Myanmar stole my heart within minutes of landing in Mandalay, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to witness in Bagan. Rivaling Angkor Wat’s temples, I’m amazed this place isn’t swamped with tourists. The temples should be part of the seven wonders with over 2000 temples in the area; you can’t walk a few hundred meters without running into one.
EXPLORING THE TEMPLES
The best way to explore them is by e-bike. Myanmar doesn’t rent scooters to foreigners, even if you have a motorbike license and International Driver Permit. You must have a Myanmar license to rent a scooter. To get around this problem and give tourists a similar option there are many shops renting battery powered bikes for $3-4 a day depending on the size you rent.
There are temples all over Bagan, but they are split into two parts: New Bagan and Old Bagan. All the temples you can climb on are in New Bagan, so that’s where I spent all my time. I took the bike around to check out all the popular ones (Ananda, Dhamayangyi, and Shwe San Daw) which were all packed with people.
My favorite though was Hannah’s secret temple. I spent three days there hanging out at the top for hours writing postcards and taking in the view without other tourists up there with me.
THE BEST VIEW IS AT SUNRISE
Bagan is the most jaw-dropping sunrise I’ve seen in Southeast Asia to date! My friend Hannah over at Eat Sleep Breathe Travel gave me directions to a secret temple she found when she came here last year and promised it would be empty. She was right! I was the only one at the temple for sunrise! It was kind of magical being the only one up at the top of this temple watching the sunrise and freaking out that I was in Myanmar witnessing all of it! Even though I didn’t get to see hot air balloons (they only run October to March) it was still pretty amazing to witness all the temples in the early morning light.
GETTING TO BAGAN
I took the bus from Mandalay, it was a 5-hour ride and costs $9. There are many local buses that go each day. Ask your guesthouse to book a seat for you and the bus will pick you up at your guesthouse. Once you reach the border for Bagan, the bus will pull over for you to buy a week pass to see the temples. The pass is 25,000 Kyat ($25), and you must keep it on you at all times.
Traveler tip: You can now apply for an e-visa online that allows you to get in to both Mandalay and Yangon.