With colorful hot air balloons lazily drifting over fog covered, ancient pagodas there are very few places on earth that can compare to the mystical city of Bagan, Myanmar.
A favorite stop for many travelers visiting Southeast Asia, Bagan, Myanmar truly is one of a kind. It boasts glorious sunrises, breathtaking culture, a plethora of restaurants and local eating establishments to keep you full and hydrated for weeks, and beautiful people who are happy to guide you through your visit.
But there are a few things you should know before visiting this ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar, which will guarantee you make the most of your time in the city and see the very best of Bagan, Myanmar.
Things You Should Do When Visiting Bagan, Myanmar
What To Do
If you’re like me sunrises are the Universes gift to us to remind us that each day is a fresh day to get things right! I’ve gotten up at the crack of dawn not to miss one in almost every country that I’ve visited.
The thing is…everyone who visits Bagan wants to see a sunrise from the top of one of the 2000+ ancient temples. I was no difference but with a touch of claustraphobia and a hatred for large crowds, I was not looking forward to wedging myself in an over crowded bus in the wee hours of the morning.
So, I did what I do best…I chatted up the locals and asked them where I could find a pagoda that wasn’t overflowing with tourists pushing and shoving thier way to the edge to get a first glimpse at the orange rays of the sun.
Almost every single person told me that I had to go to the Shwesandaw Pagoda.
The Shwesandaw pagoda is one of the taller pagodas in Bagan, it rises from the plains of Bagan and it’s 328 foot height can be seen from quite a distance.
It was built in 1057 by King Anawrahta, the founder of the Bagan Kingdom. It’s bell shaped stupa is topped with a golden multi tiered hti – an ornamental spire in the shape of a ceremonial umbrella found on most Burmese temples.
Shewesandaw pagoda is definitely the least crowded place to see the sunrise and I would recommend making it one of your must visit sites during your visit.
Hot Air Balooning
Many destinations around the world hold cliche activities that draw in the tourists like the plague. Bagan is no different and like seeing the Statue of Liberty in New York, participating in a hot air baloon ride in Bagan is something that many people book a trip to experience.
I’m one of those people who simply HATE the touristy activities and sites of any country and I stay away from them as much as possible.
If I’m required by my sponsors to participate for the sake of their brands, them I do it with 1000% professionalism and conviction. But it’s something I rarely choose to do on my own.
This was one of those things I definitely chose to do and would recommend anyone visiting Bagan not miss. Although a bit expensive (the average price runs about $380 USD) it is well worth every cent.
My recommendation is that you go for the trip with less people so you can move around and really see everything without getting elbowed or shoved by others.
It’s a one hour experience that you will never forget!
Cycle Around On An Electric Bike
Myanmar is doing it’s best to help reduce the footprint mass amounts of toursist leave each year by offering a greener option.
Exploring the temples, pagodas, and nearby towns with electric bikes, or e-bikes, available in Bagan is quite popular and you can find a place to rent them almost everywhere you look in the city.
Most hotels offer rentals but you’ll find the best prices in the little shops outside of the pagodas themselves. You’ll pay around $15.00 USD for a one day rental. (note: batteries don’t last much longer than 8 hours)
Renting one is a pretty straightforward deal and I wasn’t asked for anything but payment upfront. Of course each vendor might have a different policy so make sure to bring identification.
Eat Like A Local
As you all know, I’m a huge foodie. One of my passions is trying different cuisines and the food in Myanmar, specifically Bagan is amazing; especially if you get it from the locals cooking in the hundreds of eateries around the city.
Although you will find restaurants that serve all types of food the best local fare is from the streetside shops. The stalls come in all shapes and sizes from small spaces with nothing more than plastic seating and a cook to larger spaces offering a variety of dishes.
One of my favorite larger places was 7 Sisters Restaurant and my fave street stall was “Phat Tee Ma” in Yangon Chinatown. It was the name that drew me first, translated it means Big Fat Lady in Burmease.
Where To Stay
Regardless of your budget you’ll find there are enless places to stay in Bagan. From hostels to luxury resorts, the city offers something for everyone.
I haven’t stayed in most of the places that I’m mentioning here but I am listing them in order of budget…
Ever New Guest House
Located near the airport, the rooms are pretty basic comfortable and have everything you need. They also offer a free breakfast so it’s a great simple place to stay when all you need is a place to sleep at night.
Shwe Nadi Guest House
I’m mentioning this little gem because I was told that the service is amazing! Along with the free breakfast, they are located near cheap local food stalls. They also offer bike and care rentals if you want to go farther
I’m told the rooms are simple but clean and really comfortable and the prices run about $15.00 for a double with a shared bathroom.
Sky View Hotel
The exterior architecture of this hotel is perfect for the surrounding. They have a rooftop terrace that is wonderful for catching amazing views of Bagan. You can enjoy breakfast while watching the hot air balloons fly over or enjoy a sunset while enjoying a cool drink.
It’s located away from the heavy traffic and crazy crowds but near great street food and markets. It’s a traditional hotel with spacious rooms starting at $40.00 USD.
Ostello Bello Bagan
This hotel offers a variety of room types. You can find dorm style rooms, mid-range and expensive luxury type.
Located very near the famous pagodas and other local attractions the hotel boasts free breakfast, beverages, and pasta all day long! Prices start at $25.00 for a dorm bed.
Bagan Thande Hotel – Old Bagan
Located in the center of Bagan and very close to the airport this hotel is perfect for those who love to travel and stay in luxury. Perched on the banks of a river the hotel has beautiful riverside suites with balconies to enjoy the views.
Other amenities of the hotel are the outdoor pool, onsight restaurant, and traditional massage services at the in-house spa. A superior double room starts at $95.00 p/n)
Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort
In my opinion this resort is perfectly located in the middle of Old Bagan. It’s beautiful architecture resembles a temple making it a wondeful place to feel like you’ve gone back in time.
I’d recommend renting an e-bike and exploring the magical temples and idyllic Irrawaddy River which is actually within walking distance.
The hotel has everything you need for a luxurious stay including beautifully green gardens and a staff that is gregarious and attentive. (Prices start at $200 for a deluxe double room with a garden view)
You Might Not Want to Leave…
All in all, Bagan is a magical place to visit if you find yourself in Southeast Asia. It’s history and culture are just a few of the draws that keep travelers coming back for more.
It’s people are warm and full of smiles. Always willing to help and share the best about their country, Myanmar is definitely a place you should add to your travel bucket list.
Warning; Bagan, Myanmar will steal your heart. I can’t tell you how many people I heard of who had visited for a week, and ended up staying for months. It’s the kind of place that is impossible to pull yourself away from.
If, like me, you are a slow traveler and can stay for an extended amount of time, then I suggest you do? Time in Bagan can never be a waste of time.