Exploring Bagan in Myanmar – Our Experience and Tips

One of the very first images of Burma I had ever seen was a photo of Bagan. Countless golden pagodas peering out over the tree line.

Hazy mist adding a mysterious ambiance to the scene. The sun breaking out above the horizon to cast its glow over the ancient city. I was mesmerised. I had to go there!

After our trek to Inle Lake, we made our way to Bagan and planned to give ourselves two days, three nights to explore the sites.

We arrived just in time for sunset. Along with two German girls we had met, we headed for the closest pagoda for our first glimpse of the iconic image I had in my mind.

There were two pagodas next to each other. One was taller than the other, but had on its top level a horde of tourists and hawkers.

Temples Day

We chose the smaller, empty one behind it. We removed our shoes and climbed and with each step our view grew larger.

Upon reaching the top we paused and stared around at the scene before us. It was exactly what I had seen in the photograph years before.

And it did not disappoint! We watched the sun set over the city and were so humbled by the scene that none of us spoke a word.

Temple Bike

The next morning we awoke at 5am and rented bicycles to get around the large complex faster.

With map in hand, we peddled in the night towards a pagoda in Old Bagan that a friend had recommended to us for sunrise.

We made it with time to spare and were pleased to discover no one else had ventured to this particular place for the morning.

With the pagoda to ourselves (which would become a common theme) we watched the beginning of a new day with the mist drifting in amongst the trees and the sun’s rays piercing through the clouds to the tops of the temples. An amazing moment.

The next two days were spent in much the same away: Riding our bicycles along the sandy roads to explore a plethora of stupas, pagodas and temples.

We did our exploring in the early morning and in the late afternoon, avoiding the midday heat by resting in our guesthouse as is the common thing to do.

We managed to visit as many of the major points-of-interest as we hoped to and they never ceased to impress.

Jazza With Monks

Throughout the two days of wanderings we did in Bagan, one particular moment stands out in our minds as our favourite.

During our second morning we had rode our bikes to two of the largest temples in Bagan. They were captivating, beautiful and filled with tourists, both foreign and Burmese.

We pulled out our map and saw that the North and South Guni pagodas were just around the back of the Dhamma-Yan-Gyi Pahto temple so we headed there to do some more exploring.

We reached the North Guni and found no one to be there. We walked around, ventured inside and wandered up the stairs to the top level.

When we walked onto the outside platform we were rewarded with the best view we had found of Bagan. We found a ledge protected by shade and laid down, letting the breeze cool our sweaty skin.

In the distance we heard Buddhist chanting and close by the only noise was of the birds singing. We spent the next one and a half hours laying in the shade, listening to the sounds of the ancient city.

We drifted in and out of sleep and allowed the mysticism of the 900-year-old temple to seep into our consciousness. We felt humbled and this experience alone made the mission to Bagan completely worth it.

During our month-long backpacking trip to Myanmar we had visited a huge array of temples and pagodas. We were always found to be in awe of these fascinating places of worship.

The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, in particular, was one of the most serene and breathtaking icons we had ever seen.

But still Bagan held a sense of wonder in my mind. After spending our time there, it holds more than a sense of wonder now. It holds a piece of my heart.

Sunset Temples
Buddha View

Tips For Bagan:

Accommodation: Winners Guesthouse – $20 air-conditioned double room with shared bathroom

Transport: Bicycles – $1.50 (you can rent e-bikes for between $5-10, but we felt traditional bikes were more our style. If you don’t like the idea of peddling in the immense heat, go for the e-bikes).

Food: $1.50-$3 – Bagan is more expensive than most of the other parts of Myanmar, but cheap rice and noodle dishes can still be found quite easily. Plenty of Western options if that is your thing.

Getting to Bagan: With Bagan getting busier and busier these days it’s best to pre-book your transport to get to the city. You can do so using the popular website, Bookaway.

Park Entry: $15. Note – We did not pay this and believe you shouldn’t either. We were pushed at the entrance gate to buy a ticket and we simply said we had bought one through our hotel. After a little bit of back-and-forth, the lady finally let us leave. We were never checked for our ticket, although we did avoid the more popular temples during the most popular times (sunrise and sunset). We didn’t meet anyone who had their tickets checked either, although we heard of some guesthouses asking people upon check-in to see their tickets. Winners never asked.

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Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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10 thoughts on “Exploring Bagan in Myanmar – Our Experience and Tips”

  1. Hello! I have a question on the park entry..would like to understand why we should not pay for this, so was it not official? I remember when I visited Angkor Wat, we really have to buy the ticket to get in.

    • This is to do with minimising the amount of money we give to the government. Controversial perhaps (if we were seriously worried about the atrocities being committed by the regime there at all we really wouldn’t travel to Myanmar), and possibly against a lot of people’s morals, but we didn’t feel bad avoiding the fees. Angkor Wat is harder to avoid, and strangely enough most of the profits from Angkor go to a private Vietnamese company.

  2. I wish I could make it there soon, absolutely amazing scenery and I’m a big fan of temples so yes, I can’t wait to explore it on the cheap next year!

    • You’ll have an absolute blast, Agness! Beautiful place. We averaged $23.50 a day each for the entire country. I’m sure you could do even better!

  3. We haven’t been to Bagan yet but it looks amazing! Lovely photos as well!
    We invite you to participate in the next edition of our Travel Photography Competition. Every week we publish 3 winning shots on our website and write a nice bio with a link to the photographers’ websites/FB/Flickr pages.
    Find more details here: https://hitchhikershandbook.com/your-contributions/travel-photography/
    Have a nice day!

    • Thanks for reading our post. Bagan is an amazing place. If you can get there on your hitchhiking adventure, we definitely recommend it!

      Cheers for the tip on your photography competition as well. Not sure if our pics are up to the standards you have submitted to you, but we’ll send a few in anyway. Thanks very much!

  4. Bagan was such a great place to visit! I too went for the regular bike and managed to explore the seemingly endless amount of temples for 4 full days. Unfortunately our first hotel made us buy the entrance ticket, which was only checked once a tourist sunset spot. That money could have been saved, but besides that, Bagan way simply amazing… 🙂

    • Four days! Wow you would of got to explore every nook and cranny almost! Did you have a favourite temple?

  5. Good choice with the traditional bicycles. The electric ones screwed us over because the battery depleted way too quickly.

    • Oh no, that would of been brutal! Especially if it happened in one of those real sandy trails!

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