Bagan in Myanmar is a history buffs dream. Located in the centre of the country and along the Irrawaddy river, Bagan is divided into New Bagan and Old Bagan. While everyone flocks to Siem Reap in Cambodia, lesser known Bagan was built between the 9th and 13th centuries and boasts over 2400 pagodas and temples. With villages surrounding the ruins, the locals go about their daily lives of farming around the archaeological structures that surround their land.
Getting There & Away
Visas are required to enter Myanmar. With the recent introduction of the e-visa, it makes the application process much easier and certainly quicker.
Bagan is accessible from different cities such as Mandalay, Yangon, Inle Lake and depending on where you are arriving from, you can fly, take the train or bus. I flew from Yangon to Bagan and cost $105USD. There are many airlines that fly this domestic route, but beware that if there is any bad weather the airports will close, especially during the rainy season. I had done a lot of research prior to arriving in Myanmar and had read that the train was rickety and can take up to 20 hours. The bus is a cheaper option than flying but I didn’t want to sit on an overnight bus.
There is a $20USD archaeological permit required to be purchased on arrival into Bagan. I was asked for my permit only once at Shwe San Daw being one of the more popular pagodas.
The best way to see the sites of Bagan is by hiring an e-bike. I had read so much about the e-bikes before arriving and expected an electric bicycle, but they are actually electric scooters. They cost between 6000 and 8000 Kyat ($6-8) per day depending on the size and where you hire the bike from. Make sure you get a bike that isn’t old and the brakes work properly.
Private Taxis range in price from 20,000 to 60,000 Kyat for the day but you definitely would miss out on a more local experience by taking a taxi.
Must See Pagodas and Temples
With over 2000 pagodas how can you possibly decide which ones to see. Firstly choose a few of the main temples and pagodas: Ananda Temple, That-byin-nyu Temple, Dhammayangyi, Shwezigon to name a few. After visiting the main temples, it’s time to buy a map and get off the beaten track. Get lost on the dirt roads and you will not see another tourist in sight.
Sunrise is best seen from Shwe San Daw, with all of the other tourists. From here you can see the hot air balloons floating over the nearby pagodas. If you want to get away from the masses, try Shwe Gu Gyi for sunrise and Oak Kyaung Gyi for sunset. If the gate is closed to the narrow staircase, there will be a gatekeeper nearby that will be able to open it for you.
Costing well over $300 USD this was well out of my budget even though the views over the temples are spectacular. There are three hot air ballon companies; Balloons over Bagan, Oriental Ballooning, and Golden Eagle Ballooning, with the prices range from $320 to $380 USD. The hot air balloon season generally runs from October 1 to March 31 as the skies will be clear and the temperature is cooler.
While I was in Bagan it rained the whole time. It did not stop me from exploring but I would definitely like to go back when the weather is better. With the bad weather, none of the flights were taking off or landing when I left Bagan and I was fortunate enough to make my connecting flight back to Australia (via Kuala Lumpar).