Bagan was the second stop of our journey to Myanmar, and is also the main reason tourists come to Myanmar. This mystical land will bring out the Indiana Jones in you as you explore the ancient temples. For more on Yangon where we started our journey, click here.Land of a Thousand Pagodas is really an understatement. There are actually more than 2,200 pagodas in Bagan making it the world’s largest and densest site of Buddhist temples. Most tourists will only visit a few of them which are the larger ones used actively as places of worship and of historical interest.
Bagan is an ancient city dating back to the 9th century and was the capital of the ancient Pagan Kingdom that forms much of modern Myanmar. More than 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed during the height of the kingdom’s power. However, in the 13th century, Bagan was invaded by the Monguls and it’s people fled. Bagan was reduced to a small town. It never regained it’s prominence and in 1927 a new capital was declared in Central Burma. Of the more than 10,000 structures, only more than 2,200 survived till this day.
The nearest large airport is in Mandalay with international flights. From Mandalay there is a mini-bus service to Bagan (5 hrs drive).
Bagan itself has a small domestic airport in Nyaung-U and most visitors will fly here from Yangon or Mandalay via domestic flights.
There are also train and ferry services from Mandalay to Bagan, but these are quite slow and the ferry rides are rather expensive as they cater mainly to tourists as leisure cruises.
Overnight buses also connect Yangon and Bagan. For ourselves, we had engaged a driver and mini-bus throughout our trip and took the land route from Yangon to Bagan. It took us almost 9 hours for the journey including breaks.
More like a village or kampung then a town. Bagan itself is not that big and most tourists get around by renting E-bikes. If you are in a group, you can rent a taxi for half day and whole day periods to get around.
We didn’t rent any bikes since we had our own transportation, but the roads here are really dusty and you have to share the road with other vehicles like trucks and buses, so make sure you are confident of riding on roads and bring a pair of riding goggles and wear a bandana or scarf to cover your nose and mouth, otherwise you’ll be eating dust. Dust masks for riders are the best choice.
Bagan is mostly quiet at night and the only things to do is have dinner, visit some shops and a couple of the pagodas which are lighted up at night.
Visiting the Pagodas
All pagodas are functioning temples of worship and you have to remove your footwear and socks before entering. You also have to be dressed properly. ie. No shorts and sleeveless tops. So if you are planning a whole day of visiting pagodas, it’s best to wear easy to take off footwear like flip flops or slip ons. Wearing hiking boots and taking them off and putting them on again while fiddling with laces throughout the whole day starts getting tiring after a while. Many of the hotels have complimentary flip flops for their guests to use for pagoda visiting, so use them, as your bare feet are going to get dirty from walking around in the dirt a lot. It’s a good idea to bring wet wipes for cleaning your feet.
When to Visit the Pagodas
For ourselves, we found that the best time to visit the pagodas is sunrise when there are less crowds and you get to see hot air balloons taking off as the sun rises.
Another popular time to see the pagodas is sunset. Compared to sunrise, this timing is even more crowded. So you might have to come even earlier to get a good spot.
A note about climbing pagodas: If you want to see sunrise, you have to plan which pagoda to go to and get there in time, especially if you are E-biking it. You will be cycling off road and climbing some steep stairs in the dark and cold while barefooted. So be prepared with warm clothing and torch lights.
In between sunrise and sunset there is no stopping you to visit the pagodas. Although the afternoons in December are still hot and temperatures can go up to 30°C. Here are some notable pagodas that we visited.
We spent 2 days in Bagan, although you can spend more time like 5 days to fully utilize the archaeological zone ticket, and if you are interested in covering as much of Bagan as possible. But for myself, after a while the various pagodas started to look the same to me as fatigue set in. And then maybe I don’t have that much of Indiana Jones in me.
My next blog post will be on Mandalay, the second largest city in Myanmar, and also our third stop of the trip.