Even though this country didn’t win over our hearts, we sure did fall in love with Bagan. The majestic pagodas, breathtaking sunsets and getting lost throughout old Bagan is what made this ancient city unforgettable for us.
Bagan is located in the Mandalay Region and is the most visited tourist destination in Myanmar. The city was once home to over 10,000 Buddhist temples and pagodas built during the Kingdom of Pagan from the 11th to the 13th century. To this date, only 2200 have survived as they are scattered across the vast plains. No matter which way you turn, there will always be a pagoda in sight. You could spend days in Bagan and still not explore all of its architectural wonders.
Our Time Spent In Bagan
We reached Bagan late evening, after a long 8 hour bus journey across the winding mountain roads of Myanmar. With daylight running out and not feeling up to much, we grabbed some food and left the exploring until the next day.
Waking up early the next morning feeling fresh from an early night before, we were ready to see what this city was all about. First thing was first though, we needed transport.
Bagan covers a large area and the best way to explore the city is on two wheels. A lot of people will choose the E-bikes but we opted for a traditional old school bicycle. Kitted out, map ready, we made our way from Nyaung-U town towards the temples in Bagan.
Just to clarify, Bagan is made up of three different towns. Nyaung-U, Old Bagan, and New Bagan with the temples spread out in between. Nyaung-U is the biggest of the three and the best option to find accommodation and great restaurants in our opinion.
We only had two full days to see as much as possible. Our first day was spent cycling around and visiting the more popular temples, walking their corridors, and climbing the steep steps to the top.
To be honest, we didn’t find the bigger temples all that great. As you can imagine they were full of tourists and with the tourist came the vendors. If there wasn’t someone waving you over, then it was someone following you around trying to sell you a “precious” gemstone.
We were only a few temples down and before we knew it, it was already mid-afternoon. By then it was time for us to grab something quick to eat and make our way to the famous Shwesandaw Pagoda for sunset.
We arrived 1.5 hours early to the pagoda, which gave us just enough time to grab a seat at the top. Shortly after, bus loads of tourists flooded in and before we knew it, the Shwesandaw Pagoda was packed with people.
As everyone scrambled to find the perfect spot, calmness suddenly grew over the city as we watched one of the most stunning sunsets we witnessed in Southeast Asia.
Only, it wasn’t until the next day in which this city became magical to us.
Getting up early at 4 am the next morning, we set out back towards the Shwesandaw Pagoda, this time to watch the sunrise.
With the sun rising over Bagan the atmosphere was so peaceful, you could almost forget you were not alone. Above us, the sky filled with hot air balloons passing over the temples below.
Watching in silence, we were glad we made the early journey across the ancient city to watch the sunrise.
We spent the rest of our day exploring random trails across the plains, visiting smaller pagodas and getting lost in surrounding villages.
This was the real Bagan. This is what everybody was talking about when they spoke so highly of this magical land. It’s not the huge popular temples, but the smaller hidden pagodas dotted across the plains that make it special. It’s when you are standing alone on top of a pagoda with no one in sight that you get a true feel for Bagan.