The easiest way to get to Bagan from other cities in Myanmar is by bus.
See my previous post to read about our bus trip from Yangon to Bagan.
Our bus arrived in Bagan way ahead of schedule, at about 5am so our taxi driver took us to see the sunrise over the pagodas (the #1 thing to see in Bagan) before dropping us off at out hotels.
To enter the Bagan Archaeological area (basically the entire city and surrounding area) you are required to purchase passes for $15 per person. You will purchase these at check points along the road as you enter the city. When coming from the bus your taxi will take you here to buy your passes.
The passes are valid for 5 days.
You are supposed to always have these passes with you to show at various checkpoints. We were never asked to show ours after buying them but I would NOT recommend skipping this step. Just buy the pass to be on the safe side.
Sunrise over the Pagodas:
Bagan is home to nearly 3,000 pagodas.
Between the 11th and 13th centuries over 10,000 temples, pagodas and monasteries were built on the Bagan plains and nearly 3,000 still remain standing today.
Of course these pagodas and temples are beautiful at all times of the day but the most well known and most talked about time to see them is sunrise over the plains.
The sun rises at approximately 6am (check with your hotel or online to be sure you have the correct time of sunrise for the time of year you are visiting).
Sunrise can be enjoyed from anywhere across the Bagan plains but the best view is from the top of the largest pagodas. One example is Shwesandaw Pagoda.
Here are just a few photos of the sunrise (we took about 100!).
Hot Air Balloons:
Another option you have to see the sunrise over the pagodas is to take a hot air balloon ride. This experience looks absolutely unbelievable however it is not cheap. One ride (about 1 hour) costs approximately $300-400 per person!
Of course this was NOT in our budget.
The balloons do really add to the beauty of the sunrise view.
Renting an E-bike:
And electric bike is really the best way to get around both the city and the pagodas and the prices are very good.
Small e-bike (hold 1 person) $5 per day
Large e-bike (holds 2 people) $10 per day
The bikes are not terribly powerful but Bagan is pretty flat so this was not a problem. Tourists are not allowed to rent scooters so the e-bike is the best option.
Note: most likely there will be a problem with your e-bike. Once we ran out of battery and another time we got a flat tire.
Every bike has a phone number attached to the front of the bike.
Simply call that number and they will send a repair man or a new bike to you at no charge.
Don’t have a local phone. Don’t worry.
The locals are so friendly and helpful. Just flag someone down and they will call for you.
One of the times we had problems a car stopped even before we could flag them down and then a second one stopped. They called the bike shop for us, explained what was wrong in Burmese and stayed with us until the repair man arrived.
You will be well taken care of.
Other ways to get around:
You can rent a bicycle for about $2 per day. This is a very easy and cheap option but you will not see as much because it will take a lot longer to get around.
You can also ride in a horse cart. These fit about 2-4 people. It is a very charming way to get around but is not cheap (I do not have the exact price but it was the most expensive option for getting around the pagodas.
When visiting the Bagan plains, there are simply too many pagodas and temples to even come close to seeing them all. Some guidebooks will give you lists of which pagodas you ‘must see’.
I say, don’t bother spending time trying to find these specific temples.
Just rent an e-bike and start driving. Each pagoda you come upon is more amazing than the last. It is best to just explore and see what you find.
By doing this you will also likely avoid most of the tourist crowds allowing you to enjoy visiting the temples and pagodas in peace (and giving you the chance to take many photos without other people accidentally photo bombing all of your amazing photos).
Most of the pagodas are open so you can go in and explore.
You are also able to climb many of them!
The roof area of the pagodas have wonderful views and are amazing photo spots!
You will also find that locals are at several of the pagodas. Many of them are the caretakers of that particular pagoda (unlocking it in the morning, locking it at night). The government lets them live on the land of the pagoda rent free in exchange for them taking care of the pagoda.
Many of these men (in our experience they were all men) are also artists. After giving you a FREE tour of the pagoda they will likely want to show you their work (of course hoping to sell a painting). Please give them a few minutes. Mostly they are interested in talking with you, telling you about the history and culture and their painting techniques. We found that these artists were not pushy at all so if you don’t want to buy anything it is not a problem.
However, I highly recommend buying a painting. I cannot think of a better souvenir! The paintings are beautiful. They can also handle travel.
The artists paint start with a piece of white cotton, add a layer of glue and river sand and then add paint on top.
These paintings can be folded and ironed (on the back) and the color will not come off.
Some paintings are done in acrylic paint. Others are done in natural colors (made from nature). The colors are as follows:
Red – Marble stone
Yellow – Saffron
Green – vegetables
Blue – Indigo
Brown – tree bark
Black – soot (ash from a fire)
White – limestone
Visit a traditional village:
Another great thing you can do while exploring Bagan is to visit a traditional village. You can find the village nestled among the pagodas near Nyaung U.
Ask your hotel how to get here because the maps are unclear and often not to scale.
At the village entrance you will find one or a few local women who will take you on a tour of the village showing you everthing they produce and how they live. At the end of this tour she will of course ask you for a bit of money but it is completely up to you how much you give. I do not have a problem with this because it was such a nice tour and an interesting experience. We gave about $3.
In the village they:
Grow peanuts and sesame
The sesame seeds are pressed into oil using this machine (powered by a cow walking around it).
Make beautiful silver (mainly jewelry).
I bought a set of 7 thin silver rings for $18 and a pair of dangle earrings for $10, which I thought were excellent prices.
Make lacquerware items (these were expensive, buy elsewhere in Bagan for better price).
Weave lovely fabric and scarves
The village also grows cotton and grandma spins it into thread for the weaving.
In the village you (my female readers) can try tanka, a sort of make-up/sunblock that the local women wear. It is made by wetting a stone and rubbing a branch from a particular type of tree on the wet stone to make a paste. This is then applied to the cheeks.
Hotels in Bagan on average are quite expensive. When we looked online the cheapest option we found was about $45 per night (way over our budget).
So, we decided to take a chance and just see what we could find walking around town.
It paid off!
We found a lovely guest house in Nyaung U after only about 10 minutes of walking.
A double room was $16 per night.
Rooms were simple but the rooms were large and the bed was comfortable and very clean.
The bathrooms are shared but very nice.
The wifi works well.
I highly recommend this guesthouse for budget accommodation.
Food and Drink:
During our stay we spent most of our time in Nyaung U and exploring the pagodas in the plains area. Here are a few of my food recommendations.
If you are looking for a quick snack, breakfast or just a drink head to Bagan Regalia in Nyaung U.
For some excellent local food with a river view try
Kyi Kyi Mya in Old Bagan near Buphaya Paya Pagoda
For a nice dinner with a free puppet show go to Pyi Wa in Nyaung U.
If you are craving a burger try Weather Spoons in Nyaung U. Everyone raves about them!
I will be honest we did not try the burger…crazy I know, but we were craving fried noodles. They were amazing! So I definitely recommend this restaurant for whatever food you are craving.
A few more photos of Bagan:
Because it was so beautiful and amazing
Buddhist nuns collecting alms
Sunset over Bagan