Myanmar, Photolog

Things to do in Bagan: Complete Travel Guide and Photos

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Bagan is truly beautiful, one of the most impressive places I’ve ever been to. When my friend suggested we go visit Myanmar, I was intrigued. I had not heard much about Myanmar and I did not know anyone who had been there at that time.

But our trip to Myanmar ended up being so memorable in many ways!

Bagan Travel Guide
Me in Bagan, 2015

For close to five decades, Myanmar was a closed-off country, repressed under a strict military government. Since the US sanctions in 1995, Myanmar was not officially open to tourism again until recently in 2010.

When I visited in 2015, I found things were still a bit peculiar and sometimes a little backward compared to their neighboring countries. For example, our boarding passes were issued handwritten on a yellow post-it notes. I heard from my brother there were even no ATMs in the country back in 2012 (But don’t worry, they do have ATMs now!).

In 2021, the military once again took over the country and it became closed off once more. The civil war is still ongoing but the country has slowly reopened for tourism in 2022. However, the country remains volatile.

Travel Tips for Bagan, Myanmar

If you decide to visit, here are some information that can help plan your trip to Bagan, or Myanmar in general:

Visa – YES, you most likely need one!! Myanmar has only allowed citizens of SEVEN countries to visit without a visa, so chances are you probably need one. Check if you need a visa here, I recommend applying for e-visa ahead of time if you are eligible.

Cash – Bring new notes of USD. And by this, I mean crisp, unbent USD notes that just came out fresh off the bank. They may not honor your cash if it’s not brand new, for fear of fake money.

Tip: Read Legal Nomads’ Myanmar Crash Course for more information on this.

Wear sandals or slip-on shoes – you’re going to have to take off your shoes for all of the temples you visit, so make sure you wear something that can be easily taken off / put back on later.

And on that note – take off your footwear when visiting a temple! We were required to take off our shoes in ALL of the temples we visited, including socks. Locals take this very seriously, so please respect their tradition. If you hate dirty feet just bring some wet wipes to clean them whenever you feel the need.

Is it Burma or Myanmar? When Google refers to a country with both names, you expect it to be a controversial issue. But it seems to locals that it does not matter, both are correct. Burma is simply the colloquial way of referring to the country, while Myanmar is the official written way.

If you are visiting during the cooler months (December and January), take a thin jacket with you. It can get cold at night in Bagan even if it’s not cold in other places in Myanmar.

Rent a bike for the day – as soon as you get to Bagan, rent a bike! I’ll elaborate more on this as one of the things to do below!

Bagan Travel Guide
Barefoot in one of the 2000 temples in Bagan

How to get to Bagan from Yangon

The easiest to get to Bagan is to fly to Yangon, and then do a domestic transport to Bagan. Here is what I’ve learned about transporting yourself domestically in Myanmar. There are three options: Air, Bus, and Trains.

Let’s go through each of them:

1. Fly Domestic Flights

Bagan has an airport called Nyaung-U Airport. Flying here is your best bet and the most comfortable option, but not the cheapest. It costs US$150 for a two-hour one-way flight from Yangon to Nyaung-U airport, and you can only fly Burmese Airlines for domestic flights.

Bagan Travel Guide
Our small plane

It used to be that domestic flights could only be booked from a Burmese travel agency, but nowadays you can find domestic flights at Skyscanner (my favorite travel aggregator).

Back when travel wasn’t open, I used the now-defunct flight booking website VisitMM and flew with Air KBZ – I had a great experience with them.

Bagan Travel Guide
Our ticket, which was handwritten on a post-it note!

If you do decide to fly, you can also book Bagan Airport Transfer here to pick you up from the airport.

2. Take a VIP Bus

You can book a VIP Bus Yangon to Bagan here. The bus is generally an okay way to travel, but only and ONLY if you get a VIP bus. If you are traveling out of bigger cities like Yangon or Mandalay you should be able to get on nicer buses, but some routes do not have this VIP option.

Bagan Travel Guide
Our transport bus from hotel in Bagan

So what’s the difference between VIP and non-VIP buses? I experienced it on a bus ride from Bagan to Inle Lake. Sadly, I don’t have a picture of the actual bus itself which looked like a regular bus, just really old and has weird smells.

That is until they make extra stops and pull temporary seats in the middle of the aisle so MORE people can be packed in. Needless to say, it was one of the roughest bus trips I have had.

3. Brave the Myanmar Train

Honestly, while the train is an option, I don’t recommend taking the train in Myanmar. Their routes are inefficient. I didn’t take one, but from what I’ve read, the trains are very old, don’t come on time and may even take you longer than the bus.

Where to stay in Bagan

There are two parts to Bagan: Old Bagan and New Bagan. I think as a tourist, it’s much more convenient to stay in Old Bagan. It’s closer to the airport, the pagodas, and tourist spots. We stayed at Hotel Umbra Bagan, which was great!

What to do in Bagan

And now, what we’ve all been waiting for!

1. Rent a bicycle and visit Bagan’s pagodas and temples

When we first landed in Bagan, it was super early in the morning. We took the 7 am flight from Yangon and landed at 8 am. Our hotel didn’t have a room for us to check in yet, so we did what anyone in their sane mind would do – we grabbed (rented) an old Japanese bike from the hotel for 2000 kyat (US$2) a day and biked around entire Old Bagan. You can also rent an e-bike if you don’t want to pedal too much.

That proved to be the best decision we made that day. As soon as we biked out of our hotel, it was clear that it would be difficult to run out of things to do in Bagan. The streets were peppered with thousands of temples, left and right, and all you had to do was choose which one to turn into. Apparently, there are over 2,000 temples in Bagan.

Bagan is (thankfully) mostly flat, so riding on a bicycle was not strenuous at all. We did have to get off the bike and push on certain routes though, because the roads were not paved and our bikes couldn’t ride on the soft sands.

Dhammayan Gyi Temple in Bagan
Dhammayan Gyi Temple
Bagan Travel Guide
Bagan Travel Guide

We ended up having way too much fun that we forgot to go home until the sun had completely set and had to go home biking in complete darkness. We were out biking and hanging out in the temples for over 10 hours!

Among the 2,000 temples in Bagan, here are the main ones to check out: Ananda Temple, Dhammayan Gyi Temple, Shwezigon Pagoda, and Shwesandaw Pagoda.

If you don’t want to go on your own, you can book this Bagan Guided e-bike Temples Tour which provides you with an English-speaking guide.

Golden Buddha in Bagan, Myanmar
Golden Buddha in Bagan, Myanmar

The most memorable thing about Bagan is that while the entire city caters to tourism and there are lots of tourists, you never seem to run out of space. There are so many temples out there, enough for everyone that we were able to hang out in one of the medium-sized temples completely free of other tourists for an hour.

Bagan Travel Guide
Bagan, Myanmar – we had this temple to ourselves
Two Buddhas in one of the temples in Bagan
Bagan Myanmar Market at the Temple

2. Watch the sunset from Shwesandaw Pagoda

During our ten-hour bike ride, we made a pit stop at Shwesandaw, one of the bigger and taller pagodas on the plains of Old Bagan. The pagoda is taller than the other ones in Bagan, and offers an awesome unblocked view of the entire plain. Which meant…. we have found our spot to watch the sunset!

Shwesandaw Pagoda
Shwesandaw Pagoda
Shwesandaw Pagoda
Climbing up the steep stairs of Shwesandaw
Shwesandaw Pagoda
Monks at Shwesandaw Pagoda
Sunset in Bagan from Shwesandaw
Sunset in Bagan from Shwesandaw
Bagan Plains from Shwesandaw Pagoda
Bagan Plains from Shwesandaw Pagoda

Not gonna lie though, sunset is an extremely crowded time at Shwesandaw. While there was almost nobody at the temple earlier that day, by sunset the entire west-facing side of the temple was filled. Be sure to arrive an hour before sunset to secure your spot, cause it’s going to look like this:

Shwesandaw Pagoda
The crowd at sunset

3. Wake up early for sunrise!

And of course, seeing how marvelous the sunset was from Shwesandaw, we came back the next day for sunrise too! We knew it would be a popular spot, so we made sure we got there by 5:30 am to reserve a good space. It was pitch dark and cold. I started to wonder what we were waiting for out there. But once the sun and the hot air balloons came out, the million-dollar view made it all worthwhile!

These were all taken with my iPhone:

Sunrise in Bagan
Sunrise in Bagan
Sunrise in Bagan around 8 AM
Sunrise in Bagan around 8 AM

4. Hot Air Balloon Sunrise

The sunrise hot air balloon tours are apparently a must do, but it’s not cheap US$300. You can book Bagan Hot Air Balloon Sunrise here. I did not do the hot air balloon, since it was out of my budget, but if you can afford it – why not?

5. Take a half-day trip to Mount Popa

Mount Popa is a volcano located only 50km from Bagan, making it a very doable half-day trip. If you are staying in Bagan for more than a day, I recommend hiring a car and get yourself out here!

You can book this Mount Popa Day Tour, which includes an English speaking guide, or you can just arrange a car from your hotel if you don’t want a tour.

The most popular thing to do in Mount Popa is not the mountain itself, it is visiting the Buddhist Monastery that is dramatically perched on top of Taung Kalat, a volcanic plug 657 meters above sea level. To get up to the monastery, you have to climb 777 set of stairs on foot. Yes, that sounds like a lot of stairs, but it makes for an interesting journey!

Buddhist Monastery on top of Taung Kalat
Buddhist Monastery on top of Taung Kalat

Take note there are tons of wild monkeys on the stairs and around the monastery. Do not feed them and do NOT try to touch or pet them. They will not be friendly to you.

Monkeys at Taung Kalat
Monkeys at Taung Kalat

6. Try the Burmese national delight: Mohinga

One of the dishes I LOVED from Myanmar was Mohinga, a comforting rice noodle soup made with fish stock. This soup is normally had for breakfast or light afternoon snacks. You can find Mohinga practically everywhere in the country, but the best is when you spot a group of people slurping away on their bowl of soup on a low plastic stool, like this:

Mohinga preparation at Mount Popa
Mohinga preparation at Mount Popa

Upon seeing this, of course I joined them! I don’t remember the exact price but I think it was 1000 kyat, which is roughly 60 cents a bowl. The bowl is tiny so this soup actually makes for a perfect snack.

Got my Mohinga!
Got my Mohinga!
Close up of Mohinga from our hotel breakfast
Close up of Mohinga from our hotel breakfast

Where to go next after Bagan

  • Mandalay – I didn’t make it to Mandalay on my trip, but it’s a popular spot to visit in Myanmar. You can get to Mandalay from Bagan either by VIP Bus or by the Irrawaddy River Cruise. The cruise takes 12 hours, while the bus takes 6 hours, but I would do the river cruise! Sounds like an exciting way to transfer between cities.
  • Inle LakeInle Lake was great. You can get to Inle Lake by VIP Bus or by air. I recommend taking the bus from Bagan since the airport closest to Inle Lake (Heho Airport) is 2 hours away.

And that was my experience visiting Bagan! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

Thank you Bagan, for the magical memories ✨

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Filed under: Myanmar, Photolog

Written by Melissa

Hi there! 👋🏻 I'm the "Girl" in Girl Eat World. I love eating, traveling and sharing my travel experiences in this blog. During the day, I work as a designer in tech. More about me →


  1. Frank P says

    Lovely picture Melissa. Thanks for your idea. We are going in late Jan 24.

    • Melissa says

      Thanks Frank! I actually had no idea they have re-opened for tourism again, that’s very exciting! Anyway, I hope you have loads of fun on your trip.

  2. Ginie Hannah says

    the sunrise with this view is incredible. this is so amazing x x x x

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