The ancient city of Bagan is located pretty much in the center of Myanmar along the Irrawaddy river. During the 11th to 13th centuries over 10,000 temples, pagodas, and monasteries were built in the plains, of those about 2,2000 still stand today. The old city is now an archaeological zone and an amazing place to explore.
We got into New Bagan early in the morning after taking an overnight bus from Yangon which put us in the ancient city before the sun came up. We managed to get to our hostel, the Ostello Bello and were able to nap on benches and chairs while we waited for our check in time. The Ostello Bello hostel is right in the middle of town, with restaurants all around and a quick and easy ride to Old Bagan.
Exploring Bagan Myanmar
The first thing to do is rent an eBike. There are bike rental spots all over New Bagan, and conveniently, there was one right next door to the hostel. EBikes are electric automatic scooters, they are super easy to ride and make getting around to all the temples and pagodas way easier than pedal biking or trying to take a taxi.
The best advice I have is to just go ride around and explore. On our first day in Bagan, after a solid nap, we rented eBikes and just cruise around. Take the main road down to Old Bagan and pull off the road at any and all pagodas and temples. There are plenty of buildings right on the main road, but you’ll find a lot more once you get off the road and onto the dirt paths that wind through the countryside.
Easy packing list for a Myanmar adventure
Temples of Bagan
Temples for Sunrise
Sunrise in Bagan is a big deal, mostly because watching the sun come up over the valley silhouetting the pagodas in that awesome pink-y light is beautiful and makes for an awesome photo op.
So now that you’ve spent a day cruising around checking out temples you probably have a good idea of what to expect. For sunrise you will want a temple that is at least two stories tall and has a good eastern facing side to get up onto.
Some of the more popular temples for sunrise are:
- Buledi (Bulethi)
These temples are awesome and beautiful and perfect for sunrise. That also means everyone wants to go to them and they end up being pretty crowded. We found that scouting out a few good spots at smaller temples and pagodas the day before worked out well. You definitely want to have a plan and destination in mind for sunrise because you’ll be heading out in the dark, and you’ll want to be situated where you want to be by the time the sun starts peaking up.
I don’t know the name of the pagoda where we watched the sunrise, or if it even had a name, but it worked for us.
Temples for Sunset
Sunset tends to be an even bigger deal than sunrise, mostly because you don’t have to wake up at O-dark-thirty to see it. As with the sunrise, you want to make sure the pagoda or temple you watch from is tall enough to see the view, and there is a good west facing area to view from.
The more popular spots for sunset are:
- North Guni
- Lay Myet Hnar
Again, these spots are awesome, making them popular and crowded a lot of the time. I believe Pyathadar allows tour busses now, so that is something to consider. We had better luck adventuring a bit farther out into the country to find less populated pagodas for sunset. One thing to remember for sunset is to bring a headlamp or flashlight for when it gets dark. Climbing down the steep and skinny stairways can be difficult in the dark.
The Key Master
For our last sunset in Bagan we rode pretty far out in search of the perfect pagoda to hang out on. Rob and our friend Tommy, whom we’d met at the hostel, stumbled upon a beautiful but locked pagoda. So they set about finding the Key Master.
A Key Master is sort of the guardian of the pagoda or temple, they take care of it and hold the keys to the gates. They usually live nearby and the position of Key Master is passed down through a family. Rob and Tommy were able to find the Key Master for the pagoda. He was a young friendly guy about our age.
We were able to watch an amazing sunset from the ledges of the pagoda by ourselves. After the sun went down we went and found him again to let him know we were leaving so he could lock up, and we ended up hanging out and talking with him for a while. I even bought a couple of his paintings.
What to know about traveling in Myanmar
If you aren’t templed out yet, definitely take a day trip out to Mt. Popa. Atop an almost 5,000 ft volcano sits a temple complex filled with Buddhist relics and a lot of monkeys. After climbing the something like 800 stairs up to the top you’ll get great views of the valley below and you can wander through the many rooms of relics, plaques, and mini golden stupas.
There are monkeys all over the place. They are on the stairs and hanging around viewing areas, and if you don’t bother them they won’t bother you. The little ones seemed friendly enough, but I was sure to steer clear of the big alpha males.
There is so much to explore in and around Bagan, so hop on your little eBike and head out in any direction. You’re sure to find good views and friendly people.
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