If there is one place in Myanmar no tourist ever skips, it is Bagan. Admittedly, for a good reason. Nicknamed "The valley of a thousand temples", Bagan is glorious. A thriving capital city founded around the 9th century CE and destroyed by Mongol invaders in 1287 has left in its temporal wake the only buildings fire and time could not demolish: Buddhist pagodas, mainly made of brick (while everything else was wooden). The sunrise view of half-ruined but still sacred stupas receding in uneven rows into the morning mist is exceptional even in the fed-up, weary eyes of a savvy traveler. Many ancient temples are still functioning, with resident monks and daily streams of visiting pilgrims. And in between, where merchants and craftsmen once plied their trade, nowadays only farmers till dry, dusty fields, and lazy buffaloes graze under the sun. The territory is huge, and while the central part can be covered on foot in one or two hot, exhausting days to see every worthwhile ruin, one needs a bicycle - and a week of time. Alternatively, there are somewhat frantic tours squeezing all the best sights into one day with the help of a minivan.
The most revered temple in Bagan, Ananda Pahto, is full of activity, religious or otherwise, any time of the day. Four large Buddhas greet visitors on every side - come early or late in the day to catch beams of light falling on worshippers with the giant sculptures as a shaded background. Traders usually sit along the access pathway and provide some interesting photo ops - look for old grandmas smoking cheroots as big as their forearms.
Ananda Pahto, BaganAnawrahta Rd, ပုဂံမြို့ဟောင်း, Myanmar (Burma)
Those classical panoramas of ruined stupas lit by the setting sun - many of them have been photographed from here. This is the most popular spot for sunsets in Bagan and definitely the most crowded. The view is good, but perhaps coming here for sunrise instead would be a good way to beat the crowds - and to produce slightly more original shots. Keep in mind that this is a temple, not an observation tower - behave respectfully.
Shwesandaw Pagoda, Bagan5V78+GC8, Old Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)
Hot air balloon flight
One undeniably exciting but very costly way of viewing the famous Bagan sunrise is a hot air balloon flight. This is also the surest method to take aerial photographs since Burmese regulations for drone usage are unclear at best (the general rule is unless it is explicitly permitted, it is probably forbidden). Most tour agencies in Bagan can arrange a flight, but be prepared to cough out 120-200$, depending on the duration and the agent.
Serving the most popular tourist attraction in Myanmar, the central part of Bagan used to overflow with cheap accommodation. Everything changed after the junta's return to power. Nowadays, only a handful of hotels accept foreigners, and none is cheap. At the bottom end, there is a classical travelers' guesthouse at Ostello Bello, where the swimming pool might console you after paying twice as much as you would in Thailand for similar conditions. For a few more dollars, Royal Bagan offers slightly more polished looks, although all the practical amenities are more or less the same. At least getting there is just as easy as it used to be - buses connect Bagan with Mandalay, Yangon, and most other cities in Myanmar. Ah, and climbing some random old temple for those glorious panoramas is not much of an option anymore - it is now prohibited, and police patrols try to enforce the ban (although they are likely to turn a blind eye for a small bribe - or even take you to the best spot for a larger one).
We recommend to book your stays in Myanmar in advance as it can get booked up quickly during certain periods. If you use this link, you pay the same price and we get a small commission - thanks for your support!
Want to plan a trip here? Build your own hotel+flight package with Live The World, or reach out for personalized advice from one of our travel experts.
Are you ready to experience this story yourself?