Bagan Travel Guide – Practical Tips For First Timers
If you're traveling to Myanmar (Burma), a stop in Bagan has to be included on your bucket list! Our Bagan travel tips below will help you enjoy your visit to the utmost and take out any mystery or uncertainty that a first time visitor may have. This amazing destination is breathtakingly beautiful and provides a very unique travel experience. You'll find everything from ancient architecture to insight into a rich cultural perspective. Here are some of the essential things to know before you visit Bagan:
Bagan, Myanmar Travel Tips
The information below generally applies to the area in which the ancient temples are located. This is the area with the points of interest that most visitors and tourists will be in for the bulk of the sightseeing.
- The temples are spread out - over an area of 104 square kilometres (40 square miles)! Just to give you some perspective, it took us about 3 hours to see temples between New and Old Bagan (we stopped at about 6). The takeaway for this is that you should make sure you allocate the right amount of time to get to everything you want to see AND that you have the energy for it as well!
- The different regions (Old Bagan, New Bagan and Ngang Yu) are far apart and can take anywhere between 10 to 45 minutes on motorbike, depending on where you start.
- Food - We didn't see any grocery stores, just small stalls of snacks and drinks as well as souvenirs at each major temple. Good restaurants can be found in New Bagan and Nyaung-U. Of course, if you stay at the big resorts, they will have restaurants.
- Bathrooms - The only public toilets we found were located in front of Thatbyinnu Temple. There may be other ones, but I would try to plan bathroom breaks around meal times so that you can use the facilities wherever you choose to eat. Pro-Traveler Tip: Always have tissue with you! We recommended this in our tips for Chiang Mai article and think it applies pretty much for any place in Asia.
- Drink water, wear sunscreen and bug spray! I know it sounds like a no-brainer but I just wanted to have it here as a reminder. Being out in the hot sun all day, you will want to make sure you have your water bottle handy. A hat would be a fantastic accessory but sunscreen is a must! The mosquitos are relentless so make sure you have bug spray on on with you at all times.
What to pack
Here are some items you want to make sure you put in your suitcase for your Bagan trip:
Check out our store for more travel gear recommendations.
Wear sandals (flip flops) for easy take off. It is mandatory for visitors to take off their shoes as well as socks before entering the temples. Yes, you read it correctly, even socks cannot be worn inside the temples, so make it easier for yourself and wear shoes that you can easily take off and put back on.
Considering you might be going into several temples a day, it can be a huge time saver not having to fuss with shoe laces and such.
Pro-Traveler Tip: Bring an empty bag to carry your shoes in. This will ensure to keep them handy in case you exit from a different part of the temple and want to avoid having to walk around barefoot to get back to your shoes.
Dress conservatively - Make sure to cover shoulders and wear long pants/skirt. It might even be a good idea not to wear super tight pants or leggings (we actually saw a sign about this at a temple in Yangon). Loose fitting pants made from breathable material are the most comfortable, especially if you are riding a motorbike or bicycle around.
Beware of Dust - You'll be walking/riding on dirt roads, so there's lots of dust that gets kicked up. You might not notice it at first but at the end of the day, there is going to be a light layer of dust on your skin! It can also make you cough if you are on a motorbike all day. A bandana would be handy to tie around your nose and mouth along with sunglasses to keep the dust out of your eyes, too!
Tips for visiting the temples
- Go off beaten path and find small temples with no other people for better photos and less souvenir pressure. Many temples are not shown on printed maps, but can be found on Google Maps and just some old fashioned exploring.
- Most are no climb, but man made hill near Sulamani is good for views.
- Go before noon and after 3pm for less heat.
- Know which Bagan temples or areas you want to go for sunrise and sunset and have a plan on how to get there. For example, you might not want to drive your motorbike in the dark and taking a tuk tuk would be more suitable for the early hour.
- Watch your head and be careful where you step. There aren't any warning signs for danger (some westerners might be used to seeing them and not pay attention on their own!). Some of the stairs are steep, there are no bars/fences on top of the temples, and the ceiling overhead may be low. Also watch for uneven ground! Getting hurt on your trip would suck really bad here!
- Bring headlamp or have phone flashlight available. Going up inside some of the structures can be quite dark, particularly when visiting before sunrise and after sunset. Charge your mobile phone so you can make good use of the flashlight app or have a headlamp on in order to see where you're going and not hurt yourself.
- Stray dogs are ok - you'll see them here and there, but they generally leave people alone.
How To Get To Bagan
Flights are reasonably priced and are our favorite way to get around in Myanmar because of the time savings. We took a plane ride from Yangon to Bagan Nyaung U airport. The airport is east of Nyaung U town and a 10 minute taxi ride, costing 7,000 Kyat. The ride to our resort (Thande Hotel) in Old Bagan was 20 minutes and cost around 10,000 Kyat.
If you are on a really tight budget but have the time to spare, taking a bus is train from Yangon or Mandalay to Bagan is pretty cheap. These are also good options for going to Inle Lake from Bagan, if your itinerary includes a stop there.
Some things to note about the airport in Bagan:
- Bagan Nyaung U airport is very small. It's very simple with a couple of shops and cafes. I didn't even see any computers there!
- You have to pay 25000 Kyat per person at the airport once you get off the plane. This is the Bagan Archeological Zone entrance fee. They take your luggage to the cashier and only hand it to you after your payment.
- It's easy and hassel-free to get a taxi at the Bagan Nyaung U airport. Taxi prices are listed on signs when you walk out of the building
- The flight to Bagan from Yangon is on a small plane and flight time is about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Old Bagan - Best Place To Stay?
One of our biggest dilemmas when planning our Bagan travel itinerary was deciding where to stay. We had done some research and realized that there are basically three areas that provide accommodations close to all of the temples.
The majority of recommendations were for Old Bagan. For good reason, too. Old Bagan is close to a lot of great temples, some are even within walking distance. The Thande Hotel that we stayed at had rooms with river views and felt very comfortable and relaxing. While it was peaceful to be a bit isolate, it was hard to find different places to eat in the area. We were limited to the resort restaurant for the most part.
New Bagan is a quick motorbike from Old Bagan and has more of a local feel to it. While you may not have temples within walking distance, you will have some restaurants and small shops close by. New Bagan offers better quality hotels that are much newer and, generally, at a lower price than Old Bagan. However, if you want to have a river view room, you won't have much luck here (yet, anyway).
Nyaung-U area to east has lots more food options. We really enjoyed the cafes in this area. Also, it seemed like there were more "tourist-friendly" amenities available in Nyaung-U since it was more of a town center. For instance, there were laundromats here and we did not see any in the other areas.
I think we would pick Nyaung-U area to stay in if we were to go back. It was nice to stay at a resort with great views, but we do like having good food and amenities close to where we stay.
Where to stay in each area:
How To Get Around When You Visit Bagan
- The best way to go sightseeing is to rent an ebike for whole day (they usually run at about 8000 Kyat). You can negotiate if getting one for longer.
- You can rent bicycles as well. It would be hard to do this for an all day mode of transportation, but it might be fun to go for a few hours on a guided bike tour.
- There's also the option to have a driver and guided tour.
- Our favorite way to see the area was from the bird's eye view of a hot air balloon!
We hope that these tips from our travel experience in Bagan, Myanmar will help make your visit fun and truly special. If you have any questions, feel free to drop us a note in the comments below. Let us know if our suggestions and advice were helpful when you visit Bagan! We hope that you have a fantastic Bagan travel experience as we did!
You might also enjoy visiting the Angkor temples in Cambodia if you are planning to travel to other destinations in Southeast Asia.
About the Author
Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!