The spectacle of their towers and finials bristling from the table of flat scrubland is hypnotic at any time of year, but especially so on mid-winter mornings, when river mist and cooking-fire smoke often enfolds the brick and stucco structures, glowing red in the first rays of daylight. Bagan is huge. At the height of the tourist season, between mid-December and late January, droves of visitors converge via a maze of dusty footpaths and cart tracks on the more famous viewpoints to savour this exotic spectacle.
But you can easily sidestep the crowds by venturing a short way off-piste. Wherever you wander, though, glimpses of exquisitely proportioned stupas and temple towers are guaranteed, along with swirling Jataka murals in beautiful earthy red hues, and meditating Buddhas in dimly lit shrine chambers. The majority of visitors spend at least two days and three nights at Bagan, but you could conceivably spend double that here without re-tracing your own footsteps.
Begin at Old Bagan, the walled city enclosing the largest concentration of monuments, and work your way clockwise around the Zone from there.
Unmissable locations include the enigmatic Dhammayangyi Temple , the best-preserved monument on the site, the delicately shaped Ananda Temple , with its four teak Buddhas, and the frescoes in the Upali Thein and Abeyadana Temple. One of the great experiences of any trip to Bagan is climbing a pagoda to view the sun rise or set on the temples and surrounding plain. But in , in response to the wear and tear on delicate stairways and terraces, tourists were banned from climbing any of the monuments.
The only exceptions seem to be the Shwesandaw itself, still freely accessible, and a few outlying temples. Local horse-cart drivers know which places remain open. The ultimate way to see Bagan, however, has to be from the air, from one of the hot-air balloons that drift over the ruins each morning and evening. Deeply concerned about his karma for future lives after having murdered his father and brother, Narathu built the Dhammayangyi intending to atone for his misdeeds.
BAGAN ON A BUDGET: Travel Guide & Itinerary | The Poor Traveler Itinerary Blog
It is today the best-preserved temple in Bagan, with a layout similar to that of the Ananda but lacking the delicate, harmonious touch of its prototype. The brickwork and masonry, however, are without equal. Local legend asserts that Narathu oversaw the construction himself and that masons were executed if a needle could be pushed between the bricks they had laid. The building, however, was never completed. Overwhelmed by the beauty of the vision, the king immediately decided to build a replica of this snowy abode at Bagan and is said to have been so awe-struck by the result that he personally executed the architect to ensure the temple could not be duplicated.
The structure of the building is that of a simple corridor temple.
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Four large vestibules, each opening out symmetrically into entrance halls, surround the central superstructure, which itself is inlaid with four huge niches. The entire enclosure, 53 metres ft on each side, is in the shape of a perfect Greek cross. In the alcoves facing the four cardinal points are four 9. The north- and south-facing statues are originals, but those facing east and west are later copies.
The roof above the central superstructure consists of five terraces, covered with terracotta-glazed tiles illustrating Jataka tales. Together with those inside the temple and at its base, they represent the largest collection of such tiles in Bagan. You might have come across this while researching your trip. I remember reading about it while I was in the Bangkok airport, boarding my flight to Yangon. I freaked. I ate where the locals ate and spent freely on excursions and buses around Myanmar.
This will be the bulk of your spending. Hotels are a bit expensive because of the lack of rooms to accommodate the influx of tourists. I never booked ahead of time, but most places asked if I had a booking though it was never a problem.
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During high season, I would highly recommend booking in advanced to avoid any frustrations. Download the Hostelworld app to find the best hostels in Myanmar , guesthouses and hotels. You can also ask the receptionist at your current guesthouse to call and book you a room at your next destination. They are happy to do it! Gone are the days of slumming it in a guesthouse and travelling in Myanmar is really starting to get almost too easy!
Transportation can be a money grabber as well. You can save on accommodation by taking over-night buses to your next destination. I was surprised how nice some of these buses were, seeing how underdeveloped the parts of the country are. I highly recommend taking at least one train ride and truly embracing the Burmese lifestyle. Street food is the way to go in Myanmar. Most places give you free tea with your food, so feel free to pull up a plastic stool on the street and enjoy.
Influenced by its neighbours, Myanmar cuisine is a mixture of Thai, Indian and Chinese food. One of the most interesting parts about Burmese restaurants is the way they get the attention of the server. They make a kissing sound with their lips! I thought someone was hitting on me the first time I heard this, but sadly no. Crucially, it is now possible to explore large parts of Myanmar by motorbike — you can rent or buy a bike in the country and although some areas remain off limits you cannot technically bring a bike into Bagan or Inle it is now possible to explore large chunks of the rural countryside… If you have a tent, this makes epic backpacking adventures even more possible.
Yangon quickly became one of my favourite cities. The chaos was stimulating and exhausting at the same time. Take a seat at one of the many tea stalls on the street. Hop in a taxi, head to 19th Street downtown to sit with a mix of people and have barbecue and cold beer. Spend the afternoon on the Circular Train, where locals are selling and trading goods right on the train.
Rent an electric bike and explore the ancient temples of Old Bagan. Bagan actually holds the largest collection of 11th- and 12th-century temples, pagodas and ruins in the world. Take the train from Mandalay to Hsipaw. All the guesthouses will book treks for you. Ask for the harder route with less foot traffic.
Find a guesthouse and book the day boat around the lake the next day.
The tours stop off at different floating markets and stilt restaurants. So if you take a photo, they may ask for money.
Overview Of Bagan – Travel Guide For Your Trip
Wi-Fi is almost non-existent. If you need to be connected like me, I highly recommend getting a Ooredoo a Myanmar carrier SIM card at the airport when you arrive. Make sure your phone is unlocked and you can top it up as needed. If you decide not to use a SIM, download the app maps.
You can download and use maps offline. Super helpful for getting around and knowing where you are. Unlike some other places in Asia I never felt like I was getting ripped off in Myanmar. In , there was very limited accommodation, no ATMs and no WiFi… the situation is changing rapidly and now Yangon even has a bustling digital nomad scene, Chiang Mai eat your heart out!
Things to do in Bagan
This remote area has only recently opened up to foreigners, having been shut off for fifty years, which made us feel like real pioneers! And when you go to less developed places like these it really is quite humbling how welcoming and generous people are — even more so given their poverty. People in Myanmar are known for the friendliness, but the way were treated there was something else. Just be prepared for basic facilities and infrastructure!
I love travelling all over the world. Great information with best photographs. Thanks for sharing. Loved your artical! Great photos as well! However I lived in Myanmar for 5 months and there are a few things I would like to correct on your post. But if you do over stay- you can stay up 90 days at a penalty of 3 dollars.