Bagan Guide - All you need to know
Among all the cities in Myanmar, Bagan is the most ideal destination for tourists to visit regardless of the time of the year. Bagan is one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites, a sight to rival Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat but – for the time being at least – without the visitors.
Bagan is a city located in Central Myanmar. If Cambodia's Angkor is known for its sophistication in stone and bricks, Myanmar's Bagan embodies immense beauty and solitude with countless sacred temples and pagodas.
Founded in the mid-to-late 9th century, Bagan is the most massive and, of course, must be a superb highlight when visiting Myanmar.
Balloons in Bagan
The history of Bagan
Repairing and refurbishing structures of temples as well as pagodas in Bagan is considered the top priority issue even after the independence of Myanmar. Especially due to two massive earthquakes in 1975 and 2016, all historic temples in Bagan got prodigious damaged; and by the fact that Bagan has not yet listed as world heritage by UNESCO, this triggered the Myanmar government even more.
But the two earthquakes could not cease temples and pagodas in Bagan any less value. Culture and history still remain the same, and that’s what makes Bagan an informative destination for travelers around the world.
Top Recommended Attractions in Bagan
- Ananda Temple: Being built in 1105, Ananda Temple is recognized as the most beautiful one, well-known for its gold-plated outside and ceramic-decorated on the inside. Although it had been refurbished after being damaged, the spectacular Ananda temple has never been disvalued. Besides, it is marked as the best restored ancient temple in Bagan. Another reason for you to visit this temple is the Pyatho full moon festival, which is celebrated between December and January according to the Lunar calendar. This must be a remarkable experience since you can join the locals to deeply understand Buddhism as well as Myanmar culture.
- Htilominlo Temple: 113 years after Ananda Temple, King Narapati Sithu built the very last temple in Myanmar style of Bagan for his crown prince named Htilominlo. You must be impressed by how meticulous Burmese were by just looking at details on the walls and pathways leading to the inner sanctuary.
- Shwesandaw Pagoda: Being one of the tallest pagodas in the region, Schesandaw stands out in the plains of Bagan, giving you a breath-taking observation from afar. Tourists can easily feel the sacredness of the Shwesandaw Pagoda, which looks like an Egyptian pyramid with 4 sides, 5 distinct floors, and a stupa (a bell-shaped tower) situated at the top. The temple was built by King Anawrahta in 1057 to house a Sarira (a sacred Buddhist relic) - one of the Buddha's 8 hair strands that had been procured from India more than a thousand years before. Taking a boat tour on the Irrawaddy River is another interesting route to Shwesandaw that you should definitely try out.
- Shwezigon Pagoda: Known as one of Bagan's oldest and most impressive monuments, Shwezigon Pagoda attracts tourists from the giant gilded layer looming under the sun. Located in the center of a large platform, there are many other small temples and pagodas surrounding. The highlight of Shwezigon is a bell-shaped stupa that is completely gold-plated on a square base with golden lions in each corner. You would get attracted to the boat tour on the Ayeyarwaddy River where you can observe the pagoda and enjoy the magnificent overview of Bagan at the same time. In the evening, the temple is projected like a stage with countless lights creating a mystical atmosphere.
- Mount Popa: This would be a top-notch spot for sporty travelers since you have to join the 777-step adventure to get to the mountain peak. But this spot reaches the next level when you have to climb barefoot entirely in respectable clothes since this mountain is considered a religious place to the locals. Along the climb, you can find many curious monkeys occupying the food stalls. From the top of the mount, the landscape is marvelous and refreshing with dreamlike foggy forest surrounding and the blue sky connected by a beautiful horizontal line.
- Nyaung U Market: Almost all kinds of stuff in Myanmar can be found in this “wet” market, from longyi (traditional Burmese sarong) to modern clothes, from colorful veggies and fruits to fresh fish, from products made from rattan to tea leaves - one of the famous specialties of Myanmar. Nyaung market has many suppliers selling excellent local ceramics, which can be gifted to friends or beloved ones as a souvenir. Tourists also have the opportunity to mingle with the people of Nyaung U village and experience a day in your life as a local.
Culture Features in Bagan
Dhammayangyi Temple Bagan
Myanmar is a country that has high respect for Buddhism, so before packing stuff and heading straight to Bagan, you have to make sure your luggage includes appropriate clothes: shirts have to come with sleeves, pants must go below the knee. Also, since you have to visit temples in Bagan barefoot, a pair of sandals or slip-on is highly recommended. Don’t forget to bring some tissue to clean up your feet after visiting temples.
Situated in Myanmar's 'dry zone' microclimate, Bagan is drier compared to other regions and does not have a rainy season. The mean annual temperature is around 27.5 degrees.
November to January is the best time to visit Bagan, for the lowest temperatures and cloud-free blue skies that paint a photogenic scenery. It is also the peak season with a high influx of tourists. The weather is not unpredictable, making it perfect for any activities, from climbing mountains to traveling by boat. In January, it is slightly cold in the early morning and at night, so tourists are recommended to pack an extra jumper.
February to May is the sunny season, which is not a popular choice for tourists. The temperature would be around 30 degrees and above, maybe more. The sunlight during this time might harmful, so it is important to bring sunscreen and drink water.
August to October sees the heaviest rainfalls during the year. However, visitors do not have to worry much as Bagan usually has occasional showers rather than heavy downpours for the whole day. Once it stops raining, visitors are rewarded with clear, dust-free skies.
How to get to Bagan
- From Yangon: You can fly to Bagan on Asian Wings, Air KBZ, Golden Myanmar Airlines, Mann Yadanarpon Airlines and Myanmar National Airlines with tickets starting at US$118. Overnight trains run daily from Yangon, departing at about 4:00 pm and arriving in Bagan at about 10:00 am in the following day. There is also an option to go by bus but it is not the most ideal and convenient one.
- From Mandalay: Asian Wings, Golden Myanmar, Mann Yadanarpon and Myanmar National Airlines also fly from Mandalay, and here is a direct train service running from Mandalay to Bagan with two departures daily. Tickets are available directly at the railway station and cost about US$6 one way. In addition, a daily express ferry service leaving at 7 a.m. runs from Mandalay to Bagan taking 8-9 hours.
More information on traveling to Bagan can be found here: How to travel to Bagan.
How to travel in Bagan
Bike: It would be much easier for you to hanging around and switching places if you rent a bike. With around 5000 - 10,000 kyat/day, you can hire a cute scooter. There are even electric scooters that are noiseless and chargeable just like your phone. Such an interesting trip when you can ride a scooter to places in Bagan and of course you can have some "get lost" moments to discover other local spots. The downside is that you might deal with uneven dirt roads and it is not very fast. Also, avoid cycling during the hottest hours.
Tuk-tuk: Tuk-tuk drivers can take you to scenic spots and wait there for the return journey. It is convenient, trustworthy and you will never have to worry about navigating your own way. However, you should use your negotiating skills if you want a more reasonably-priced ride.
Tuk-tuk is an extremely common way to travel around Bagan cities.
Hot air balloon: You can also get on a hot air balloon to enjoy the panoramic view of Bagan from such a distance. The price for a guided tour on a hot air balloon is pretty high, but surely this would be the most extraordinary experience you would ever have.
Horse-carriage: This would be very luxurious, fancy, and romantic. It might not be the most comfortable ride but it’s still a very cool and Instagram-worthy experience.
Note: Unlike other cities like Yangon or Mandalay, there is no Grab service in Bagan.
Travel tips in Bagan
- The local currency in Myanmar is kyat. The rate of money changing at the airport is nearly the same as locals, so when you get to Myanmar, simply just exchange money while waiting for luggage. Although the US dollar is accepted in some hostels and restaurants, those places are not really "local". If you want to enjoy being a local Burmese throughout the trip, having cash in hand is a must.
- You can get all the ancient and chill vibes by watching sunrise or sunset from old temples. That would be something most photographers have been waiting for, so if you want to take cinematic pictures of sunrise or sunset with a long exposure, you have to set up your tripod from the very soon moment to have the best sightseeing view. It would be tough with timing and waiting at first, but really worth the wait.
- You must take off your shoes in every pagoda and temple so a wise choice would be opting for a pair of flip flops, especially during the hotter season. Cleaning wipes are sometimes offered at the sites but it's also great to bring your own pack.
- There are plenty of stray dogs around Bagan and Myanmar in general, even in pagodas, but they don't bother you at all.