Type: Rural, Provincial, Religious
Best Date to Visit: Dec- Jan
Things to Do: Sunrise/Sunset, E-bikes, visit temples/pagodas
Points of Interest: Anada Temple, Schwezigon Pagoda, Scwesandaw Pagoda, Mt Popa, Mani Sithu Market, Old Bagan and many more
The Good: Utmost freedom nearly no tickets needed to enter landmarks
The Bad: Not much nightlife, little grocery shops, little in transport modes
Bagan is a province neighbouring Mandalay situated in the centre of Myanmar. Formerly known as Pagan, it is a popular destination due to the remaining (approx.) 2,000 ancient Buddhist pagodas, temples and monasteries said to 10,000 in the past. All temples have been damaged due to earthquakes however many more significant ones have been restored and improved. Nonetheless all standing temples and Pagodas as a collection make the beautiful landscape that is getting ever popular with tourism.
One of My Best Experience
I stayed in Bagan for a total of three days which like Siem Reap was advised as enough when visiting the region. There wasnt plenty to do in Bagan apart from visiting the temples, so choosing your hotel with a swimming pool or other activities is highly advised.
There are so many points of interest to visit and although there are not too many modes of transport there are various ways in which you can explore . There are tuk-tuk taxis but I didn’t see many, horse carriages are also available but I personally didn’t come across on how to avail these. Hotels usually offer free bike rentals where a deposit is required and the usual tours on buses or private cars are widely available. However the main mode of transport and one which I honestly thought was brilliant and made my holiday were the E-bikes. Renting these were very cheap on a daily rate and were incredible in roaming every single corner of the province, not to mention it was fun and the freedom was great.
Watching the Sun…
Firstly as a tourist the main thing to do in Bagan is to see the Sunrise and Sunsets which boasts to be one of the best in the world. There is not any one particular place to see/ watch these so you may want to do some research to find out the best spot, however the best spots can be very busy. Alternatively you can find a local who is willing to show you secret and beautiful locations which are less crowded, they don’t ask for money but you may need to buy a painting which isn’t too much, plus you will have a souvenir to bring home anyway.
The sunrises are popular for the panoramic scenery with a bonus of hot air balloons flying mid point of the sun’s rise. You may have to get up at 4am to find your spot and it may take up to 2 hours to see the full rise. The hot air balloon experience usually occurs during sunrise is around $300.
The Sunsets are similar and popular for its picturesque panoramic views. It happens around 5pm and takes a duration of 2 hours to see the whole set. After the sun is fully down some Pagodas light up giving bonus beauty to the dark landscape which may not be justified in photos.
Temples and Pagodas
Another thing to do in Bagan is to visit the temples but I will write a full in-depth blog about the temples and pagodas separately (link here coming soon).
Keeping temples and pagodas aside, old Bagan is particularly rich in other beautiful structures and architecture from its colonial era. Im not 100% sure what these buildings were, but it is easy to distinguish the difference to the normal old Burmese buildings
There are markets such as the Mani Sithu Market which you can visit, but although tourist do flock to see these, they are the local wet markets for local shoppers unlike the markets in Thailand, Hong Kong and others which are made for tourist appeal.
Other than these, all there is to do in Bagan is eat, relax and potentially meet people which is easy in Bagan. Swim if you have a pool in your hotel, hence strong advice to avail with a pool.
However a popular thing to do in Bagan is to take an excursion and one that I did do is to Mt Popa which is popular for its temple which is built on top of an extinct volcano. Before you arrive at the mountain attraction itself your driver would usually take you to a alcohol and sweet making place, aswell as a fruit market which is very interesting. They don’t force you into buying any products although they aren’t too expensive either way.
Mt Popa was beautiful, picturesque and panoramic especially from a distance. However be very careful of the monkeys as I was a victim of a monkey grabbing and stealing my glasses which I thought stories were exaggerated and it would never happen to me. However it does happen as it happened to me, although I did get my glasses back as locals do feed the monkey to try and lure the monkey back, after getting it they do ask for money but to my surprise was a very low amount. Climbing Mt Popa is easy you have to do this bare footed with the obstacles of very aggressive monkeys. At the top are beautiful views but in my opinion the temples themselves are less impressive compared to others around the region.
Overall Bagan was magnificent, I was right in my prediction that the province would rival Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat. It is a place which has surpassed my expectations and has challenged my personal list of best places visited. I love the region so much due to its beautiful landscape, friendly people, majestic temples and pagodas, strong culture but most importantly the freedom to roam. The fact you can grab an Ebike and ride around and stop at your leisure then walk around the temples with no queues, tickets or heavy security and restrictions are something of a dream. This is one point Bagan can boast that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
I believe Bagan is an up and coming powerhouse for mass tourism and I’m glad I have come at a time when it has not yet peaked. In my opinion Bagan and Myanmar overall deserves the attention of mass tourism, but I believe with the influx of crowds comes the deterioration of the experience I enjoyed. With heavier crowds the need for larger infrastructure and aspects like heavier ticketing posts, security, restrictions and others alike would takeaway the freedom to roam which was the defining factor for me which made it one of the best places I have ever visited.
Please read more in-depth blogs on temples and pagodas in Bagan (please click to read):