge of New Bagan, this place is clean, airy and each room comes with a lovely garden view and balcony. It’s close to all the great restaurants and temples too. This is a lovely, simple, no-thrills place perfect for the budget traveller.
Mid-Range- My Bagan Residence y Amata – This hotel is definitely one of the best value places around with clean and spacious rooms and a lovely long pool too cool off in after a day of exploring. It’s decorated in a traditional Burmese style with wooden finishings and traditional ornaments. They even have a highly rated spa for any treatments you may desire during your trip.
Splurge – Villa Bagan – While not exactly a very expensive option when talking about luxury accommodation, this is one of my favourite places to stay in Bagan so I had to mention it. This stunning hotel is surrounded by lush green gardens and temple stupas in the distance. There’s a beautiful pool and each room is traditionally yet minimally decorated with teak bed frames and beautifully intricate artwork on the walls. Rooms are homely, simple and tastefully decorated and it has a great location not far from all the temples.
There are also many Airbnb options in Nyaung U, Old and New Bagan for budget guesthouses and unique, stylish finds. Use the box below to find your perfect stay:
WHERE TO EAT IN BAGAN
To date, Bagan has a total of five vegetarian restaurants which all serve a variety of delicious local food with many plant-based options allowing you to try many different places during your Bagan itinerary. In general, the food here is delicious, healthy and vegetable-based.
The Moon– This restaurant is a classic in Bagan and it’s been around for years. With open-air seating, it’s the perfect place to stop at for lunch on the way to Ananda Temple. (They also have another branch in New Bagan) Don’t miss the local tea leaf salad or any one of their amazing vegetable curries.
Yar Pyi – Another great option on the way to Ananda Temple, this simple restaurant serves a wide range of veggie salads, curries, rice dishes and soups. They also have amazing fruit juices and smoothies- perfect to stop, rest and cool off after a morning of temple sightseeing.
Khaing Shwe Wha – Another lovely restaurant with tasty food in Old Bagan, they specialise in Burmese dishes and a few fusion dishes. Don’t miss their tamarind leaf salad and tasty curries.
Moe Pyae San – One of the only veggies options in Nyaung U, this is a great choice if you’re staying nearby. It has a range of tasty salads and vegetable stir-fries.
THINGS TO DO IN BAGAN
Bagan Archaeological Site is all about the temples and their unique culture and history and most things to do in Bagan revolve around the temples.
SEE THE TEMPLES
One of the most unique temple complexes in the world, Bagan is a beautiful place that should be on everyone’s bucket list. With more than 2,000 thousand temples occupying a space of 26 square- miles there’s plenty to see and experience in the area. See our full Bagan temple itinerary below for how best to visit them.
HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE
If you don’t mind shelling out $300USD per person during your stay, then a hot air balloon ride over Bagan at sunrise is one of those bucket list experiences that you get the chance to do just once. Imagine a golden-pink sky punctuated by the darkened silhouettes of balloons flying over a vast, flat plain of thousands of beautiful brick temples which represent a thousand years of history. You’ll end your sunrise balloon ride not only in awe but with a glass of sparkling wine in hand to toast the truly electrifying moment.
To book your ride with one of the most reputable companies in Bagan click here.
DAY TRIP TO MOUNT POPA
Mount Popa is an incredibly unique ancient Monastery with beautiful gold stupas perched precariously on top of an extinct volcano, 1500 metres above sea level. It makes a fantastic day trip or half-day trip from Bagan and anyone who takes just one look at this temple simply has to visit.
While is it a steep feat, consider climbing the 777 stairs to the top to admire the beautiful and peaceful monastery Taung Kalat while making your way past many cheeky monkeys.
To book your Mount Popa Day Tour, check out my favourite tour here. We had so much fun and learned a lot about Burmese culture and the monastery itself from the great local guides.
WATCH SUNRISE AND SUNSET
No doubt you would have heard about the awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets of Bagan or seen them on Instagram and quite truly, catching sunrise and sunset in Bagan is a must. The best views are from the tops of certain temples but make sure you pay attention to signs to see whether you can climb or not. As of 2017, there has been a major clampdown of climbing temples due to both safety and preservation- old bricks can come loose at any moment. One of the best temples to head to for sunrise is Shwesandaw Pagoda or Sulamani Temple and for sunset, Thatbyinnyu Phaya Temple.
VISIT THE MUSEUM
Visiting the Bagan Archaeological Museum is a lovely way to find out more about what was once housed in all the temples – not to mention, it also makes a nice air-conditioned break from temple hopping. You’ll be able to get your bearings here and find out more about the history of the Pagan Empire.
BAGAN ITINERAY FOR TEMPLE SIGHTSEEING
This Bagan itinerary takes into account 3 full days in Bagan which is the perfect amount of time to really see what the local area has to offer. If you have less than 3 days- that’s ok feel free to cut out certain temples and visit the most popular places instead.
I’ve split up this Bagan itinerary into three parts; the Nyaung U side, the Old Bagan side and New Bagan/Southern Bagan. This is what I did and I can highly recommend it as it saves traversing great distances every day especially if you’re on a bicycle. Having said that, there are so many amazing temples in Bagan so don’t be afraid to just explore where your eye takes you. Travel down unknown paths to smaller, unknown temples to really experience the magic of this area.
DAY ONE- Nyaung U Area- Shwezigon Pagoda / Myazigon Pagoda / Htilominlo / Alotawpyae Pagoda / Ananda Temple
A superb place to start your Bagan adventure is at the glittering, golden Shwezigon Pagoda in Nyuang U. This beautiful circular, gold leaf structure dates back to the 11th Century when building was started by the first King of the Pagan Empire. It’s believed to enshrine a tooth and bone of Gautama Buddha, making it a sacred space of worship for Buddhists far and wide.
Around the pagoda, you’ll find depictions of past legends on terra-cotta tiles and statues standing guard at the temple entrance. 37 spirits (nats) are represented along the outer limits of the pagoda. Around the pagoda, there are many sellers, some of which can be pretty insistent on you buying their wares. To avoid them try to visit as early as you can or give them a firm ‘no’.
Following the road towards Old Bagan, and taking a right towards the Irrawaddy River just after Htilominlo temple you’ll find one of the newest temples in Bagan. A gold stupa sits on top of a large white platform of four different tiers. Statues guard all four corners of this perfectly symmetrical temple. Unfortunately, you can’t enter the temple so admire it for a few minutes before moving on.
You’ll soon come across Htilominlo, one of the largest and grandest temples in the Bagan archaeological site. This three-storey temple which is over 46 metres in height dates back to the 13the Century. Its red-brick structure is pretty impressive and can be seen from all over Bagan on a clear day. Inside the temple, you’ll find a number of wall paintings and plaster mouldings that depict various events in Pagan history and on the first floor there are four golden buddhas sitting peacefully looking out in all directions.
Around the back of Htilominlo, you’ll find another beautiful temple, Alotawpyae Pagoda. This is a much smaller red-brick structure topped with a golden stupa. Throughout the past the temple has been associated with wishes and worshipping here is said to make your dreams come true which explains why it’s so popular with Burmese pilgrims. Inside you’ll find a number of intricate fresco paintings and don’t forget to make your wish before leaving.
As one of the most beautifully unique temples in Bagan, the Ananda temple is one that shouldn’t be missed off your Bagan itinerary. Using a fusion of both Mon and Indian architectural styles, this large pagoda has a cross layout with several terraces leading up to the umbrella or ‘hti’ ornament found at the top of most Burmese pagodas. Inside the temple, you’ll find four buddhas facing each of the cardinal directions and the corridors are full of depictions from the life of Buddha. Looking carefully you’ll also find small plaques around the temple which depict jataka tales (stories related to Guatama Buddha from India), warriors and other gods. Ananda temple is one of few temples in Bagan which is still white in colour and not red brick.
DAY TWO – Old Bagan Area- Sunrise at Shwesandaw Pagoda / Dhammmayan Gyi Temple / Sulamani Temple / Ta Wet Hpaya / Shwegu Gyi Phaya / Bu Paya / Sunset – Thatbyinnyu Phaya
Dhammmayan Gyi Temple
Ta Wet Hpaya
Shwegu Gyi Phaya
DAY THREE – New Bagan Area- Lawka Nandar Pagoda / Dhammayazaka Pagoda / Thitsarwadi / Lemyethna / Nanda Pyinnyar Cave / Winido Temple
Lawka Nandar Pagoda
Nanda Pyinnyar Cave (Kyat Khayon Cave Monastery)
A one-of-its-kind place in Bagan this temple is actually a monastery still used today by local monks for worship and meditation. This monastery has a series of cool underground tunnels carved out of the surrounding rock, tunnels which are used by monks for meditation and daily life. There isn’t much art or frescos to be found here but if you’re looking for a way to connect with local monks and learn more about the culture of the area, it’s a great place to visit.
Closeby is this extraordinary group of temples called Winido. Seldom visited due to their distance from Old Bagan, this collection of smaller temples will surprise with their interesting decorative paintings and unique Buddha statues. Most of the work you’ll find here is all brick and definitely has a more timeless feel to it. If you have your own transportation, I’d highly recommend ending your Bagan itinerary here.
TOP TIPS FOR VISITING
↠ You’re going to need some transportation to see all the temples in this Bagan itinerary. The most popular ways to get around are by bicycle (for a great workout) or scooter. Bikes and scooters can be rented through your accommodation just make sure to check lights, helmets, signals before renting as scams are known to happen.
↠ The roads around Bagan aren’t paved and can get extremely dusty. Make sure to bring a scarf to cover your face and some eye drops which really go a long way. If riding a scooter try to opt for a helmet with a visor to keep out unwanted dust.
↠ Wear flip-flops or slip-on shoes. You’ll have to take off your shoes at the entrance to every temple in Bagan so to save yourself having to do laces on your trainers 30 times a day, you might want to consider wearing flip flops.
↠ Bring a lot of water. It gets hot in Bagan and there is actually quite little shade available. Make sure to bring plenty of water sans plastic. There are so many incredible water bottle options available now which have powerful filters to make even Burmese tap water drinkable.
My favourite water bottle is this one from LARQ as due to its filter that works with UV-C LED light it doesn’t alter the taste of water whatsoever while also killing 99.9999% of bacteria and germs. Get yours here.
Do you have any comments or questions about the things to do in Bagan on this Bagan itinerary? Please leave them below, I’d love to hear from you.
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