A major hub of Buddhism spiritualism, Bagan is where one can view an astounding collection of beautiful Buddhist pagodas, temples and stupas ruins – all dating back from the 9thto 13thcenturies. Stepping on the loose golden sands of this ancient city not only takes one back in time, but also injects an indescribable sense of newfound spirituality. As the capital city of the Pagan Kingdom, almost 10,000 Buddhist temples were erected on the vast plains of Bagan during the kingdom’s heyday. Today, the remains of a still astonishing 2,200 pagodas and temples makes up the Bagan Archaeological Zone and is Myanmar’s main tourism draw. If you are wondering what to do in Bagan other than temple hopping, Bagan’s charm resides in its olden charm and welcoming vibe brought about by the scenic landscape, friendly people and colorful culture. I highly suggest spending at least three days to get a decent feeling of this ancient city.
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WHAT TO DO IN BAGAN
Here are the top things to do in Bagan. Promise, you will leave your heart in the city by the time you pack your bags to leave.
1. Sunrise and Sunset Viewing
It might seem an everyday thing to do but when in Bagan, seeing the sunrise and the sunset from atop a temple elevates the experience into a magical moment. For your first morning in Bagan, make sure to wake up before dawn to give you ample time to visit a temple and watch the sun rise amidst a foreground of jaw dropping scenery. Same thing during sunset, just ask your local guide where the best temples to view the setting sun are. The silhouette of the other pagodas against the brooding golden sky – as it starts to darken, creates a postcard-like image.
Popular temples and pagodas for sunrise and sunset viewings are Shwe San Daw Pagoda, Taung Guni, Myauk Guni, Pyathet-gyi pagoda, Thitsar Wadi Paya or for a different vantage point, you can also head far down to the Ayeyarwaddy riverbank and find the Bu Paya Chedis in Old Bagan or Lawkananda in New Bagan.
In case you are looking for a Bagan full day tour, you can book above, just click the link for more details. Tour includes a visit to Shwezigon Pagoda and Kyansittha Umin tunnel, Nyaung Oo Market and a local worship where you can observe the process of making lacquerware at a local workshop.
Witness the beautiful murals within Wetkyi-In-Gubyaukgyi ‘cave temple’, see the halls of Htilominlo and its plaster carvings. You can even cross the Tharabar Gate and explore Ananda and Thatbyinnyu temples. Cap the day by watching the fantastic sunset at Shwesandaw Pagoda.
2. Hot Air Balloon over Bagan
What to do in Bagan? Watch the plains of Bagan turn notches more spectacular from a hot air balloon, as it fly hundreds of feet above the many scattered temples, stupas and pagodas. Most hot air balloons take flight during sunrise because the scenery is more jaw-dropping during this time. Average cost for a hot air balloon ride ranges from $380-$400. But you can also book below to experience the hot air balloon over Bagan.
If you have the money to spend, you can ride the hot air balloon in Bagan early in the morning and experience a flight over spectacular 360-degree views of Bagan. Once you land back safely, you’ll receive a certificate and take that home as well as enjoy a glass of champagne and light breakfast!
3. Climb Mount Popa
A monastery perched atop a hill adjacent to a dormant ancient volcano? Sounds loaded with mystery and intrigue right? Mount Popa is a perfect side trip to accompany your Bagan experience. Located a little more than an hour away from both Old and New Bagan, Mount Popa towers 1,500 meters above the surrounding plains and clad with forested trees. A staircase crowded with vendors selling trinkets and hundreds of playful macaques will take you to the iconic Taung Kalat pagoda at the top. A majestic 360 degree view also awaits you at the peak of Mount Popa.
4. Temple Hopping
When you talk about what to do in Bagan, of course, exploring the temple is a must. Well, we would recommend renting an E-bike if you would want to complete the almost circular route of New Bagan – Old Bagan – Nyaung Oo and back to New Bagan. Although a walking tour of nearby temples is doable as well, riding an E-bike will let you cover more ground and see more amazing temples such as some of the popular ones; Shwe Gu Gyi, Anando Pahto, Thatbyinnyu, Shwe Gu Gyi, Gawdawpalin, Sein Nyet Sister temples, Sulamani, Thambula, Dhammayangyi and many more.
If you want a guided Bagan temple tour by E-bike, you can book a tour above. The tour includes a visit to Shwezigon Pagoda, Thatbyinnyu Temple, Wetkyi-In-Gubyaukgyi and Htilominlo temple led by an informative guide.
Another popular way of going around Old Bagan is by riding a horse cart. If you want to tour Bagan in the preferred styles of the royals, you can book a tour above. The guided Bagan horse drawn-cart tour includes a visit to Ananda temple to witness the soaring standing Buddha images. You will also get to explore That Byin Nyu Temple and see the transition of Bagan architecture. And end the day with a dramatic view of the sunset at the watch tower.
5. Sunset Cruise at the Irrawaddy River
After watching the sunset from a temple on your first day, if you are wondering what else to do in Bagan, cap your second day with a relaxing cruise along the glass-like waters of Irrawaddy River. Doing so, will also reward you with an opportunity to explore the less visited temples and pagodas situated at the side of the river. You can avail of the many sunset cocktail cruise tours being offered around town, so you can watch the sun sets over the magical plains of Bagan while gulping on a refreshing drink.
6. Foodtrip and Local Market Shopping
Get a glimpse of the local life in Bagan by immersing yourself with the prevailing lively vibe of the local market. Mingle with vendors while you shop for a variety of interesting local products such as traditional Burmese clothing, sand painting and other art works created by local artists. Follow this with a sumptuous feast of Burmese food at the many local restaurants located all over Old and New Bag-an. Bonapetitand happy shopping.
If you want to learn the secrets of authentic Burmese cuisine, you can book a tour above. You will also get to explore the vibrant local culture in Nyaung Oo Market.
7. Say a Prayer at a Monk Monastery
Religious or not, the spiritual ambiance of Bagan – as brought about by their strong bond with the Buddhist religion, should be enough reason for you to drop by a monk monastery not only to offer a brief prayer, but also to witness how the monks do about with their daily routine of preparing a life of meditation and peaceful existence. The Kyat Khayon Cave Monastery is a popular one and you can ask local tour offices for other monk monasteries located in Bagan.
These are just some of the many things a traveler can do in Bagan, Myanmar. There’s more than a bit of everything from culture, history, spirituality, food, shopping and memorable people experiences, that one will discover in this place. Feel free to explore and change your plans as you go through your Bagan exploration
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About the Blogger: Marky Ramone Go is a regular contributor at Inside Southeast Asia.