Bagan, Myanmar, is famed for its vast number of temples. Once the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, the city unified regions that now make up the entire country.
During the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 temples and pagodas were built in the area, and today, over 2,200 still survive and are now spread all over Bagan; you will need at least a couple of days to see even just the most impressive ones.
For tourists, there’s a wealth of historical architectural sites to explore in and around Bagan, ranging from museums, stupas and Buddhist temples to night markets and verdant plains, which can be explored by bike or hot air balloon.
NB. Climbing the temples and pagodas also during sunset and sunrise in Bagan was finally banned in 2018.
Top Things to do & and Places to visit in Bagan, Myanmar
See Shwezigon Paya
Swathed in gold leaf, Shwezigon Paya stands near Irrawaddy River just outside the ancient parts of Bagan.
It is one of Myanmar’s most impressive Buddhist temples. It is said construction began around 1059 during the reign of King Anawrahta founder of the Pagan empire, and it is believed the temple enshrines a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha inside.
The design is of a cone core surrounded by five square terraces and footprints are embedded below the four standing Buddha statues.
The pagoda is designed like a bell-shaped stupa which became the prototype for many original temples built in the area.
The interior features staircases, gates and relics from Buddha and lion-shaped gryphs line the exterior – known as guardians of the temple, alongside 550 glazed terracotta tiles with inscribed legends on them.
Explore Dhammayangyi Pahto
Dhammayangyi Pahto can be seen from all across Bagan and was constructed by King Narathu, who was concerned for his karma after committing numerous sins.
The temple sits alone, surrounded by a smattering of trees and barren land, and is built in a plan equal to that of Ananda Temple.
Most of the temple’s interior is closed off to the public for reasons unknown. However, visitors can still see seated statues of Buddha and some incredible relics which decorate the outer corridors and porches.
For years climbing Dhammayangyi Pahto was a must-do and a popular bucket list thing to do in Myanmar and south-east Asia but since 2018 it has been banned.
Visit Ananda Temple
Ananda Temple is one of the easiest temples to recognize in Bagan, not only is it one of the largest temples in the area, but it´s also white instead of the brick colour that all other temples in the area have.
The massive Ananda Temple in Bagan was constructed back in the 11th-12th centuries and is one of the most important religious sites in all of Myanmar.
Ananda temple has around 1500 stone carvings inside telling the story of Buddha
Browse Stalls at Mani-Sithu Market
Close to Bagan city centre, Mani-Sithu is one of the best local markets for visitors to browse.
Burmese traders are nestled within labyrinth lanes selling fresh fruits, vegetables, electronics, clothing and souvenirs, plus there are stalls with bronze and stone statues, wood carved dolls and precious gemstones to peruse.
Visit early in the morning with Bagan residents and envelop yourself in this magical shopping experience.
Learn About the Thanakha Tree at the Gallery
This diminutive gallery is devoted to medicinal and cosmetic uses of the roots, leaves and bark of the Thanakha tree. The museum/gallery was opened by Shwe Pyi Nann, one of Myanmar’s largest Thanakha companies and it’s the only gallery of its kind in the world.
It’s a fascinating place for those interested in natural skincare and botanical medicines and there are several artworks and displays showcasing products derived from the Thanakha tree.
After your museum visit, browse the petrified wood gallery, jet museum and gardens and pick up prayer beads and souvenirs in the gift shop.
Visit the Archaeological Museum Of Bagan
Delve deep into Bagan’s history at the city’s interesting Archaeological Museum.
This popular tourist attraction contains everything from ancient stone inscriptions and Buddha statues on the lawn to cultural objects discovered in the region.
There are several rooms and halls on the ground floor, showcasing wood carvings, sculptures and artwork depicting the social and military history of Bagan.
On the first floor, further art and iconography are ripe for discovery. However, one of the main attractions can be found on the second floor, as the flat roof offers glorious panoramic vistas across Bagan and its myriad pagodas.
Wander through Nandamannya Paya
This mysterious yet modest temple hides a monk’s retreat and a maze of subterranean catacombs, but the small, vaulted temple is really famed for its Temptation of Mara mural.
The mural depicts a swathe of females attempting to distract Buddha from his enlightenment journey.
Cameras are not allowed in this temple, as it still functions as a working monastery, and meditation sessions are regularly held by monks here. Still, it should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Bagan.
Shop and Dine at the Night Market In Bagan
Located near Bu Pagoda, Bagan’s lively night market is open for just 3 hours, from 6 pm to 9 pm daily.
Colourful stalls sell food and fabric, souvenirs and handicrafts, and there are amazing views of the river and temples at sunset from here.
Visitors can enjoy delicious traditional street food, including Lat-Pan-Pyar fried chicken and Holy fritters, deep-fried and packed with prawns, peas, corn and potatoes.
Afterwards, venture to a popular nearby shadow puppet show for some post-dinner entertainment.
See the Crowning Jewel Sulamani Pahto
Constructed in the late 1100s by Narapatisithu, Sulamani Pahto is one of the city’s most iconic temples.
Flanked by lush gardens, it’s an elegant temple by design with decorated tiered terraces which create a pyramid effect.
Although damaged by the 2016 earthquake, the structure was once lined with monastic cells and inside, reliefs and plaques showcase some of the city’s finest ornamental work.
Buddha faces all four directions on the ground floor and some earlier frescoes still remain if you look carefully.
See a Danderee Show
These shows take place at Bagan Golden Palace and combine the history, culture and art of Bagan. ‘Danderee’ means ‘Legend of Myanmar’ in Burmese, and on stage, performers act out these fascinating events to viewers.
The shows incorporate stunning light and sound effects on the palace façade, and after the show ends, the audience can meet the artists and take photographs.
Discover Nan Paya
This ornate stone temple is located in a small village called Myinkaba, south of Bagan.
It was built using mud mortar, stone and bricks around the late 11th century by the grandson of King Manuha.
The interiors are spectacular, with stone pillars featuring well-preserved original sculptures of the Brahma holding lotus flowers.
All stone reliefs and decorations are in original colours, crafted with great attention to detail. The structure is built in the traditional Mon style, tucked behind the original Manuha temple.
Enjoy the Sunset from a Boat Trip
One of the most enjoyable ways to see Bagan is from the Irrawaddy River on an authentic teak boat.
Sunset, sightseeing and dinner party trips are available lasting up to 3 hours in total, where you can take in the sights and sounds of the city from a different perspective.
You’ll glide past historic temples, parks and glistening skylines, plus there are drinks and snacks aboard which are served throughout your journey.
Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride over Bagan
One of the best ways to see Bagan and its myriad temples is via a hot air balloon ride which is a must-visit activity to do in Bagan, Myanmar, in all of South-East Asia.
Together with Cappadocia in Turkey so are Bagan probably the two most iconic places in the world to take a hot air Ballon Ride.
But be advised it´s not for travellers on a small budget since the price is a steep 340usd to 450usd.
You’ll see hundreds of iconic structures from an elevated perspective as you drift high above the city and across the grassy plains.
Several companies provide sunrise balloon tours when atmospheric tangerine light casts a shimmering glow over golden stupas.
The balloon rides offer fantastic photo opportunities, and although expensive, memories of these glorious vistas will last a lifetime.
The hot air Balloon season in Bagan generally takes place between October to the middle of April. However, they often cancelled throughout the season for safety reasons if there’s too much wind or rain.
During my visit to Bagan, the hot air balloons were cancelled for 3 days due to strong wind.
Take a day tip Hike to the Top of Mount Popa
The half-day trip from Bagan to Mount Popa (around an hour’s drive) is worth it, and you don’t even have to hike to the summit to gain views over temples, shrines and pastures.
Mount Popa is built on an extinct volcano and is an important site for the Burmese people.
It’s a steep climb and can be busy, but that just adds to the experience.
The higher slopes offer hiking trails to the caldera of the old volcano, should you wish to venture that far, and there are vendors selling drinks and snacks along the route.
How to Get to Bagan Myanmar
Getting to Bagan historically was never easy, however, more recently the infrastructure has improved and there are now several options to travel by plane, train, taxi or bus.
You can fly to Nyaung U Airport, the closest to Bagan and gateway to temples and ancient sites of the city. Several airlines fly here with regular schedules from Yangon and Mandalay.
Air Bagan offers daily flights from Bagan to Yangon and vice versa with a journey time of around 1 hour and 20 minutes.
If travelling to and from Mandalay, the bus is a great option taking 3-4 hours to travel the 200km.
Alternatively, for a more leisurely, scenic jaunt, boat trips between both cities are available which take around 8 hours in total.
Travelling by rail can be alluring to tourists, with patchwork countryside and villages to discover on route.
However, unless you’re travelling from Yangon to Mandalay where services are more superior, trains in Myanmar are slow and can be uncomfortable and unreliable, especially on services to smaller cities and towns in outlying regions.
If you plan to fly to Bagan from Bangkok, you will need to fly into one of the larger cities in Myanmar first such as Yangon, Mandalay or Nay Pyi Taw, before continuing your journey to Bagan.
One final tip for travelling throughout Myanmar is to be flexible. Transportation can be cancelled, buses can overheat or get stuck at various checkpoints, but don’t let that put you off; it’s all part of your intrepid adventure!