Bagan is rightly so THE highlight of any Myanmar trip. This historic site is literally filled with thousands of pagodas. Some small, others huge, but all impressive in their own way.
Bagan has so many pagodas, you need several days to cover the whole area and YES it’s worth your time.
Note: a pagoda is the common denominator for a temple in Myanmar. Sometimes you can visit the inside (usually a Buddha statue awaits in the half-dark), but mostly they are solid structures with no entrance. While still pagodas, those are then called stupas.
The famous sunrises in Bagan
In order to get a good view of the sunrise/sunset with some interesting temple silhouettes in your line of sight, you need to get higher up. And this is exactly the tricky part.
Due to a recent earthquake, the stability of the pagodas in Bagan is questionable. Therefore most of the bigger structures are closed down or at least the stairs to the upper levels are closed.
This makes it really difficult to still find a good sunrise or sunset spot in Bagan. And thus the hunt for the perfect sunrise spot begins!
I read about the famous sunrises while researching Myanmar and even though I’m not a morning person AT ALL 😴, I was determined to see them for myself!
So I had a few blog posts ready (updated with info from January 2019) + the maps.me application, who turned out to be a real life saver at 5.30am in the dark with no working 4G 😁 (don’t get Mytel btw 😜).
Note: look for ‘sunset, sunrise, open, great view’ keywords on maps.me -> you’ll find a handful spots to try your luck 😇, for example: “Accessible roof (push in unlocked door)” to get this view:
I still remember the first morning. Still a bit drowsy, but excited, we arrive at our “open – great for sunrise” temple with our e-bike, at 5.30am. No lights or other tourists to be seen. Haha jackpot! We hit a hidden spot, all to ourselves 💪.
Unfortunately after looking around for a few minutes, we understood why. Our hidden temple was completely closed. It seems the open temples change really quickly and even the January 2019 info was already outdated 😕. So much for coming prepared …
Hunters become prey
Luckily a local artist on a scooter found us looking at the map and offered to take us to the best sunrise spot. Yeey, saved 😎.
Of course this ‘local artist’ turned out to be a tourist hunter. Haha. We arrived at a decent sunrise spot, filled with his prey. Which after his good services, he tries to sell his artwork to. We didn’t really need a sand painting of Bagan to decorate our backpack 🙄, so we just gave him a little tip. After all he did save our sunrise.
Next days we scouted better spots during the day, talked to other tourists and locals. Clearly everyone was on the same hunt! And we would often see them again in the morning or evening at one of the few open pagodas or roofs.
Check my awesome behind the scenes drone picture to understand the craziness 😎.
Sunrises versus sunsets
This one is a no brainer for me.
Every morning, at sunrise a 30-some hot air balloons launch themselves into the air providing a wonderful and dynamic scenery over the temple peaks.
At sunset in Bagan, and anywhere in Myanmar for that matter, the sun goes down into a band of smog to only reveal those lush reds and oranges after the sun has long disappeared from sight. While it is still nice to see, the sunrises provide for much better experience and pictures 😉😉.
This is my favorite sunset spot, close to the river, with some nice pagodas on the horizon: “Excellent temple plus roof access. Good for sunset – reopened Dec 2018”
UNESCO world heritage?
Oh yeah, because the country was locked down for so many years, they never applied as a UNESCO world heritage site … but now – we were told – Bagan is preparing an application. It definitely deserves it! They need the necessary funding for restoration, but also to protect the ruins from tourists and corrupt locals 😉.
You can fly to Bagan (airport is called Nyaung-U) from most big airports in Myanmar, Yangon or Mandalay for example 😉
We stayed in the Bagan Nova Guest House. This is in New Bagan, which has plenty of nice restaurants and is as close to the ancient site as well.