Bagan is the old kingdom of Myanmar and is considered to be one of the most significant archaeological sites of South East Asia. It is located in the Mandalay region and it is a 3-hour drive from Mandalay airport. It is one of those special places where you can wander around and marvel at all of the ancient relics and almost imagine the original inhabitants walking around you centuries ago. Between the 11th and the 13th centuries more than 10,000 pagodas and temples were built and out of which more than 2,000 monuments remain today in various state of repair. After visiting Bagan, we could easily understand why it must be on everyone’s bucket list.
Top Things to See and Do in Bagan
Visit As Many Temples As You Can
Visit as many temples and pagodas as you like. There are some which are more famous such as the Ananda temple or the Shwesandaw pagoda but there are many more to choose from. You can also just hire a bicycle or a guide and go explore the less known pagodas that are located all over the compound. Be aware that some of them were damaged in the earth quake in 2016 and therefore some might be closed or under renovations.
Watch The Sunset/Sunrise From One Of The Temples
One of the top things to do in Bagan is watching the sunrise and sunset while sitting on top of one of the pagodas. At the risk of sounding like a cliche, it is truly a special experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Most people choose to watch the sunset from the top of the Shwesandaw pagoda. There will be many people around, so make sure to come early in order to have a good viewpoint.
To watch the sunrise you would need to wake up as early as 4:00 or 5:00 am (depending on the season) but it is absolutely one of the best sights we have ever seen and we strongly recommend this experience. We climbed up rows of very high and steep steps with a flashlight and were surprised to find so many people already at the top (at around 5 am). Just imagine watching the sunrise over the ancient temples while feeling the sun warming your face and listening to the birds welcoming you to a brand new day. And then when you think things can’t get any better, dozens of hot-air balloons can be seen from the distance, and all you have to do is hold your camera and click away to try and capture the breath-taking sight of the balloons among the temples or just enjoy this once-in-a-life-time magnificent sight.
A Ride In A Hot-Air Balloon
Take a ride in a hot-air balloon at sunrise (we didn’t do it but for a lot of people it is the highlight of the visit). Make sure to reserve a place in advance.
Visit The Family-Owned Factories
There are a few family-owned factories you can visit in the area such as a fan-maker factory, soy bean paste factory and the more commercialized lacquer factory that provides an in-depth explanation about the process. There you can also find a huge shop with various lacquer items to buy.
Enjoy The Special Atmosphere
Just relax and enjoy this small town with its many boutique hotels and great restaurants. We had a day and a half here so we had little time to relax and enjoy the charms of the town and our hotel. However, many visitors choose to stay here longer and during the hottest hours of the day take a long break and relax in the hotel’s pool with a nice cocktail. You can always go back to your Indiana Jones adventures in the afternoon.
We stayed at the lovely Areindmar Hotel and loved its cozy feeling and small relaxing pool, but there are plenty of hotels in this area. We had one of our best meals in Bagan and you are welcomed to read all about it in our Bagan travel story.