Bagan is probably the number one destination in Myanmar for travellers. It is home to some of the most impressive temples and pagodas in the world and emanates a mystical charm that simply can’t be described or replicated. The region of Bagan is divided up into three individual towns, Old Bagan, New Bagana and Nyaung U. Each has its own appeal and each tends to cater to a different type of traveler. Generally speaking, Nyaung U is more geared towards backpackers and budget travelers while Old Bagan and New Bagan tend to attract a slightly more upmarket crowd. So, once you’ve settled into your hotel, had some food and sussed out your surroundings, what exactly is there to do here? You’ll have a tour guide on your Irrawaddy River cruise that will bring you to the highlights, however, if you decide to stay in Bagan for an extra day or two, take a look at our list below for ideas on how to make sure your time in Bagan is jam-packed with activity and excitement.
Of course, the number one reason to visit Bagan is to spend time exploring the temples and pagodas that sit majestically on the plain that stretches out to the horizon. There are over 2,200 monuments in Bagan so don’t count on being able to see everything but if you start early, you can certainly cover a reasonable chunk of them. Depending on your preference there are multiple different ways to explore the temples.
The most popular – and cost-effective – method is to hire an e-bike and cycle around the archaeological zone. For those unsure what an e-bike is; it is an electric moped that runs on batteries. Just don’t let the battery run flat before you get home! You could also walk but you won’t cover nearly as much – it is a huge site! If you want to really get the full experience of being surrounded by the temples of Bagan, your Myanmar cruise guide will show you around. A knowledgeable guide will be able to give you some context and history to what you’re seeing so you won’t feel like you’re just aimlessly wandering around.
So cycling and walking around the temples are great and all but nothing – and we mean NOTHING – compares to soaring over the top of them in a hot air balloon. The views you will get if you choose this method of transport are unrivaled in the world, especially when the mist settles over the temples. When this happens, the entire region completely transforms into a land before time where ancient kings ruled supreme.
From this vantage point, Bagan becomes your kingdom, its temples just specks in your sweeping vista. Whether you are on a budget or not, a hot air balloon ride over Bagan is something that everyone should invest in. It is one of the most memorable activities to do while traveling in Myanmar, and the very definition of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
No one likes getting up before the crack of dawn – unless it means you are going to watch the sunrise. While the sunrise is spectacular in all Myanmar destinations, Bagan is perfect for this picturesque activity for two reasons. Firstly, it has some of the most sublime scenery in the world at any time of the day so when you add the extra beauty of sunrise the place is utterly exquisite. The second reason is that many of the temples have roof terraces or places that you can climb up to and sit.
This elevated viewpoint offers the perfect panoramic views of the region so you can enjoy the sunrise without any visual impairments. If you were looking for the perfect photo for Instagram to send all your friends back home into spasms of jealousy then look no further. Just remember that the sun rises in the East so you’re going to want to position yourself accordingly.
If you have ever been to a market in Southeast Asia then you will know that they are as colorful as they are chaotic and the markets in Bagan are no exception. Filled to the brim with everything from clothes to food to toys, the local market is a great way to get a taste for how the locals live once you’re done being a tourist at the temples. Naturally, markets and haggling go hand in hand so if you’re going to spend some time checking out the local goods then make sure you brush up on your bartering skills before you go.
In case you’ve never haggled before here are two pieces of advice to get you on your way. Firstly, never accept anyone’s first offer – if you are a tourist they will always give you a higher than usual price because they know you can afford it. Secondly, know when to stop. By this I mean either walk away because they won’t budge or accept their lower offer. Don’t haggle into the ground – it’s embarrassing for everyone involved.
A great option for not only seeing the Bagan from a different perspective (or the sunset in style), but also exploring the rest of Myanmar is an Irrawaddy River cruise. If you’d just like to stay in Bagan you can charter a small local boat for a couple of hours from the central jetty in Bagan which will seat around four people.
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