Bagan, Myanmar: Top 5 Things to do

Less well-known than Cambodia's Angkor Wat, but perhaps even more impressive, the Bagan Historical Park is filled with over two-thousand ancient stone pagodas dating back to the 9th century, and ranging from small shrines to massive temples.

Top 5 Things to do in Bagan

1. Explore the Ancient Pagodas in Old Bagan

When you arrive in Bagan, you'll need to purchase a ticket to the Bagan Historical Park, which costs 25,000 kyat (about $25). Bagan is divided into two areas: New Bagan, which is home to hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, and bars; and Old Bagan, where all the cool old temples are located. For the best experience, try to book a hotel in Old Bagan so you can wake up and look out your window in the morning at the historical park. Wherever you look, you'll see dozens of temples spreading out in every direction.

stone temples in green field bagan myanmar

Most of the temples are looked after by a local caretaker, some of whom speak enough English to offer to show you around. One caretaker, a young artist, offered us a fantastic tour of a small temple with beautiful murals. He grabbed his flashlight and took us around the cool, dark pagoda, eventually leading us up to the roof from where we could look out over the surrounding area. We enjoyed the experience and talking with the artist so much that I bought a small elephant painting he had made as a gift for my mother.

2. Hire a Horse Cart

It's impossible to get around Bagan by foot. Sure, you could hire a driver or rent a motorbike, but by far the best way to get around Bagan is by horse cart!

a horse and driver with a cart for tourists in Bagan myanmar

You can bargain with the drivers of the ubiquitous horse carts, but a half-day exploring the temples should cost around $10. Our driver spoke good English, and gave us a short introduction about the history of each temple and pagoda he showed us. That alone was worth hiring the driver for! Instead of wandering aimlessly from temple to temple, Mr. Bobo and his sweet horse Nanda took us to visit some of the lesser-visited pagodas along with the more popular ones.

3. Climb a Pagoda for Amazing Views

Some pagodas are "climbable". While not all of the temples are possible to climb, quite a few allow visitors to climb up to the roof for some incredible views. When we were in Bagan, our horse cart driver would tell us whether or not we were allowed to climb each temple that he took us to.

ancient white and gold ananda temple bagan myanmar

The Ananda Temple is one of the most famous and best spots in Bagan for incredible views, and is especially popular at sunset.

4. See the Sunrise by Balloon

Look up to the sky at dawn, and if the weather is good you'll see dozens of hot air balloons drifting high above the pagodas. One of the more memorable ways to see Bagan is by air!

hot air balloons in Bagan myanmar over a field of stone temples at sunrise

Tickets are not cheap, however! A ticket, including hotel pick-up and drop-off, light breakfast, and traditional champagne toast costs $315 per person! It's a little out of the $50 per day price range we try to stick to, but makes for a beautiful and unforgettable way to see the sights. The price is a lot higher than what you will find in neighboring countries, but all pilots are foreign-trained and the companies guarantee high levels of safety.

5. Watch the Sunset over the Irrawaddy River

The best sunset we saw during our trip to Myanmar was in Bagan from a white sand beach along the banks of the Irrawaddy. Nearby a restaurant called the Green Elephant boasts world-class sunset views (and decently cheap dinner as well).

red and purple sunset at the irrawaddy river in Bagan, myanmar

And of course, keep a watch out for those elusive river dolphins!

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