One of the typical images that comes to mind, thinking of Myanmar, are the sunrises and sunsets where the air is filled with hot air balloons overlooking the hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of temples. Some of them built in the 11th century. Some are well maintained, some are tumbledown relics overgrown by grass. The earlier buildings were built near the riverbank. And there are not only temples, you'll find hundreds of stupas and monasteries as well as image houses, libraries and ordination halls. They were built by members of succeeding families and were patronized by the nobility and elite. The temples reflect a variety of building styles, often incorporating architectural details from regions of eastern India and across Burma. It is a magical place that you can not skip when visiting Myanmar.
We came with the VIP nightbus from Inle Lake. We got picked up at our hotel at 7 pm and after a really comfortable ride: lots of space, chairs that could be pulled all the way back and equipped with blankets a toothbrush and a swipe for the cost of 18.000 Kyat (a 'normal' bus is 11.000 Kyat p.p.), we arrived way earlier then expected. We were told to arrive around 6 am, but after one pitstop for food of 30 minutes ,we arrived at the Bagan Shwe Pyi Bus Terminal at 3 am! What to do then? We didn’t want to go to our guesthouse, because than we had to pay for the night and the whole reason for traveling during the night is not having to pay for accommodation as well. But a taxi driver came up to us with an incredible idea: ‘I'll bring you to the temples for sunrise and after that to your hotel’. We never thought of that but that’s probably the reason why there were so many taxi drivers waiting for the busses to arrive in the middle of the night.
We got into the taxi and headed for Bagan, but before we could get to climb the pagoda’s and see the sunrise, we first had to pay the high entrance fee of 25.000 Kyat p.p. These people also work at night and we think every road which goes into Bagan is secured so there is no way of avoiding this.
After an amazing sunrise with not more then 6 people at the Bule Thi Pagoda, we headed to our guesthouse in New Bagan. The taxi costed us in total 20.000 Kyat for 3 persons.
In the morning of our arrival we had a simple and cheap breakfast at a restaurant next to the Black Rose Nr 1. We had some kind of Roti and vegetable samosas. The two nights we were in town, we ate at the Black Rose NR 1 and the Black Rose NR 2. Both are very nice and not that expensive.
We booked our room ahead and stayed at Bagan Nova in New Bagan. A nice place, but a bit strange. The room is clean, the beds are fine, the aircon is working, so no problems there. The shower wasn’t really strong but we won’t complain about that. And the breakfast is pretty good to. And you can check in around 10 am. The weird thing about this place are the owners/staff. They are really friendly, but don’t really get it.
We asked about the prices for the e-bikes and they were asking way more than the people along the street. So we told them. They lowered their price, but it was still higher and we still said no. About 30 minutes later, they knocked on our door and lowered the price again. At the end, when there was only 1 dollar difference, we said yes because we rather rent at our guesthouse than somewhere along the street. We paid 5.000 Kyat for the e-bike for 24 hours.
However, if you stay at Ostello Bello in New Bagan which is a good place if you want to meet other people and where you get pasta for free during the day, it is probably better to rent across the street. There is a stall there where you rent the e-bike really cheap, it is even including free laundry.
** You can find them on booking.com
The only reason for us to visit Bagan, was to see the temples. We probably didn’t even see 1% of all the temples, but what we saw was really beautiful. Unfortunately a lot of them are damaged due to earthquakes but they are working hard to restore them. It was so much fun to drive around on a e-bike and see all these spectaculair and old buildings. We saw the sunrise and sunset at the very popular Shwe San Daw Pagoda. This pagoda is flat on top and this way you can walk around. When going for sunrise and you want to beat the Chinese people, you should arrive before 5.15 am, then you will have a good spot. After this time busloads of people will come to see the sunrise here. The sunset is very popular as well.
The top 6 temples we visited and recommend visiting are:
For a detailed map of the Bagan area and the Pagoda's, check this link.
Unfortunately the hot air balloons didn't go up when we were there. The season for it is from the first of October till the 31st of March and it is not cheap. A ride is about € 275,- but people who did it, say it's worth it. We didn't plan on doing this anyway, but we would have liked seeing them floating above the temples.
Note: when visiting the temples, respect the culture. Cover your knees and shoulders and take of your footwear. The temples are hola. We saw quite some girls/women wearing shorts and tanktops. If you want to gain some extra respect as a man, wear a longyi. This is the typical Myanmar skirt for man and they love it when you wear it.