Last Updated on November 10, 2019 by Soumya
If you know Myanmar, then you probably know that Bagan is a must-visit when in Myanmar. You have probably seen a picture of numerous early morning balloons floating over hundreds of ancient temples. And wondered where it was! Well, that was right here in Bagan, an ancient city in Central Myanmar. Home to more than 2000 temples in various states of repair and one of Myanmar’s interesting historical locations, Bagan welcomes you with open arms and smiling faces. I had dreams of going to Bagan ever since I had heard about it, which was like 10 years ago. And finally, it happened! We went. We saw. We loved. Bagan was a favorite. In this post, I intend to share some of the choicest experiences from our Bagan itinerary of 3 days.
Here come some of the unbeatable experiences from our Bagan itinerary.
I was thrilled when we arrived in Bagan. Thorough research on travel tips for Myanmar had revealed to me Bagan was the heart of this country. And with thousands of pagodas in ruins, it surely was for me. It was late in the evening when I entered the city and I could already feel a tingle in my spine at the sight of the pagoda silhouettes. Could not wait to wake up the next day and explore this wonderful city. Our Bagan itinerary consisted of all the beautiful temples of Bagan, some really yummy food, and some breathtaking sceneries. In this post, I take you through the highlights of my Bagan tour and the best things that we experienced there. It will also help you figure out your travel plan when you are here.
1. A Panoramic View of Bagan
First things first. Head to one of the accessible pagodas or viewpoints to get a panoramic view of Bagan. Home to more than 2000 pagodas of all size and kind, Bagan looks beautiful from a height. Temples mushroom out of nowhere and cover the entire horizon, as far as your eyes can go!
2. A Trip To Bupaya
The Bupaya Pagoda is the most revered in Bagan. It is located on the banks of the Irrawaddy which makes it important and respected in the Burmese culture. Apart from the godly reverence, I found Bupaya to be a great place to people-watch. This is probably the most crowded temple in Bagan and you can see people from all sections of the society going about their days, lost in devotion, relishing a delicious meal, or ordering someone around. I felt the nerve of Bagan at Bupaya. If you are a cultural traveler, you have to have this on your Bagan itinerary.
3. Homemade Icecream at Shwe Ou Food Garden
A trip to Bagan is pointless without a visit to this amazing restaurant, Shwe Ou, that sells some delicious homemade ice cream and coffee. Shwe Ou is run by two brothers, one of who lived abroad. He decided to come back and start his own restaurant with his brother. The whole family works together to keep the place neat, the food delicious, and the service fast. However, the Showstopper is definitely the list of homemade icecreams with a whole range of exotic flavors – durian, banana, coconut, mango, avocado, and much more. We had to go back a second time to satiate our desires for this delicious ice cream.
4. A Trip to Thatbyinnyu Temple
The Thatbyinnyu temple is one of the highest monuments on the plains of Bagan. It rises to a height of more than 60 meters and is definitely the most Instagrammable pagoda here. Whenever I close my eyes and think about Bagan, Thatbyinnyu is the first image that comes to my mind. It is toweringly pretty and makes a strong impression on a first-timer. Looking for some interesting pictures, don’t forget Thatbyinnyu!
5. Hiking Up A Pagoda
According to a recent report by Independent, climbing on a number of pagodas in Bagan has now been banned. However, a few are still open to hikes. You can see a broad white banner on pagodas that are closed to climbing. We are not the adventurous kind. Yet, we hiked up a couple because of the view that many of them offer. It can be difficult climbing up some of them because of steep and worn-out steps.
6. Balloons At Sunrise
A balloon ride in Bagan is often a must-do on many tourists’ travel plan. And for reasons rightfully so. Watching the sunrise in Bagan from a balloon can be rather mystical. The sheer number of temples in Bagan will amaze you. You can glide down closer to the pagodas to get a more detailed look from above. It is equally mystical (sometimes even a little more) to stand atop a pagoda and watch the balloons float towards you against a backdrop of the rising sun.
7. The Leaning Pagoda
The Leaning Pagoda of Bagan is definitely the best-kept secret of Bagan. Not many people know about it. And, it is barely talked about in Bagan travel guides. It is probably one of those unusual things to do in Bagan. I found it quite an interesting addition to our itinerary. The pagoda leans away from all other temples nearby. Not sure if it was constructed that way or the earthquake of 2016 forced it to be so. The pagoda gives us the impression that it is willing to slip away from the nearby one while still strongly holding on to the ground beneath itself. No one knows why!
8. Murals of Bagan
Over 300 temples in Bagan possess beautiful murals on their walls, many of which are in a good state because of the lack of light inside the temples. A lot, however, has been damaged because of the recent earthquake and heavy rains. The murals are believed to date as far as the 11th century AD when the temples were built. These paintings usually depict the life story of Buddha and those of his previous births. If you are an art lover, you must add them to your schedule in Bagan.
Some of the temples where you can still see some pretty murals are the Ananda Paya, Gubyaukgyi Temple, Abeyadana Temple, and Thambula Temple.
9. Deep-Fried Shrimp
Food in Myanmar is delicious and nothing beats having some deep-fried shrimp in front of an ancient pagoda in Bagan. We first noticed these pretty little things in hordes in front of the Bupaya Pagoda. And could not resist having one. And then as the jingle goes, “No one can eat just one!” We did not find these beauties anywhere else in Myanmar, so chomp on them as long as you are here.
10. Tall Buddhas of Ananda Pagoda
Ananda Pagoda is yet another beautiful and well-preserved temple. A must-do when you are visiting Bagan. It has a gilded shikara on the top which is visible from miles away. The temple houses 4 magnificent images of Buddha, standing 9.5 meters tall and facing in 4 different directions. They are representations of Buddhas that attained nirvana. The temple also contains terracotta plaques with Jataka tales painted on them.
11. Sunset in Bagan
Viewing a sunset in Bagan is a big affair. Crowds flock in hordes to stand atop one of these pagodas to watch the sun going down the horizon behind a cluster of ancient temples. The sky turns a beautiful orange after which it goes pink and purple. It was a breathtaking sight. Bulethi Paya is especially crowded and is also one of the few on which climbing is still allowed. We went there a couple of hours before sunset, yet had difficulty finding the perfect spot. So make sure you get there early equipped with water and food.
12. Baganese Souvenirs
And last but, definitely, not the least. Get some Baganese souvenirs to remind yourself of your trip to this amazing place. Paintings, bells, Burmese puppets, and colorful longyis (traditional Burmese dress): you will find all of them here. But before you buy them, make sure you do your bit of haggling. You will be surprised at how much prices can drop. Start around 30% of the rates that they quote and the vendor will probably agree at 50. I have heard others do better!
How To Get To Bagan
The easiest way to get to Bagan is to take a direct flight from one of the bigger cities, Yangon or Mandalay. There are quite a few non-stop options from these places to the Bagan Nyaung U Airport. Flights can take between 30 – 60 minutes. However, it is not the cheapest option.
If you are on a budget, you may want to use the Myanmar Volvo buses which are inexpensive yet reliable. They usually have reclining chairs and are comfortable enough for night travel. They will provide you with a small blanket to cover up during the travel but it is usually not sufficient if you are like reasonably tall. So get your own. The buses stop in between for refreshments at major bus stands. Also, read about my interesting experience at one of these bus stands.
Alternately, you can also take a private taxi from Mandalay to Bagan. This is a comfortable option if you have kids with you. The journey takes around 4-5 hours and you can stop at will for refreshments.
Looking for places to stay in town? Read our post on Best Places to stay in Bagan.
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit Bagan is between November – February when there is a slight nip in the air and temperatures are lower than the rest of the year. It is far less humid too. Additionally, the ballooning season in Bagan starts in mid-October and goes on till April which makes winter the perfect time to visit. Because the winds are calmer, you can float closer to the pagodas. Winter also brings with it a wonderful haze that envelopes the entire archaeological park. So if you want those misty pictures, winter is the best time to get them!
Read our post on Best time to visit Myanmar to plan your trip to the country.
These were some of my memorable experiences from my journey to Bagan. I would really want to go back there again and have some homemade ice cream at Shwe Ou or watch another beautiful sunset.
How about you? Have you been to Bagan? How long did you spend there? What were some of the interesting fixtures in your Bagan itinerary? Did I miss some of those here? Let me know in the comments and we can get the conversation going.