THE ULTIMATE BAGAN TRAVEL GUIDE – MYANMAR

Ananda temple in Bagan

The ultimate Bagan travel guide: Everything you need to know to help you plan an unforgettable visit to Myanmars ancient capital of Bagan.

Planning a trip to Myanmar? Then you will most likely be planning a visit to Bagan. And if not, then make sure you add it on to your itinerary! It’s one of the most incredible places we’ve seen and certainly one of Myanmar’s treasures.

So what makes this place so special?

About Bagan

Located in the Mandalay region of Myanmar, Bagan is an ancient city dating back to the 11th century. It was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom where thousands of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas, and monasteries were constructed. In its heyday, there were more than 10,000 structures standing across Bagans plains. Although many of these structures have been destroyed over the years due to earthquakes and neglect, over 2000 still remain. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2019, Bagan is a truely magical place to explore!

Best Bagan Sunrise & Sunset Viewpoints

Bagan entrance fee

There is an entrance fee of MMK25,000 to visit the Bagan area. The ticket is valid for 3 days and gives you access to Bagan’s archeological zone. You will likely be taken to a ticket booth on arrival to purchase your ticket. Our taxi driver stopped at a booth after we left the bus station, where we purchased ours. Likewise, you’ll be directed to a ticket booth at the airport. So have your MMK25,000 ready.

You need to carry your ticket with you when you visit the temples in Bagan as you may be asked to show it. In reality, we were only asked twice in three days to show our tickets and this was as we were about to enter two of the main temples. Sadly, we believe that proceeds of the entrance fee goes to the government, with only 2% benefiting the community and temples of Bagan.

Things to do in Bagan

1. Explore the ancient temples

This is what a visit to Bagan is all about. Exploring this ancient capital is an incredible experience and with over 2000 temples to see, you’ll be kept busy! You won’t have time to see them all, so check out our Discover Bagan’s best temples guide to help get you started!

Dhammayangyi Pahto - The best temples in Bagan

2. Witness the magic of Bagan’s temples at sunset or sunrise

These were our favourite times to explore Bagan. Misty temple tops under a balloon filled morning sky and watching the sunset behind the temple tops. As you can no longer climb the temples in Bagan, you’ll need to find somewhere to witness this magic unfold. We’ve highlighted some awesome spots in our Beautiful sunrise & sunset viewpoints in Bagan guide.

Bagan at sunsrise

3. Take a sunrise hot air balloon flight

Floating above the temple tops as the sunrises, has to be one of the most incredible things to do in Bagan. Sadly, we were unable to take one of these magical flights, but we absolutely wish we could have!

The balloons only operate between October-April, which coincides with the dry season. There are now 4 ballooning companies in Bagan. With over 20 years experience, the most reputable and original ballooning company are Balloons over Bagan. Other companies that have popped up over the years are STT BallooningOriental Ballooning and Golden Eagle Ballooning. Flight prices start at US$320 depending on which company and package you choose and last up to 1 hour.

Ballooning in Bagan

4. Explore Bagan by E-bike

If you don’t want to stick to an itinerary, then just jump on an e-bike and drive! Of course there’s lots of temples to explore, but it’s nice to see the surrounding areas too. Explore Old Bagan, New Bagan, Nyaung U and smaller local villages like Minnanthu, and check out the Irrawaddy river. It’s possible to take a boat ride down the river, to see Bagan from a different perspective.

E-biking in Bagan

5. Chill Out!

No, we didn’t travel all the way to Bagan just to chill out! But we did do quite a lot of this during the middle of the day, when it was too hot to be out in the sun. We intentionally booked a hotel with a pool, so that in between our mornings and afternoons of temple hopping, we could kick back and cool down with a swim. If you don’t have access to a pool, there’s plenty of cafe’s around where you can grab some lunch, a drink and relax.

Hotel Yadanarbon Bagan

Hiring a E-bike

Several years ago, the government introduced e-bikes to Bagan. Essentially, these are electric motorbikes that allow visitors to silently explore the area. It is actually prohibited for tourists to hire standard scooters or motorbikes when they visit Bagan and in fact, you won’t even see any of these for hire!

E-bike’s can be rented from hotels/hostels/guesthouses, outside shops and from independent e-bike stands. You’ll see them for hire pretty much all over Bagan. Expect to pay between MMK6000 – MMK8000 (US$5-$6) per day. It will cost a little more if there’s two people on one bike, but we found that was cheaper than hiring 2 individual bikes. We hired ours from our hotel and from a stand across the road, mainly for sake of ease. Make sure you check the tires, mirrors, lights, and importantly, the battery life before driving away! Also, ensure you have the contact details of the hire place too, incase you experience any issue with the bike.

Note – Check your travel insurance policy covers you to ride a e-bike. You’ll be liable for any damage caused to the bike (and yourself) as they don’t come insured.

Dhammayangyi Temple Old Bagan

Other ways of getting around Bagan

If you don’t want to hire an e-bike, there’s several other options available to explore Bagan:

Hire a bicycle

The cheapest way to get around Bagan is by a good old fashioned bicycle! This option by far requires the most effort and can be dusty, hot and tricky to manoeuvre along sandy roads and tracks. You can hire bikes from most hotels/hostels/guesthouses in Bagan for around MMK2,000 to MMK5,000 (US$1.5 – 3.5) for a day. We recommend hiring a bike with gears and taking it for test drive beforehand as some bikes have seen better days!

Hire a private car & guide

The most comfortable way to get around Bagan is by air conditioned car. Cars can be hired for a full day, half day or individual trips. Expect to pay US$40 dollars or more with a guide. Cars can’t access many of the small tracks connecting Bagan’s temples, restricting them to the main roads. But you should still be able to get to all of the main temples. To book a private car and guide, speak with your accommodation provider or local tour agencies in Bagan.

Jump on an organised tour

This is the most expensive way to see Bagan, but also the easiest. 1-3 day tours can be booked through local tour agencies and accommodation providers. If you’re going for this option, you’ll be on a fixed itinerary and won’t be able to choose which temples you visit and when. And unless you book a private tour, you will be in a public group. The benefits of this is that everything is arranged for you and all you need to do is turn up! A great option for nervous travellers or travellers on tight time frames.

Horse & cart

We saw plenty of people exploring Bagan via horse and cart. This isn’t something that we can really support, as the health and wellbeing of the horses is questionable. We saw a lot of skinny horses, carting people around during the hottest part of the day. And for these reasons, we don’t recommend this.

Temple etiquette

It’s important to respect local culture and customs when exploring Bagan’s temples. Every time you enter a temple you must:

  • Cover your shoulders and knees (no singlets or vests)
  • Take your shoes off

Men really should wear long trousers instead of shorts. And women can easily and cheaply grab a sarong from a local vendor to wear when visiting the temples. This lines up with the local dress code and shows the locals a lot of respect.

Ananda Temple

What to take for a day of temple hopping

For a day of temple hopping, we recommend taking the following with you:

  • Your Bagan entrance ticket
  • Lots of water – you will also be able to purchase this locally throughout the day
  • Hat, sunnies and sunscreen
  • Suitable lightweight clothing to protect you from the sun, especially when riding an e-bike or bicycle
  • Scarf to cover you shoulders
  • A jacket when riding an e-bike early in the morning as it can be chilly
  • Wearing flipflops/thongs/jandals is handy when entering temples. But offers no protection is you have an accident on your e-bike. Your choice!
  • Money for water, lunch or snacks. There’s also plenty of vendors selling clothing and souvenirs at most temples

How much time do you need in Bagan?

This really depends on you and what you want to get our of your visit. We personally found that 3 full days was the perfect amount of time for us. However, had we had an extra day or two up our sleeve, we could have easily filled those up too! 3 full days gave us 3 sunrises and 3 sunset, which we absolutely recommend (aim for at least 2 or each), especially if you want to take a hot air balloon flight. If the weather’s bad, the flight will get cancelled, so you’ll need a back up day. Also, these are the best times to experience the beauty of Bagan.

Best time to visit Bagan

In our opinion, the best time to visit Bagan is between November and February. Bagan is hot almost all year round, but during these months, the temperatures are the most pleasant at around 30°. The hot air balloons operate between Oct-April, which coincides with the dry season.

Nov-Feb: This is the dry season and the best time to visit Bagan. We were there in mid-February and the weather was perfect. It was a bit cooler in the mornings and evening, and nice and toasty throughout the day. It’s worth noting that the Dec/Jan holiday period is the busiest time to visit Bagan and therefore, expect bigger crowds and accommodation will cost more

Mar-May: This is still the dry season and the hottest time of the year. Temperature often reach over 40°C. This can make temple hopping dusty and unbearably hot during the day.

Jun-Oct: This is the rainy season, however, as Bagan falls within Myanmar’s dry zone, it doesn’t get as much rain as other areas in Myanmar. This is the quietest time to visit with far less tourists around. This also means accommodation will be cheaper.

Ta Wet Hpaya temple Bagan at sunrise

Where to stay

There’s three main villages in Bagan: Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung-U, all of which surround Bagan’s archeological zone.

Old Bagan – Great location with most of the main temples being located in or near here, making it the most expensive area to stay. Good range of places to eat and drink.

New Bagan – Also a good location, close to many temples and a 15-20min drive to Old Bagan. There’s a good mix of cheaper accommodation options ranging from resorts to guesthouses & hostels. There’s lots of restaurants and shops around too.

Nyaung U – Has cheaper accommodation options, appealing to budget travellers and backpackers. It’s close to the bus station & airport, but further away from many of the main temples. Keep in mind your e-bike battery life when booking accommodation in this area.

Where we stayed

We stayed in New Bagan at Hotel Yadanarbon. We booked it last minute and got a great rate at only US$27 p/nt. This was only a touch more than a hostel in the area and in some cases, cheaper! The pro’s were definitely the pool, good buffet breakfast, free breakfast while we waited for our room, early check in, A/C and lovely staff. The downside was the hotel and our room was a bit tired. We believe a new extension has been built, so the old part may have been renovated. The location was great, short walk/ride into the main town, but close to some great temples!

Where to eat

There are lots of options when it comes to eating in Bagan. Breakfast is often included in room rates (as it was with ours). Our favourite place to eat was a popular vegan/vegetarian restaurant: The Moon (2) – Be kind to animals. Every meal we had there was super tasty and reasonably priced. The staff and service was excellent and the open eating area was super cute! As a non-meat eater, this was heaven for me! Located in New Bagan, they also have a sister restaurant in Old Bagan (the original restaurant with the same menu) called The Moon – Be kind to animals.

The Moon 2 Restaurant - New Bagan

Getting to & from Bagan

There are several ways to reach Bagan, depending on where you are travelling from:

By bus

Buses are probably the easiest and cheapest way to get to Bagan. The most comfortable journeys are via VIP bus services (think A/C, comfy seats and no overcrowding). JJ Express have the best reputation for comfort and safety and are generally just a couple of dollars more expensive than other companies. However there are many more VIP companies to choose from.

If you want to save some cash and have a more local experience, than book a STANDARD bus service, (think A/C might not work, buses overbooked with people sitting down the aisle on plastic stools, slow service, stops a lot, not many tourists onboard).

It’s best to pre-book your bus journeys which can be done through your hotel/hostel, at a local travel agency or through an online platform like Bookaway.

The most popular routes to/from Bagan are:

Yangon

Overnight-sleeper bus in our opinion, is the best and way of getting to Bagan from Yangon. It’s way cheaper than flying and much faster than the train. It saves you a nights accommodation and the seats were comfortable, reclining quite a way back. Our bus departed from Yangon’s Aung Mingalar Highway Bus Terminal at 8pm and the journey took 9 hours, arriving at Bagan’s Nyaung U Bus Station at 5am. This included food/toilet breaks. Tickets cost between US$14-US$22 p/p, depending on which company and class of bus booked.

Mandalay

Buses operate between Bagan and Mandalay several times a day. The journey takes 4-5.5 hours with a rest stop along the way. It’s best to pre-book your tickets (we did this through our hotel). We travelled with OK Express. Our ticket cost around US$7 p/p and included a free transfer to/from our accommodation/bus station in both Bagan and Mandalay. Allow an extra hour or two to your travel time for these transfers!

Inle Lake

Overnight sleeper buses operated between Bagan and Nyaung Shwe (the main town to access Inle Lake). The journey takes 9-10 hours and costs around US$12-US18 depending on which company and class of bus you book.

Note – To avoid dealing with Bagan’s notorious taxi mafia on arrival, pre-arrange a pickup with you accomodation provider in advance. It may be a bit expensive, but it will save you the headache of dealing with the taxi drivers, who prey on incoming tourists. They will most certainly take advantage of you and demand 2-3times the official taxi rate. They all work together to make sure they suck as much cash out of you as possible. This was our one negative experience in all of Bagan, our taxi driver was quite aggressive in the end, stopping the car and demanding we all got out for absolutely no reason!

By plane

Flying is the most expensive way to access Bagan, but it’s also the fastest. Direct flights operate between Bagan’s Nyaung-U airport and Yangon – 1.5hr, Mandalay – 30min and He Hoe (Inle Lake) – 40min. A taxi ride between Nyaung-U Airport and your hotel should cost between MMK 5,000-10,000, depending on its location. Apparently taxi fares from the airport are fixed, but we’d suggest confirming this with your accommodation provider prior to arriving. Also, ask how much a transfer would cost and decide which is the better option for you. Check out skyscanner for flight schedules and prices.

By train

Other than having a local experience, there’s no real advantages of taking a train to Bagan. The journey from Yangon takes around 18 hours and to/from Mandalay takes around 12 hours. Tickets cost around the same price as a bus to/from Yangon and are slightly cheaper to/from Mandalay. Check out Seat61 for details on train travel.

Myanmar Visa’s

Most nationalities will need a visa to enter Myanmar and visit Bagan. Most people can obtain a e-visa online which lasts for 28 days and cost US$50. You’ll need several printed copies to enter the country.

Currency

The offical currency in Myanmar in Kyats (pronounced ‘chat’) – MMK. Everything is payable in local currency, however USD is widely accepted, particularly in larger hotels, some restaurants and tour agencies in touristy places. Check the rate first to see which currency is better to use. We found using local currency was better in almost every situation during our visit to Bagan.

Most everyday items like taxi rides, water, meals and bus tickets, need to be paid for with kyat. Ensure you receive notes in good condition with no tears or tape on them, as most vendors won’t accept notes in poor condition. This also applies if you plan on using USD. New, clean crisp notes will often get a better exchange rate and some vendors won’t accept older notes in poor condition.

There are ATM’s in town and at the airport. However, they are not always reliable. We withdrew cash in Yangon and took enough with us to pay for everything in Bagan. There’s a maximum MMK300,000 withdrawal limit and expect a MMK5,000 local bank fee to be slapped onto every ATM withdrawal.

Credit cards are accepted at bigger hotels and restaurants. If you plan on paying by card, check first to see if there’s additional fees for card payments.

You can change USD at the KBZ or AGD bank or the exchange booth at Nyaung-U airport. We’ve read there’s also another booth in New Bagan at the supermarket.

In summary

Bagan is a pretty special place to visit and spending a few days here will give you a true appreciation of some of Myanmar’s history. and beauty. Let us know in the comments if you have any question and we’ll do our best to answer them.


Planning a trip to Bagan? Don’t miss our our Bagan guides:

Discover Bagan’s best temples

Best Bagan sunrise & sunset viewpoints

Why you can’t and shouldn’t climb Bagan’s temples

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