One of the most fairytale-like places in the world is Bagan, Myanmar. If you like Angkor Wat in Cambodia then you are definitely going to love it here. The area contains 3500+ temples and pagodas and recently became an UNESCO World Heritage site! Follow this guide to help you get the most out of your time in this magical city.
First things first, some tips:
- As soon as you enter Bagan (by bus or taxi) you are required to pay 25,000 MMK in cash for the entrance fee & it's valid for 5 days. They will literally never check your ticket at any point during your time in Bagan, it's pretty much just a way to get more money from tourists. But, be prepared with the cash because they don't accept credit cards!
- There are cash exchanges around the city, but they don't open until around 9am. So if you're hoping to get cash right when you get off the night bus at 4am (like me!) you'll be waiting awhile. There are multiple ATM machines around the city that are open 24 hours. And, for all my fellow UnionPay card holders, every ATM says they accept UnionPay, but they don't. I tried dozens of ATM's and the only bank that accepted my UnionPay card was AGD bank.
- Maps.Me: you MUST download this app. Apple Maps and Google Maps do not have any temple locations marked and barely any paths, they are super inaccurate. Maps.me is the most accurate map of the area- plus, you can use it offline AND people comment notes and updates constantly about whether you can climb the temple or if it's closed.
- Rent an E-bike. Some people choose to rent a car or bicycle, but an e-bike is the best option. There are so many random dirt paths to explore and find cool temples you didn't know existed, which you won't be able to go on in a car. And with a bicycle, you won't be able to explore as much in one day since the temples are quite spread out.
Where to stay
There are 3 main areas: New Bagan, Old Bagan, and Nyuang-U. Honestly, all are so close to one another that when you rent an E-bike it really doesn't matter. I opted to stay at Maya Bagan hostel in New Bagan because it's run by local Burmese people and I wanted to give back to the community. It was an amazing hostel, I highly recommend it. I paid for an 8-bed dorm, and they gave me a 4-bed dorm with only 1 other person in it. The AC was freezing cold, which was so amazing since it was blazing hot outside. And the staff was so friendly and helped me with anything I needed, including E-bike rental (4,000 MMK for 6 hours, 6,000 MMK for 9 hours, and 8,000 MMK for 16 hours).
The only thing to do here is explore temples! The best way to do that honestly is to rent an E-bike and just drive around. Follow this path to all of the "main" temples to see, but any dirt path you see along your way- take it! You'll find some of the most amazing temples off the beaten path with no people- that was my favorite part.
Dhamma Ya Zi Ka Pagoda
Shwe San Daw Pagoda
Shwe Gu Gyi Temple
Gubyauk Nge Temple
Gaw Daw Palin Phaya
Htilo Minlo Temple
Le Myet Hna temple
Iza Gawna Pagoda
*Bonus: Bagan Viewing Tower at the Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort
Cost: $5 USD
Hours: 5:30am - 10:00pm
Thing to note: most people come to Bagan from November-April for balloon season. This means the skies are filled with hundreds of hot air balloons, and you can even take a hot air ballon ride yourself and admire the views from above. This also means flights are more expensive! I came in June, so no balloons, but my flight was less than half the price of the flights in April.
Most of the pictures you see from Bagan are of people on the tops of temples overlooking a skyline filled with hundreds of temples and balloons. SPOILER ALERT: these are photoshopped. The Myanmar government gated and locked every temple after the big earthquake in 2016, so tourists can't climb up anymore. There will be lots of local people who say they know of a secret temple you can still climb and they'll bring you there for free. Don't do it. They'll bring you to a pile of bricks that you can climb (not a temple or pagoda) and expect you to either pay them or buy one of their souvenirs. (I saw one of the girls who tried to get me to follow her leading a group of foreigners, so I followed them to this "view.")
In a Nutshell
Bagan is an amazing place to just explore. You don't need a plan, just hop on an E-bike and ride. You can't ride for more than 1 minute without seeing a temple or pagoda, so you can make your plan up as you go along. Don't be afraid to go down any random dirt path you find- that was my favorite part because you find the most secluded temples with beautiful views and not a single person in sight!
"It's not about the destination, it's about the journey." -Ralph Waldo Emerson
And the journey through Bagan is truly a beautiful one.
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