If you’re looking for the top things to do in Bagan or you’re planning to stay in Bagan for a few days and haven’t got a clue what’s going on there, you’re in the right place!
And if you’re also looking for the best info on Yangon and Inle, then look no further!
After a picturesque flight on a 15-seater plane from Yangon, I could already tell I was in for a photographic treat.
As you fly in from the south, the highlight of the view quickly changes from the meandering Ayerwaddy River to the scattering of brick temples across the breadth of the green, wooded landscape.
Upon touching down, I received the quickest baggage handling service in world history – literally straight off the plane and into your hands.
So in saving the usual 30 minutes waiting for my stuff, I was straight out to the front hall where you’ll be asked to pay a one-time Archeological Zone Fee of USD20.
From there, it’s straight into a taxi, which should cost you somewhere between 3,000-5,000 Kyat to get to your accommodation.
Hire A Tour Guide
Bagan is a pretty big place, with its 2000 temples and all. So it can be easy to get overwhelmed and give up half way down the road on your e-bike.
Because of this, I highly recommend hiring a tour guide for the day.
You’ll find that, although you can order one from your hotel, most of the tour guides will actually spruik their wares to you from the front passenger seat of the taxi you pick from the airport.
Although this might sound confronting at first, they are very kind, non-pushy and simply offer themselves up as a package deal with the taxi driver you just used after giving you a bit of a free taster along the way.
The going rate for a tour guide for the day is 30,000 kyat (USD$25) plus 35,000 kyat for your taxi driver. This will give you and your companions (up to 3 of you in the back seat) exclusive access to them from 8am all the way to after sunrise.
Good deal, huh?!
Not only does your tour guide know the best temples to go to away from the Chinese tour buses, he’ll also take you through the markets, show you through a real lacquerware factory, point out the safe lunch spots, and get you backstage access to the monasteries where you can see the children training.
Top Things To Do In Bagan
Hot Air Balloon Ride
For the luxury traveller, or someone who wants to tick this off their bucket list, a balloon ride at sunrise over the temples of Bagan takes the cake.
Eastern Safaris, who operate hot air balloon tours across the world, run Balloons over Bagan, which is your number one option for a tour like this here in Bagan.
For USD$360 per person, you’ll be picked up from your hotel at 5am, and taken to the launch site in the centre of the temple hotspot, where you can enjoy champagne breakfast and the best view in Myanmar.
E-bike around town
For a bit of fun, and an economical and fun way to get around, you have the option of hopping on an e-bike.
They’re everywhere here in Bagan.
Essentially, they’re a fully-electric moped running on batteries, which helps to keep the town nice and quiet.
Just don’t run out of batteries half way home.
At USD$2-an-hour, it’s definitely within everyone’s budget.
Temple at sunrise
A sunrise temple experience is very unique; not many people get up to enjoy it.
Unlike sunset, it’s easy to find a temple with a good view (that isn’t the big shiny one), sit back, and sit in peace as the sun rises over the mountain ridge and the balloons float above you.
I recommend taking an e-bike to get where you want to go.
Remember, the sun rises in the east, so you want a to get to a nice east-facing vantage point on the west side of the temple zone.
Temple at sunset
Sunset is a different story.
Sunset offers a beautiful view of the moon to the east and orange hues across the Ayerwaddy River to the West.
Take your pick…
My biggest tip of advice here is to think of this like going to Manhattan: if you want the best view, don’t go to the Empire State Building. Instead, go to the Rockerfeller and take a photo of the Empire State instead.
You know what I mean…
Bagan, and it’s monasteries, play home to thousands of monks, which is a testament to the overwhelming Buudhist culture in the region.
For me, there is nothing more intriguing than observing such a lifestyle, and appreciating the discipline and sacrifice required.
As a part of my day tours with my guide, we went to a number of monasteries around town.
Some were schools, which gave me beautiful insights into the life of a young training monk. Some were relics of past times curated by just a handful of monks who called it called.
Regardless of the destination, I learned something new each time, and got to take some really beautiful photos.
The local markets in Bagan are a chaotic mess at the best of times. The streets are filled with horse-drawn carts, tractors posing as trucks, taxis, and locals on foot.
But it all seems to work.
In the canopied marketplace, you’ll find every local ingredient and cuisine imaginable, most of which sent my stomach south, and some I questioned wasn’t used to kill enemies.
You can also pick up your toy guns, stools, fabrics, hats, soaps stolen from hotels, and medication as you please.
Mount Popo is the first thing you see as you fly in from Yangon.
It’s the mountain ridge I’ve been referencing.
There’s a nice temple up there, and a bunch of monkeys.
But the view is what you’re after.
If you don’t get yourself in a hot air balloon, I recommend heading to the top of the mountain instead. Your guide can get you up there by taxi.
The Ayerwaddy is the lifeblood of the western side of Myanmar. It snakes from north to south and shapes Bagan as it goes.
With it’s creamy, brown sedimentary tinge, it’s no Plitvice Lakes. But it’s an important thoroughfare for Myanmar trade, and a major water source for it’s people.
Once you’ve gotten over the Egyptian pyramid-like amazement at how this ancient kingdom built so many of these temples as large and impressively as they did, you’ll start to appreciate the little things.
And one of the most impressive small things is the country’s lacquerware.
Made from bamboo, and then put through eight one-week lacquering treatments using local glues and oils, each cup or plate, bangle or desk, is a piece of individual art in itself.
I highly recommend heading to an authentic workshop for a behind-the-scenes look at the amazing skill and patience it takes to create these things.
Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride!
- Have you ever been to Bagan?
- Thinking of booking a trip but not sure what to do?
- Ask any question you want and it will be answered!