The Ultimate Travel Guide to Bagan Temples - And 10 Most Beautiful Bagan Temples to Visit

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Bagan Temples

And 10 Most Beautiful Bagan Temples to Visit

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Even though I have experienced quite a few breathtaking sunrises in my life, a sunrise in Bagan is still my favorite and it is probably one of the best sunrise experience in the world.

Imagine this, a spacious plain with little to no tree stretches as far as the eye can see and on that plains, there are over 2,000 pagodas spread out across the horizon.

As the sun rises up, the shadows of these pagodas appeared on the plains, all synchronously shifting as the sun gets higher. With a perfect contrast, the dark sky becomes purplish orange, and as you look on the horizon, you start seeing hot air balloons dotting against the clear sky, slowly floating, mesmerizing.

You stand there, staring into a beauty you can barely comprehend, as the hot air balloons dance around the sky above all these temples and pagodas left by the ancient Pagan Kingdom from the 9th century, full of mystery waiting for you to explore.

It is this unforgettable experience that I would like to share with you today. I'm here to help you travel to Bagan, once the capital of the ancient Pagan Kingdom, now one of the most prominent tourist attractions in Myanmar.

Here is a complete travel guide on how to travel to Bagan, where to stay, things to do and a list of 10 most beautiful Bagan temples you should visit while you are in Bagan, Myanmar.

Let's begin with an itinerary map showing all the Bagan temples you should visit and other notable things to do in Bagan.

3 months backpacking itinerary for Southeast Asia

Map of Bagan Temples

Map of Bagan Temples

Bagan Travel Video

Simply Bagan from Pete R. on Vimeo

When to Visit Bagan

Bagan is best seen on a clear day where you can enjoy sunrise/sunset to the fullest.

Like most of Southeast Asia, the best time to visit Bagan is from November to February where it is not to hot with a steady temperature at 30°C during the day and goes as low as 14°C at night.

With the lower than average temperature and a higher chance of clear sky that comes with November - February, it is also the perfect time for a hot air balloon company to operate so if you want to go on a hot air balloon ride or wanted to see the sunrise with hot air balloons dotting the sky, this is the best period to visit.

If you don't like heat, avoid March to May, especially April as it is considered to be the hottest month of the year and the average temperature can be as high as 40°C. Imagine riding a bike in that kind of heat.

Same goes for the rainy season between June to October. Since you will be outdoors most of the time in Bagan, cycling around, explore the temples, I would recommend you avoid June and October as there is more chance of rain during this period.

Should I Stay in Old Bagan or New Bagan

There are 2 towns in Bagan that you can base yourself out of while exploring the temples and as you can guess from the names, one of them is the old town and the other, a new one. The big question is, where should you stay in Bagan?

Well, there are things to consider including accommodation options, proximity to the best Bagan temples, and I will list the pros and cons of both here and let you decide.

Old Bagan is an old town where the infrastructure is not as developed, which resulted in fewer options for good accommodation with reliable infrastructure. Power out is quite common in Old Bagan.

That said, it is closer to the temples than New Bagan and by being in Old Bagan, you will get to see how regular locals actually live. It is more atmospheric and there are plenty of local restaurants that are cheap and as authentic as it gets.

New Bagan on the other hand, is a new town that is built specifically to house a growing local population. Since this area is newer, you will have more choices when it comes to accommodation with reliable infrastructure. You can easily find a place to rent a motorcycle, horse cart or e-bike easily in New Bagan.

With modernity comes a lack of character and that is true for New Bagan. It is convenient to be in New Bagan but you will be shielded against authentic experiences that you might have had if you stay in Old Bagan. New Bagan is also a bit further away from all the main temples I listed in this travel guide, so that is something to think about.

For a verdict, I would say that if you want to have a more authentic experience and do not mind some inconvenience, stay in Old Bagan.

If you want to be in a cleaner, more modern places while exploring Bagan, stay in New Bagan.

In my opinion, I would recommend staying in New Bagan for the infrastructure, rent an e-bike, so you can get to places faster and then just ride to Old Bagan and spend some time there. That way, you are getting the best of both worlds and with an e-bike, the difference in distance does not matter as much anymore since you can get to both places in only a few minutes.

Where to Stay in Bagan

New Bagan

Budget - Ostello Bello Bagan - 11 USD/Night (Dorm + Breakfast)

Mid-Range - Look Myanmar - 24 USD / Night (Double Room)

Old Bagan

Budget - BaobaBed Hostel Bagan - 12 USD/Night (Dorm)

Mid-Range - New Park Hotel - 23 USD / Night (Double Room)

How to Get to Bagan, Myanmar

Getting from Abroad to Myanmar

I flew with AirMandalay the first time I was in Bagan because I didn't know there was a bus from Mandalay 😅.

First and foremost, you will have to get yourself to Myanmar and there are 2 ways you can do that. One is to fly to Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar and the main travel hub in the country, or two, fly to Mandalay, the second largest city in the country, and a lot nearer to Bagan than Yangon.

From the US, there are no direct flights to both cities so you will have to fly via the Middle Eastern airlines like Qatar and Emirates or fly over the Pacific ocean via ANA Airline through Japan, Korean Air through South Korea, or Cathy Pacific via Hong Kong.

From Europe, Middle Eastern airlines like Qatar and Emirates connects Europe to Myanmar as well as Asian airlines like Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines.

From Asia, there are a ton of AirAsia flights that connects big hub cities like Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Singapore with Mandalay and it should cost you around 54 USD to 150 USD per way depending on where you are flying from. I found that flying from Bangkok to Mandalay can be as low as 54 USD per flight.

For more information on which flights to buy from your home country to Myanmar, I would recommend you browse through Skyscanner or Momondo to find the best affordable flight that fits your itinerary.

If you are already in Southeast Asia, you can book your bus and train ticket online here: Book a plane/bus/train ticket for Bagan.

Getting from Yangon or Mandalay to Bagan

The second time in Bagan, I took a local bus from Mandalay bus terminal and it was way cheaper than flying domestically and not as bad or as long as I thought it would be.

From Yangon, you will have to either get a domestic flight to Bagan via Air KBZ which should cost around 130 USD or you can take a 10 hours bus for 23 USD.

You can book your bus/plane ticket from Yangon to Bagan here: Book a plane/bus ticket from Yangon to Bagan.

From Mandalay, you can fly domestic via Air KBZ as well for 82 USD or you can take the minivan operated by OK Minibus for 12 USD and takes around 6 hours to reach Bagan.

You can book your bus/plane ticket from Mandalay to Bagan here: Book a plane/bus ticket from Mandalay to Bagan.

How to Get Around Bagan

If you choose to bike, be sure to protect yourself from the sun. You will be riding on an exposed path 90% of the time.

There are several ways to explore Bagan temples and it will depend on the type of traveler you are. Here are some options available for you to choose from:

Bicycles: One of the best and fun way to explore Bagan temples is via bicycles. Remember that these temples and pagodas are abandoned, and some of them require you to go on a small path that a car might not be able to access.

With a bicycle, you can go anywhere you like no matter how small the dirt roads are, plus you are exercising while exploring, which I think is a win-win situation.

The drawback is that you will be exposed in the sun all day, exploring Bagan temples and the sun in Bagan is no joke. It gets really hot during the day especially during March to May.

To rent a bike for a day, it should cost you around 1 - 2 USD per day and you can rent it via your hostel/hotel or a bike shops that are scattered around in Old and New Bagan.

E-Bikes (recommended): Another great option for those who do not enjoy biking is to get an e-bike, which is like a slow version of a moped. Unfortunately, foreigners are not allowed to ride a bike so we will have to settle with an e-bike instead.

The good thing about an e-bike is that it has the versitility of a bicycle but without the effort required. It will help you to travel faster which in turn allow you to see more temples, and get to do more stuff in Bagan, which is why I recommend you to get an e-bike.

To rent an e-bike for a day (9 AM - 7 PM), it should cost you around 4 - 6 USD or you can negotiate if you want to rent it overnight to go see the sunrise. There are plenty of shops in Old and New Bagan that rent out e-bikes and you should have no trouble finding one.

Horse carts are also a fun way to explore Bagan if you are traveling as a family or you want to take it slow and not have to plan out your day.

Horse Carts: Horse-cart is one of the most stylish ways to explore Bagan temples. If you are traveling as a family with kids, hiring a horse cart might be a fun way to explore Bagan together.

You also don't have to plan your itinerary yourself as you can ask the driver to take you to the best temples Bagan has to offer and all you have to do is relax, and enjoy the ride.

That said, riding a horse cart is the slowest way to get to places though but at least you don't have to pedal yourself. Hiring a horse cart for a day should cost you around 15 USD for the entire cart, so if you are a family, you can split the price among yourself.

Taxis: With a ton of dirt roads and people cycling, riding e-bikes all over the place, it can get quite dusty at times and in order to get away from that and more so, the heat, you can hire a taxi driver to take you around Bagan instead. This is by far the fastest, most convenient and most expensive way to explore Bagan.

With a car, you will be able to see a lot more in a day than with any other types of transportation I listed here but it will set you back around 35 USD. If you have people to split and don't have a lot of time, hiring a taxi is the way to go.

Taxi can be easily hired via your hotel/hostel. They often have their own drivers on hand so if you ask your hotel/hostel a day before, you should have no trouble finding a taxi one day in advanced.

Bagan Entrance Fee

To enter the Bagan archaeological site, you will have to pay for a ticket that will allow you access to all the temples in Bagan. It is essential to buy the ticket as your hotel/hostel will need to register the number on the ticket when you check-in.

This ticket is around 15 USD and valid for 3 days. You will be asked randomly at any temples to show the ticket so keep the ticket with you at all times. Do not lose it, otherwise, you will have to buy another one.

Where to Buy Bagan Entrance Ticket

If you are flying into to Nyuang U airport, there will be a desk right before you exit the building and they will ask you to pay for the ticket there.

If you are taking the bus, there may or may not be someone to stop the bus and ask you to buy a ticket (there were none when I took the bus the last time) so don't worry if you didn't get the ticket when you are on a bus, you can sometimes buy them via your hotel as well.

How Long to Stay in Bagan

I stumbled upon a wedding parade and they were parading a dancer around Bagan blasting really fun music all over. There are more things to do in Bagan than just temples.

2 nights in Bagan is a minimum which should allow you to see all the main sites in one day but you will completely exhaust yourself doing it. I would recommend you stay at least 3 - 4 nights in Bagan, so you can explore Bagan temples at your own leisure without rushing through, which is the best way to see Bagan.

With 3 nights in Bagan, you can divide your exploration into 2 parts with your first day exploring the temples and the town of Old Bagan, and the second day, exploring the temples around New Bagan.

With 4 nights, you can take your time and explore all the temples at a much slower pace which is the best way to see Bagan. Bagan is a type of place you should not rush through. You can also fit in a side-trip like a sunset boat ride along the Irrawaddy River, or a day trip to Mt. Popa.

Is Bagan Safe?

A monk walking in Bagan in the morning, a common site you will see in Myanmar.

Bagan is generally safe. The most dangerous things in Bagan are the sun, the snakes and the crumbling temples that may break at any moment, which is why climbing temples is prohibited.

Avoid being out in the sun for too long, especially if you start to feel dizzy. Keep yourself hydrated, drink a lot of water and protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen.

Snakes are not common on the main path so you should be fine most of the time but they do sometimes live around bushes so keep your eyes open before you go off-the-beaten-path... literally.

Avoid climbing temples is the best way to prevent yourself from falling off one. For some temples, climbing is still allowed and if you want to climb, make sure the stone you are about to step on is strong and sturdy.

Other than that, you are pretty safe in Bagan. The locals are really nice and often very accommodating, while petty thefts are not as common as in big cities.

What to Wear When Visiting Bagan Temples

You can wear t-shirts and knee-length short to explore Bagan. I often rolled down my shorts to knee-level when I'm on a temple ground.

Since you are visiting temples, there is a certain dress code that you should follow while you are in Bagan temple ground. The rules are pretty simple and are as follows:

What NOT to wear:

  • No tank-top on the temple ground.
  • No short shorts on the temple ground.
  • No shoes/socks on the temple ground.

What to wear:

  • T-shirts or anything the covers your shoulders are fine in Bagan temples.
  • Knee-length shorts/trousers/skirts are all acceptable.
  • Flip-flips are ok and is recommended as you will have to take your shoes off every time you are about to enter Bagan temples.
  • Pack a light jacket if you are planning to ride a bike/e-bike or see the sunrise and it can get chilly with the wind in the morning.

Things to Know Before Traveling to Bagan

Here are a few tips to get you ready to get out there and explore Bagan temples:

  • Protect your skin: Prepare sunblocks and cover yourself with it while out in the sun. It gets really hot during the day and you will be on an e-bikes/bike most of the time so protect your skin.
  • Bring Water: Since you will be out in the sun all day, prepare lots of water and keep yourself hydrated. You need to have at least one 2 liters bottle of water
  • Keep your Ticket with you: At all times as there will be people checking for it at random in big and small temples.
  • Have USD on hands: So that you can pay the entrance fee when you arrive in Bagan.
  • Prepare headlamps: If you want to see the sunset in Bagan, you need to have a headlamp so you can navigate the road safely at night to get to the sunrise temple.

Internet in Bagan

There is WIFI available in most hotels/hostels, often only in the common area, but do not expect it to be fast or reliable. Checking emails and receiving and sending messages are ok but there is no way in hell you will be able to watch a 1080p Youtube video via Bagan's internet.

Data connection via local sim cards are a little bit more reliable with 3G and occasionally 4G in Bagan. Ooredoo is cheap and works great in Bagan. You can get 1 GB data for only 1 USD.

For more information on local sim cards in Myanmar: Myanmar Prepaid Data Sim Card.

Travel Insurance

If you are looking for travel insurance to go along with your trip to Myanmar, I would recommend, which is what I use to look for travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.

Get a Quote from World Nomads

10 Most Beautiful Temples in Bagan

1. Sunrise at Shwe San Daw Pagoda

Unbeatable view of the sunrise atop Shwe San Daw Pagoda in Bagan.

One of the most popular Bagan pagodas that people like to visit is the Shwe San Daw Pagoda as this is one of the best places to see the sunrise. The pagoda is built in a cylindrical shape on top of 5 levels of terraces, allowing quite a bit of people to be up there, and there will be A LOT of people at sunrise.

Bagan temples and the landscape of Bagan right before sunrise

Many tourists come as early as 4 AM and pick the best spot up on the top-level terrace and by the time the sun rises, there was barely any space left on the top terrace.

View from the 4th level of Shwe San Daw pagoda during sunrise.

For me, no matter if you are on level 4 or 5, you will have a pretty similar view nonetheless and I don't think it is worth worrying about getting the best spot on the Shwe San Daw Pagoda.

Shwe San Daw Pagoda from the outside in Bagan, Myanmar.

But if you are determined to be the first, you will have to brave the night and get to Shwe San Daw Pagoda by 3:30 AM and wait it out. I guarantee you that if you are there this early, there will be plenty of space up on the top level.

I arrived at 5 AM, which is a bit too late to get a spot on the 5th level so I got a spot on the 4th level, set up my camera and took a timelapse of the sunrise as the hot air balloons dotted the sky.

Hot Air Balloons taking to the sky in Bagan.

If you are there in January - February, you will get to see these hot air balloons slowly being inflated, take off and dotting the sky, which makes the view atop Shwe San Daw Pagoda even more memorable.

If you are into filmmaking, the Shwe San Daw Pagoda will give you a stunning viewpoint of the landscape, the pagodas and the hot air balloons, all in one frame.

I and my friend outstayed the tourists and we almost have to whole top-level of Shwe San Daw temple to ourselves.

Here's a tip for you for Shwe San Daw Pagoda: Most people will leave immediately after the sunrise but the most beautiful moment to capture is actually about an hour right after the sunrise where the light is bright orange but not too strong and the landscape becomes clearer.

Simply, outstay all the tourists and you will have the whole 5th level to yourself and get the picture you want without anyone in the frame. I stayed until 9 AM, went up to the fifth level and had the whole place to myself.

A hot air balloon floating right above the Dahmmayan Gyi temple

If you are still on the fence about visiting the Shwe San Daw Pagoda at sunrise, I assure you, it is definitely worth it. Even if there is a ton of people there, the sunrise atop the Shwe San Daw Pagoda is probably one of the best moment you can experience in your life. It certainly was for me, so don't let the number of tourists deter you from visiting the Shwe San Daw Pagoda.

People watching the sunrise from pagodas nearby Shwe San Daw Pagoda in Bagan.

There are other pagodas nearby as well that you can go up but it is not as high as Shwe San Daw Pagoda but if you are not convinced about Shwe San Daw Pagoda, you can explore a bit the day before and find the perfect viewpoint, away from all the tourists. After all, there are over 2,000 temples and pagodas in the plains of Bagan.

2. Htilominlo Temple and its Beautiful Spires

Htilominlo Temple from afar in Bagan, Myanmar.

Htilominlo temple is a gigantic red brick temple standing tall at over 45m. Its sharp iconic spire at the top is hard to miss when you are exploring Bagan. The temple was built in the 13th century and named after its builder, King Htilominlo that ruled the kingdom in that period.

One of the murals inside Htilominlo Temple

On the inside, there are 4 Buddha statues facing in each direction. The temple contains several beautiful murals and frescoes of Buddhist depiction in different colors.

Unfortunately, many of the murals in Htilominlo Temple are fading away with time.

Unfortunately, some of them have faded away over time, leaving us visitors to guess at how beautiful the full mural would have been.

Monks from Thailand praying in Bagan temples.

If you are lucky, you might be able to witness a group of Buddhist monks and pilgrimage praying at the Buddha images inside as I did.

3. Ananda Temple and the Grand Buddha Statues

Ananda temple, the best-known Bagan temples out of all the 2,000 temples and pagodas in Bagan.

Ananda temple, built in the 11th century, is one of Bagan's best-known temples in the area. It is said to be one of the first big temples built on this plains and to be able to look at it now after almost a thousand years standing, is mind-boggling.

The overall structure of Ananda temple is of Bagan architectural style and yet the tower resembles temples in India.

The beauty of the temple stands the test of time, with its unique blend of Mon and North Indian architectural style that stands out from other temples in Bagan.

A beautiful silhouette of Ananda temple and its iconic reflective golden spire.

One of Ananda temple's unique feature is its reflective golden spire that you can spot from several miles away. It is amazing to see how well-preserved this temple is, which reflects how the locals see Ananda temple as one of the most sacred temples in Bagan.

One of the four giant standing Buddha statues in Ananda temple in Bagan.

Ananda temple is also built in a perfectly symmetrical layout, with 4 giant standing Buddha statues towering over 9.5m inside, all facing North, South, East, and West. You will find frescoes of Buddha journey from birth to death depicted on over 554 plaques on the walls of Ananda temples.

A few more standing Buddha statues inside Ananda temple in Bagan.

Legend has it that in the 11th century, 8 monks from India came to Bagan and were granted an audience by King Kyanzittha. The monks told the king about the legendary temple in the Himalayas, and create a vision of the temple in the snowy landscape for the king to see. The story left the king so impressed that he decided to replicate it in Bagan and that is how Ananda temple came to be.

Unfortunately, for the architect who designed the temple, the ending was not as inspiring as the king executed the architect right after the temple completed to make sure that anything like it could never be built again. What is it with kings and tsars back in the days, executing architects?

4. Thatbyinnyu Temple, the Biggest One of All

Me walking towards Thatbyinnyu temple in Bagan.

Thatbyinnyu temple is another iconic Bagan temple with the temple main spire piercing the sky. With the height of 60m, Thatbyinnyu temple is one of the highest monuments, and there is no mistaking it when you are in Bagan.

Thatbyinnyu temple is so big you can see it from so far in any angles.

The exterior, like the Ananda temple nearby, is coated with stucco and from the indentations, we discovered in the interior of Thatbyinnyu, supposedly there were suppose to be over 500 plaques depicting the life of Buddha as we saw in Ananda temple, but for some unknown reasons they are all missing here.

This was me in 2014. We used to be able to climb to the temple terrace but from last I heard, climbing is no longer allowed at Thatbyinnyu temple.

Unfortunately, you can no longer climb up the tallest temple in Bagan since it was banned in 2016 in order to preserve it. That said, Thatbyinnyu Temple, just like the Eiffel tower in Paris, is best seen from afar among the landscape, not atop it so get your bikes, explore the temples nearby and get up on one for the best view of Thatbyinnyu Temple.

Thatbyinnyu temple towering over people in Bagan.

Fun fact: Nearby Thatbyinnyu temple, there is a small temple called Tally temple that was used to keep track of how many bricks were used to build Thatbyinnyu temple.

The Tally temple could be one of these? I have no idea 😅.

For every 10,000 bricks, one brick was set aside on this site to keep track of the count, and the Tally temple was constructed atop the site after Thatbyinnyu temple was completed. If you can find where it is, let me know in the comments below 😉.

5. Dahmmayan Gyi Temple, a Massive Temple without Spires

Dahmmayan Gyi temple is my favorite Bagan temple out of all.

Dahmmayan Gyi temple is my favorite temples in Bagan not because it is the largest temple in Bagan but because of how it lacks the spires you often find on Bagan temples.

Dahmmayan Gyi temple looks like a pyramid not by design but because the king who commissioned it got murdered before it was completed.

Dahmmayan Gyi temple structure resembles those of pyramids of the Aztecs or the early pyramids of Egypt. It was not by design however as the temple was not actually completed when it was abandoned.

Dahmmayan Gyi temple stood out from the rest of Bagan temples due to the lack of tower spire.

Legend has it that King Narathu commissioned the temple in 1170 right after he murdered his father and brother to take over the throne out of fear of bad karma. As you know how this story goes, he was later murdered himself before Dahmmayan Gyi temple was completed and the project was abandoned right after.

No one knows who murdered King Narathu. There were stories of King Narathu being killed by invaders from Sri Lanka and King Narathu being killed by a group of Indians sent by the King of Pateikkaya out of revenge for the death of King Narathu wife which was the princess of Pateikkaya.

King Narathu was not a great ruler though as one of his stories show. It is believed that the king would chop off the hands of the laborers if the work done on Dahmmayan Gyi temple is not perfect in every way.

Can you imagine what Dahmmayan Gyi temple would look like if it was completed?

Despite the stories of how the temple came to be, it is hard not to wonder of how the temple would have turn out to be if it was finished. Even in its current form, my jaw drops every time I see the temple when I'm in Bagan.

6. Sulamani Temple and its Elaborate Carvings

Sulamani temple and all its spires in Bagan, Myanmar

Sulamani temple is another great temple you should visit when you are in Bagan. The temple is built elegantly with red bricks by King Narapatisithu, one of the longest ruler of the Pagan Kingdom.

The Pagan Kingdom during his reign was prosperous and seen as the foundation that gave rise to the Burmese culture that emerged from its Mon roots. His reign is considered to be the peak of the Pagan Kingdom that sees many important monuments erected during this period.

Me exploring the exterior of Sulamani temple in Bagan.

One of that is the Sulamani temple, which was named after a ruby found on the spot the temple was erected on. The story goes that King Narapatisithu found a small ruby on the site and henceforth why it is called Sulamni which literally translated to "Small Ruby".

Funny enough, in the Thai language "mani" also means ruby 😉 which goes to show how each kingdom in the region influences each other during the ancient times.

Sulamani temple entrance and the passageway inside the temple in Bagan.

The architecture of Sulamani temple resembles that of Htilominlo with the spire design influenced by an Indian architectural style that also resembles the one atop Ananda temple, but without being gilded.

You will find over 500 plaques on the walls of Sulamani interior depicting the journey from life to death of Buddha which is very common to have in large temples in Bagan.

One of the Buddha statue inside Sulamani temple in Bagan.

You will also find some beautiful murals inside the temple that depicts Buddha stories and several mystical animals on the walls of Sulamani temple.

7. Taung Guni Temple and its Stunning View of the Sunset

The sunset view from the top of Taung Guni Temple in Bagan.

Another temple built during King Narapatisithu reign, the Taung Guni temple is much smaller in scale from all the other temples I mentioned here but it is not the temple itself that will blow you away, it is the sunset you will see atop this temple that will.

People are scrambling to find a nice viewpoint for the sunset in Bagan, Myanmar.

The temple itself is nothing special but the platform on the terrace is spacious which allows a number of people to be on top while watching the sunset. Don't worry, you will not have to deal with the crowds like you did with the Shwe San Daw Pagoda as people there is no one specific places to be during sunset.

Still there... still there... gone.

From atop the Taung Guni Temple, you will get an unobstructed view of the landscape without going up very high which should allow you to see the silhouettes of the temples as the sun set behind the plains of Bagan.

8. Shwezigon Pagoda and its Golden Charm

The gold-plated Shwezigon Pagoda, one of the oldest monuments in Bagan.

I have to admit to you when I first visited Bagan, I mistakingly thought that the sunrise pagoda was the Shwezigon Pagoda and so I stupidly went off with my bike at 5 AM to the pagoda to find out that the sunrise pagoda was actually the Shwe San Daw.

I eventually missed the sunrise on my first trip in Bagan, due to getting the temple's names mixed up. Do not make the same mistake as I did and be sure you to read this guide carefully 😅.

Shwezigon Pagoda has since expanded since it was built in the 11th century.

Shwezigon pagoda is the closest pagoda you can visit from Old Bagan. If you stay in Old Bagan, you can literally walk from your hotel to the pagoda in 5 minutes.

The gold plated pagoda of Shwezigon may fool you to think that this is a new pagoda but Shwezigon Pagoda is actually one of the oldest monuments in Bagan built by the founder of the Pagan Kingdom, King Anawrahta. The first stupa was built in the 11th century and was expanded to incorporate new temples around the stupa over the years.

It is one of the most important Buddhist sites in Bagan that attracts Buddhist pilgrimage from all over the world. If you are there in December, you might be able to witness the Shwezigon festival that is dedicated to paying respect to the ancient spirit of old belief before the kingdom was converted to Buddhism.

9. Mahabodhi Pagoda with a touch of India Influence

Mahabodhi Pagoda and its 450 Buddha images on its tower in Bagan, Myanmar.

You may have seen a small touch of Indian influence in parts of the bigger temples in Bagan but there is no pagoda that had been influenced by India architectural style as much as the Mahabodhi Pagoda inside the wall of Old Bagan.

Mahabodhi Pagoda is a pagoda dedicated to Buddhism but if you look at it without the context, you almost think that this must be a Hindu shrine. That is because the Mahabodhi Pagoda was built to resemble a temple with the same name in Bodhgaya in India where Buddha reached enlightenment.

Its iconic pyramidal tower contains numerous Buddha images in different postures that you can spot while you enter Old Bagan walled city. Unfortunately, I was unable to enter inside as it was closed when I was there. I'm not sure if it is accessible now so if you happen to be at Mahabodhi Pagoda temple recently, do let me know if you can get inside.

10. Bagan Archaeological Museum and its Modern Take on Temple Architecture

Bagan Archaeological Museum and its modern-take on Bagan architecture style.

Last but not least, and it is not a temple but a museum, the best Bagan structure to visit is the Bagan Archaeological Museum which boasts a modern design of Bagan style architecture on its exterior.

The exterior is nice and all but the content of the museum is what is most interesting. The museum itself contains numerous ancient artifacts discovered in Bagan over the years.

Bagan Archaeological Museum is quite spacious and peaceful, a great change of sight from the dusty roads of Old Bagan.

You will find a 1,000 years old Buddha image, ancient stone inscriptions and a copy of murals you found on the walls of many Bagan temples. Visiting the museum at the end should put things in perspective and allow you to appreciate what you just saw in Bagan even more.

Things to Do in Bagan Other than Visiting Temples

Hike Mount Popa

Mount Popa, a popular pilgrimage place to climb and tourists to visit when traveling in Bagan.

Photos by calflier001

If you have an extra day in Bagan and you have seen all the major temples, you can spend a day hiking Mount Popa about 50 km southeast of Bagan. Mount Popa is an important pilgrimage site with several temples dedicated to the ancient spirit atop the mountain.

The top of Mount Popa stand at 1500+m above sea level and in order to get to the top, you will have to climb up the 777 steps which should take around 45 minutes.

Thankfully, the stairways are not exposed and you will be hiking up under a roof until the top so the climb will not be as difficult during the day. Along the way, you will find many monkeys which luckily keep to themselves so avoid flashing colorful things around for them to notice and grab it.

At the summit of Mt. Popa, you will have an unobstructed view of the surrounding area and if you are lucky, you might even see Bagan and Irrawaddy River all the way from the summit.

To get to Mt. Popa, you can take a local bus from Nyuang U bus station but information about the public bus is scarce and even if you get on one, it might take you almost 2 hours to get to Mount Popa as they often stop to load/unload stuff.

The best way to get to Mount Popa is to hire a taxi driver to take you there and back. With a taxi, it will take around 1 hour to get to Mount Popa and you can choose to stop anywhere you like along the way. You can hire a taxi from any hotel in Bagan and it should cost you around 35 USD for the trip. I would recommend you find people to do it with so you can share the cost together.

If you want to go with a tour, you can book a day-trip tour to Mt. Popa here.

Float Along the Irrawaddy River on a Boat at Sunset

Sunset on the Irrawaddy River, Bagan, Myanmar.

Photos by calflier001

Another thing you can do in Bagan is to take a boat and float along the Irrawaddy River at sunset. It will allow you to see Bagan and its landscape from a different perspective that you won't see from being inland.

You can book a boat trip from your hotel or hostel and they should pick you up or you can just ride your bike to the river bank and find a local boat straight from there. It usually costs around 5 USD for an hour boat ride at sunset if you go on your own with a local boat.

Make sure you are there at the right time as it is not ideal to go on a boat ride when the tide is this low.

Make sure you are there at the right time as it is not ideal to go on a boat ride when the tide is this low.

If you want to book a more luxurious boat tour with snacks, tea, and a local guide, you can book a sunset cruise along the Irrawaddy River here.

Watch Sunrise over Bagan on a Hot Air Balloon

Be on one of these hot air balloons and experience sunrise over Bagan like a boss.

If you want an even more epic sunrise experience, you can get on one of these hot air balloons and experience sunset in a way not many have done in Bagan.

The hot air balloon service is operated by a British company called Balloon Over Bagan with over 17 years of experience and it reflects in their safety precautions and price. The trip will set you back 350 - 450 USD per person for a 45-minute ride and it only operates between October to April.

For more information about Hot Air Balloons in Bagan, visit Balloon Over Bagan website.

Craving Healthy Food? Eat at Moon Restaurant

Me and my friends hanging out at Moon restaurant in Bagan, Myanmar.

There are a ton of local restaurant in both the New and Old Bagan but if you are looking for a healthier option, The Moon Vegetarian Restaurant located right by the Ananda temple.

They serve great rich vegetarian local food as well as international food like burgers so if you are in need of a healthy food fix in Bagan, The Moon is the place to be.

It's a little pricey for Myanmar standard but you get what you paid for, an authentic high-quality local food that is both healthy and requires no killings of animals.

The restaurant is also located in an atmospheric area near the Ananda temple, making it a great place to visit for dinner with your friends and families.

And that is it for a complete travel guide to Bagan and all the best Bagan temples you should visit while you are in Bagan. If you have any question regarding this travel guide or Bagan in general, please do let me know in the comments below.

Further Reading for Myanmar

Looking for more information for your trip to Myanmar? Here is a collection of articles about Myanmar that might help you with your trip planning:

The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.

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