Bagan, located in the central west of Myanmar is one of those places where you’ve seen plenty of magical looking images of, that instantly makes you longing to go there one day.
For us, this day came on January 14th, 2017. After a 11 hour bus ride and somewhat sleep, the cabin light of the bus turned on, meaning we are close to arriving in Bagan. Still very sleepy of the ride, multiple taxi drivers and horse carriage owners jumped us, and offer us to see the sunrise. We took a taxi, which is the cheapest option of the two, we drove out into the dark not realizing what was coming.
After 30 minutes or so, the taxi driver told us we had arrived at a pagoda, where we could sit and enjoy the sunrise. Being pitch black outside, we could hardly see where we were and what way to go, but a friendly man, with a flashlight, pointed us in the right direction to go up the Pagoda. The stairway was marked with small candles, which made it easier to navigate, but also added some magic to it. When reaching the top level of the pagoda, we could hear other people whisper, but couldn’t see them. This made the experience also somewhat scary.
We found a spot to sit not knowing if it was a good spot and after staring in the dark for another 15 to 30 minutes, the horizon started to change colors; from black to blue, from blue to pink, and from pink to orange.
Slowly the surroundings started to reveal itself, as the first sunbeams hit the pagodas and stupas more and more started to appear on the horizon, covered under a layer of morning mist.
As it almost couldn’t get any better, out of nowhere and very close to us, hot air balloons appeared and danced through the sky towards the rising sun. As first impressions can only be made once, Bagan sure knew how to make a hell of a good one!
Why visit Bagan?
What makes Bagan so unique? Maybe its because Bagan is one of the largest Buddhist sites with the highest concentration of Buddhist temples. Or maybe because its less explored compared to; Machu Picchu in Peru and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Or it is because it provides the freedom of riding towards sunrise/sunset on your e-bike and the opportunity to be alone between approximately 4000 Pagodas and Stupas on one of the worlds biggest historic sites.
For us it was a combination of these three. We loved waking up between 05:00 and 05:30 in the morning, 4 days in a row, to jump on our e-bike and ride over sandy roads till we had a Pagoda to our own and watch the magical sunrise. After breakfast we’d have a little nap till lunchtime and then drove around the archeological site for hours to explore the temples, but also in pursuit for less popular temples on which we could watch the sunset. Less popular meaning, having the change to be alone on a Pagoda, and not be joined by other tourist. Which we noticed, is a lot easier during sunrise than during sunset, apparently people don’t like to wake up early ;).
What to do in Bagan
Obviously, the thing to do in Bagan is visiting the many Pagodas and Stupas. You can either do this by: horse carriage, taxi, bicycle, e-bike or by foot. For us, e-bike was the most convenient way to explore Bagan. It provided us with the most freedom and a refreshing breeze while driving through the dry and hot land of Bagan.
The most famous and frequently visited temples are: Shwesandaw Pagoda, Anada Temple, Sulamani Temple,Thatbyinnyu Temple, Shwezigon Pagoda, Manuha Temple. These temples are the largest and most impressive around Bagan, and therefore draw the most tourist.
However, driving over the sandy narrow roads helps you to find smaller, less crowded and just as beautiful pagodas. This helped us locating the best sunrise spots, where we could have an entire Pagoda to ourselves. Which made the experience even more memorable.
We recommend using maps.me, while exploring Bagan, so you can pin temples you would like to visited, but also pin temples you’ve already visited. This prevents you from visiting the same temple multiple times. And yes, this happened to us without us realizing it until we walked back to our e-bike.
Where to eat:
Our guesthouse served excellent breakfast, so we had breakfast here everyday. For lunch we often went to a traditional thee house on the corner of the street, who served lovely noodles and proper Burmese veggie rice.
Probably you wouldn’t figure, but we had one of our best pizzas in Bagan, at a cute little restaurant called: La pizza. An Italian guy showed the locals how to make a proper thin crusted Italian pizza. Therefore all of the pizzas come out of a traditional oven, which give them their unique taste!!
Where to stay:
For backpackers and budget travelers, as we are, the best option is to stay in Nyaung-U during your time in Bagan. It has the most options when it comes to budget accommodations, but also has the nicest restaurants, compared to Old and New Bagan. We stayed at the Shwe Na Di guesthouse.
This guesthouse has spacious private rooms, with nice beds, a decent bathroom, and includes breakfast – which was really good! The staff that works there is simply wonderful, always friendly and ready to help!
If you love exploring historic places, temples, one of a kind sunrises and sunsets, or simply like to go to see unique scenery, Bagan is a must visit. For us it was magical, breathtaking and full of adventures.
The freedom of riding the e-bike toward the sunrise and sunset, and discovering temples while riding over narrow bumpy sand roads, with the burning sun above us, gave it a somewhat Indiana Jones feeling.
The Burmese people welcome you in their beautiful country with extreme friendliness and always willing to help you. If you plan to visit Myanmar, right now would be the perfect time, since it still has a very untouched and authentic feeling.