Myanmar Guide (October 2014) | Bagan

See also:

PART 1 | Travel Planning and Tips
PART 2 | Yangon 
PART 3 | Inle Lake 
PART 5 | Mandalay 

BAGAN

Taxi from Airport

Took 15 minutes and cost 5,000 kyat to Nyaung-U. A desk at the airport requires you to pay a $15 USD tourist fee per person.

Where We Stayed

There are 3 main areas you can stay in Bagan:

  • Nyaung-U: backpacker accommodations, busy area
  • Old Bagan: high-end accommodations, closest to major temples
  • New Bagan: mid-range accommodations, somewhat sleepy

We started out at Golden Myanmar Guest House in Nyaung-U (horrible horrible experience) and ended up at New Wave Guesthouse, located between Nyaung-U and Old Bagan. New Wave worked out really well and we thought the location was perfect. It was closer to the temples and close to several good restaurants and a modest convenience store. New Wave offered a clean and spacious room with A/C, nice breakfast on the rooftop, laundry service and e-bike rental…everything we needed. Agoda offers rooms for around $55 USD per night but we negotiated on-site and got it for $45.

Where to Eat

We had such busy days that we didn’t want to travel far at night for dinner. The two closest restaurants to our guesthouse were great – Pyi Sone and Queen. Plus they are building a large Thai restaurant right there that should be open within a few months. 

Pyi Sone Restaurant – simple but good and cheap. Entrees for 1,300 kyat. Next door to New Wave guesthouse. 

Queen Restaurant – nice atmosphere; delicious Myanmar sets and try the tea leaf salad too; and cocktails for 1,000 kyat! Three-minute walk from New Wave guesthouse.

The sets at Queen Restaurant

Delicious set at Queen Restaurant

San Thi Dar – Small and friendly “mom and pop” place good for a simple lunch break near the temples. One of the first restaurants you’ll see on your right as you enter Myinkaba village going South, just after Mya Zedi. 

San Thi Dar menu - they also have meat dishes

San Thi Dar menu - they also have meat dishes

How to Get Around (hint: e-bikes!)

You’re here to see the temples right? Let me explain why the best way to see them is by e-bike. Technically, you have 5 options:

  • Rent a bicycle
  • Rent an electronic bike (e-bike)
  • Hire a horse cart
  • Hire a driver
  • Join an organized tour

Normally we enjoy touring places by bicycle, but Bagan is hot (really hot) and many of the roads are dirt roads and there are so many temples to see, spread out over such a large area – you really have to be committed and in good physical shape to hack it out on a regular bike. (But good for you if you do!)

My e-bike in Bagan

Horse carts are not a bad choice – they have a certain old school charm and you might take one to a restaurant at night. But you’re still not going to cover as much ground as you would on an e-bike, and we wondered how well they treat the horses.

Hiring a driver or going on a tour has its benefits but then again, you won’t get as much access to the smaller, off-the-beaten path temples – some of which are only accessible by small dirt roads. 

Renting an e-bike offers both maximum independence and the ability to see the most amount of temples. And it’s fun. It’s like riding a simple scooter. We covered so much ground in 2 full days and never came close to running out of charge. But we did get unlucky with 2 flat tires one day. For this reason, if you’re solo you should not ride around in the dark by yourself.

The bikes cost us 6,000 kyat per person per day. We also saw them being rented for 8,000. If you’re really short and petite you can get away with 2 people to a bike.

Temple Viewing Tips

We were told the temples are open form 5am to 9pm though you may want to double-check. I got away with wearing long shorts though it is more respectful to cover your knees. Flips flops worked well to slip on and off at each temple. Here’s the dress code:

Remember to bring:

  • Sun protection
  • Mosquito protection
  • Rain protection
  • Flashlight or head lamp (many temples are dark)
  • Water
  • TP, hand sanitizer
  • Guide book, map

We downloaded a great guide to my Kindle by David Raezer and Jennifer Raezer. It explained the art and architecture of some of the best, most popular temples. You can also hire a guide through the various travel agencies in town.

Need a postcard? You’ll have plenty of opportunities to buy some at the temples. Locals camp out at all of the major temples and many of the minor ones and will try to get you to buy their postcards and crafts. Kids will ask you for money. We found the best souvenir shopping in Inle Lake but some of the artwork in Bagan was worth taking a look.

We bought this painting in Bagan

Our Favorite Temples

You’ll want to check out many of the larger and most popular temples but keep in mind there are some 2,000 temples and it is such a cool experience to visit the smaller ones. It’s incredibly easy to get off the beaten path here and explore on your own without any other tourists and make sure you leave some time for this.

Once you see a few temples and stupas, you notice many of the same exterior features and details. What sets them apart is the interiors, and our favorite temples happened to be those with the best paintings inside. 

  • ANANDA – best Buddha statues and lots of niches; huge stone lions and other nice exterior details
  • GUBYAUKGYI (near Nyaung U) – nice paintings inside (also very dark)
  • THAMBULLA – nice paintings, tall ceilings and lots of light, nice exterior too. Lots of little temples in this area – great for exploring.
  • SULAMANI – impressive exterior (very vertical); great paintings inside (different, newer, Chinese influenced)
  • APEYADANA – nice paintings
  • DHAMMAYAZAKA  ZEDI – nice but under renovation right now so consider skipping

Best Sunset Spots

We found three really great spots to watch the sunset in Bagan. You want to find a temple or stupa you can climb up a level or two so you can see the landscape. (Most have the upper levels blocked off.) Make sure you have some kind of flashlight and a way back once it gets dark.

Viewpoint #1

Shwe Leik Too Temple. The stairs are a little hairy but if you can manage you’ll get a nice 360 view including the river. The temple is right off Bagan-Nyaung U Road – there is a sign. It’s very close (walking distance) to New Wave Guesthouse.

Shwe Leik Too Temple

Sign from main road

View from Shwe Leik Too Temple (Viewpoint #1)

View from Shwe Leik Too Temple (Viewpoint #1)

Viewpoint #2

Near Dhammayazaka Zedi (huge popular pagoda). Not sure what the name of this temple is… it may be Thamuti. From the entrance of Dhammayazaka Zedi go to the right and follow the track to the NW and at the fork in the road stay to the right. The stairs are much better here – wider and in good condition. 

View from temple near Dhammayazaka Zedi (Viewpoint #2)

Viewpoint #3

Huge stupa you can climb up, walkable from New Wave Guesthouse. Walk down the track (small dirt road) that is across the street from New Wave Guesthouse and you’ll see it on your right. Viewpoints 1 and 2 are better but this is good too.

View from stupa (Viewpoint #3)

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