I’ve seen hundreds, it’s even possible that I’ve seen thousands, of temples. Temples in Asia are incredible. They have such intricacies, stories, rituals, and history surrounding them. Buuutttt….I mean….after seeing your hundredth pagoda…it’s a pagoda. Not to flex on everyone here, but as with everything, when you experience enough of something it loses that specialness it first had.
Now, that being said, Bagan brought that magic back! Just…Bagan is So Cool! There once were 8888 pagodas in the area. After years of earthquakes and years of tourism with hotels and building, there are now something around 3500 pagodas. A bit sad to hear these numbers, but it’s still incredible. Many of these temples and pagodas are dating back over 500 years. And the history is clearly written on their surface.
There are pagodas everywhere! Even as you drive down one of the main streets you’ll look to your left “Woah! Check that out!”, look to your right “Woah! Look over there!”, “Oh man! Where does that dirt road go!”, “No way! How do we get to that golden pagoda out there!”. It’s super fun 😀
Different Cities in Bagan
There are 3 different sections of Bagan. There is Nyaung U, Old Bagan, and New Bagan. Nyaung U is closest to the main bus station and train station (5km away – check out my article about taking the train from Mandalay to Bagan [link coming soon] ) and it’s where Antonia and I stayed.
Then you have Old Bagan, which is where most of the temple action lies. The largest and “bestest” temples are in this area. It used to be where the locals would live, but ~20 years ago the government kicked them out, for lack of a better word. They did this to help preserve the historical architecture, I think? There is also stories that they were kicked out to better promote tourism…I don’t know how that works. Either way, shame on you old military Myanmar government.
With that, there is now New Bagan, where all of the local people moved to. It’s an organized city with a grid street pattern. Most people prefer staying in Old Bagan or Nyaung U, but I visited New Bagan and it’s a fine place to be as well.
However, I would recommend staying in Old Bagan or Nyaung U. I believe you’ll find cheaper options in Nyaung U just because the location will be a bit further away from the main action. But everything is so close, it’s only a 4km ride from Nyaung U to Old Bagan and if you take a bicycle it’ll only take about 2 hours to ride from Nyaung U -> Old Bagan -> New Bagan -> Nyaung U without taking the many potential stops inbetween.
E-Bike or Bicycle
It is time to go exploring! There are e-bikes (electric scooters) and bicycles everywhere. Hmmm, what should we do?
It seems as though there aren’t any motorbikes to rent in Bagan. Instead there are e-bikes and bicycles. Both of which are at good prices. We found e-bikes between 5000 and 8000kyats, sometimes they add 2000 if you’re 2 to a bike. And bicycles were 2500 for the day and we heard someone getting 4000 for two days. It’s also worth asking for half-day prices. I was offered 3000kyat for a solo rider half-day e-bike.
So really it’s just if you want to feel the joy of exercise 😉 The distances aren’t so far, like I said before, so we went with the bicycles. There is something about riding your bike that just adds another layer of enjoyment to the experience. And you get lots of local people giving you big smiles and cheers.
One word of precaution though: On my second day of biking, I wound up with a flat tire and had to walk 3km to New Bagan to find someone to fix it. Still a great day! But definitely would have preferred zero flat tires!
This is one of the more famous temples in Bagan and for decent reason. Of all of the temples we visited, this one is thoroughly holding the number one spot. Even with temples I’ve visited in other countries throughout Asia, this one felt special and unique to me. It had two inner-layer walkways. And if you look up you’ll notice a bunch of bats making this place their home.
2. Thatbyinnyu Temple
I didn’t find this temple particularly interesting, but it is very close to Ananda and we were told by a sweet local woman that this is the tallest pagoda in Bagan, at around 61meters (201ft). What I really enjoyed were the artists selling their sand paintings around this place. Young teenagers hand glued and then painted beautiful pieces of art with sand from the nearby river. If I had more money I would have happily supported one of these guys!
3. Sunset and Sunrise Points
You can’t quite get those superb pictures of sunrise and sunset you see on postcards unless you’re in a hot air balloon. But there are plenty of good sunset and sunrise picture points sprinkled throughout Bagan (take a look at MAPS.ME). Unfortunately the two days we had were very cloudy and no beautiful opportunities came to be. Either way they’re still good points for getting that higher vantage point showing a broader view of the plentiful pagodas.
4. Cave Monastery and Small Village
Just East of Nyaung U you’ll find a cave monastery (listed on MAPS.ME). Take a ride through the dirt roads leading the way to this monastery. On the way you’ll see some brick pagodas on a hill with an inclined dirt road seemingly leading up to them. When you follow it though, it never reaches the pagodas. Instead you find yourself in the middle of a beautiful traditional village. Little mazes of dirt walkways, wooden houses with palm tree leave roofs, and satellite dishes…? Nothing wrong with bringing in some technology 🙂 .
There were several cute kids waving hello through their doorways and windows. A great view of the river. And an old pagoda to boot. The best is see the locals, offering some cookies to the kids. Seeing the smiles on their faces. Everyone here was very nice and happy to see us visiting.
After the village we continued to the cave monastery. There was nobody there except for a monk and some workers. There are several very cool pagodas here with a really picturesque setting. And true to it’s name there is a small cave…and a tunnel leading to a cliff overhanging the river. Inside the cave are several rooms where I believe monks still live. There was a clock and straw mat on some wooden benches so I think it’s still an active monastery 🙂
5. Random Exploration
The best thing for me was just meandering through the dirt roads. Taking random paths, heading to random pagodas. Not using any maps except general locations. At times, I would be the only person out in those dirt roads. The only person exploring this ancient pagoda. Sometimes you find these pagoda playgrounds where there are 5 or 6 nestled near each other. These are my favorite feelings to get from traveling 🙂
6. Mount Popa
We didn’t do Mount Popa because we didn’t have the extra time and just wanted to explore Bagan. The only way to get there is by taxi or shared taxi (about 40,000kyat for private taxi and 10,000 for share taxi). We did talk to a German couple who made the trip out there. They said it was a really nice few hours. They had the best view from their entire trip in Myanmar and it was worth the 10,000kyat. I’d say if you have three days in Bagan, then it’s probably worth visiting. I think the rest of Bagan is more worthy of your time otherwise.
7. Khaing Shwe Wah Vegetarian Restaurant
And if you are in search of some good food, this is one of the best food places in Bagan, located in Old Bagan (says many reviews and limited personal experience 😉 ). For real though, the service was great and our food was great. We ordered the tomato peanut curry with coconut rice – yum yum! At the end of the meal they brought out an extra six plates serving us: mango salad, longan, grapes, banana with honey, tamarind candy, and ginger candy. That was such a fun surprise.
I hope you enjoyed this post! Check out my other posts about Myanmar. And let me know what you enjoyed most about Bagan (or any corrections) in the comments 🙂