Out of all the destinations in Myanmar, Bagan is the place that we were most excited to see. Don’t get me wrong, we were definitely excited to try the street food in Yangon, explore the beautiful city of Mandalay, and experience the unique culture of Inle Lake. But for some reason, we were extra excited to visit Bagan.
It turns out, we aren’t alone in our desire to visit this historic destination. Bagan is among the most visited places in all of Myanmar. And if you’ve ever seen pictures of Bagan, this should come as no surprise. The landscape is chalk full of beautiful temples, ranging vastly in size and design.
Because the area is so popular, there’s a lot you need to know before your trip to Bagan. We put together this post as a one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about traveling to Bagan. Hopefully, it answers all your questions! And if you have any additional questions, feel free to comment below and let us know.
Travel Guide to the Temples of Bagan, Myanmar
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Brief History of Bagan
Bagan is an ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Myanmar. It is situated in Myanmar’s Mandalay region, about 180 km southwest of the city of Mandalay. Bagan is a city of great historical significance, with many of the temples dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries.
Formerly known as “Pagan,” Bagan was once the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan. Under this kingdom, the regions were unified that today constitute the modern country of Myanmar.
It was also under the Kingdom of Pagan that Theravada Buddhism was established in the region. This is important, because all the temples that you will see in Bagan are Buddhist temples.
There were once over 10,000 temples in Bagan. Today, just over 2,000 of these temples still stand. These temples are located in a region known as the Bagan archaeological zone, which covers an area that is 13×8 kilometers.
How To Get To Bagan
If you’re planning a trip to Bagan, chances are your journey will start in Mandalay. This is the nearest large city. Mandalay is also exceptionally beautiful, so make sure you check out some of the wonderful things to do in Mandalay before making your way over to Bagan.
There are a couple ways to get from Mandalay to Bagan. The cheapest and most common way is by taking the bus. You can book your bus tickets through your hotel, or you can buy your bus ticket online here.
Another way to get from Mandalay to Bagan is by taking a river cruise. This is more expensive, albeit more scenic and enjoyable way to travel. You can easily get a bus ticket for around $10 USD per person, whereas a cruise ticket will be around $30-$40 USD per person.
Bagan Entrance Fee
Yeah, you read that right. Unfortunately, there is a somewhat hefty entrance fee in order to see the temples of Bagan. When entering the area, you’ll be stopped at a toll booth where all foreigners must pay $20 USD per person to enter the area.
Make sure they give you a ticket when you pay. The ticket is good for 5 days, so you can explore the temples for multiple days if you’d like. The ticket is good for every single temple in the area, so don’t believe any of the scammers that might try to get you to pay an additional fee for some of the more popular temples.
We explored a ton of temples, and no one ever asked to see our ticket even once. It’s probably because they have the toll booth set up so that you can’t even enter the area without stopping to pay the fee.
Also, note that the entrance fee booth is when you enter Bagan (not necessarily the temples). We were stopped during our cab ride from the bus station to our hotel. It surprised us that we had to pay when we weren’t even going to see the temples until the following day. Just note that this is going to happen.
Map of Bagan
As you can see, there is a staggering number of temples and pagodas in Bagan. The best way to see the area is to pick a few temples that you definitely want to see, and just drive around and explore.
A few of the most popular temples are the Ananda Temple, Shwezigon Temple, Htilominlo Temple, and the Manuha Temple.
We’ll get into the specifics of how to transport yourself from temple to temple in the next section.
How To Explore The Temples of Bagan
One of the coolest things about Bagan is the insane number of pagodas. Bagan has the largest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas and stupas in the entire world. There are over 2,000 left still standing, so it’s pretty much impossible to see them all.
Since there are so many temples, pagodas and stupas, they are spread out over a fairly large area. This means you will likely need to book a tour, or rent a bike. We highly recommend renting a bike, because it’s cheaper, plus it gives you more flexibility to explore the area at your own pace.
We rented an e-bike (like a motorbike, only it’s electrically charged) for 8,000 kyat ($5.79 USD) from our hotel for the entire day. There are e-bike rental stands everywhere, so don’t worry about finding a place to rent an e-bike from. They’re seriously all over the place.
Also, the climate in Bagan is very hot during the day, with cooler nights. This means it’s in your best interest to wake up early to see the temples. We got up at sunrise to start exploring them, and we are so glad that we did. By 11 AM, it was already starting to get extremely hot. We’d recommend getting up at 6 AM, so you can start exploring the temples by no later than 7 AM.
Where To Stay In Bagan
Bagan has three main areas where you can stay: Old Bagan, New Bagan, and Nyaung U.
Old Bagan is the area where many of the temples are pagodas are. There are some hotels here, but it’s definitely a more expensive area to stay in because of its close proximity to the temples.
New Bagan is the area where most tourists stay. It’s where a bunch of hotels have cropped up, and there is also a good bit of decent restaurants in this area. We stayed in New Bagan at the Shwe Poe Eain Hotel. It definitely wasn’t anything fancy, but the price was great and they had a pool and breakfast included.
Nyaung U is the administrative township located about 4 km from Old Bagan. This is where most buses arrive, but apart from that, there isn’t much reason for you to stay in this area.
Best Restaurants in Bagan
Adjust your expectations when it comes to food in Bagan. You’re coming to this area for the beautiful ancient temples, not because of its world renowed culinary prowess. That’s not to say that there aren’t good restaurants, but most of the places you’ll eat at are fairly basic and offer the same limited range in dishes.
That being said, we did find a few hidden gems in Bagan that we really recommend eating at.
Fantasia Garden is located on a cliff alongside the Irrawaddy River, giving it the most spectacular views. The food isn’t anything special here, but the homemade lemonade is super delicious. You can also pick up a boat here to do a sunset cruise on the river.
We also had dinner at The Moon (2) Be Kind To Animals one night and loved the food and the atmosphere. It’s a vegetarian restaurant with a zen candlelit outdoor eating and a cute gift shop. The veggie burger and pineapple curry were to die for.
What To Pack for Bagan
Myanmar is an intimidating country to pack for…especially for Westerners. It’s such a different country than what we’re used to. So if you’re struggling to come up with what to pack, don’t worry. You’re not alone!
We’ve been traveling full-time for almost a year so at this point, we are pretty much packing experts. Here are a few things that we are so glad that we brought to Myanmar.
- LifeStraw Water Bottle: The water in Myanmar is not safe to drink. This means you can either purchase plastic water bottles everywhere you go (which is expensive and terrible for the environment). OR you can get a Lifestraw Water Bottle which has an awesome filter that allows you to drink the tap water (or any water for that matter). Order it on Amazon here.
- Anker Portable Battery Charger: It’s so hard to find outlets in Myanmar. And we can’t risk our phones dying on a long travel day. That’s why we love the Anker portable battery charger. It can charge your smart phone up to 7 times. It’s saved our butts so many times. Get it here.
Check out these 17 Things That We Can’t Travel Without for some other ideas.
Bagan is one of the most special places that we have visited during our travels. It has so much history and it’s so spectacular to see. Remember that the locals consider Bagan to be one of the holiest places in Myanmar, so treat all the temples with the utmost respect.
It was really special to see a place with so much religious meaning to the Burmese people. It’s well worth a visit for anyone traveling to Myanmar.
To capitalize on your time in Myanmar, we also recommend checking out our post on 9 Amazing Things To Do In Mandalay, Myanmar. It’ll help you plan your time in this equally beautiful and historical city. Happy travels!
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