Myanmar had only recently opened its doors to tourism. For decades, the general public were afraid to visit the country because of its previous oppressive military government. When the leadership changed in 2010, they have since urged travelers to visit Myanmar. Now is the best opportunity to visit the country before it gets overrun by tourists soon.
Here are 10 tips to enjoy a journey in Bagan!
#1 Stay in Nyaung-U.
First off, accommodations in Bagan are split across three areas: Nyaung-U, Old Bagan and New Bagan. Old Bagan caters to more upscale travellers. New Bagan caters to mid-range travellers. Nyaung-U has the bulk of budget accommodations. It is closest to the airport and the night bus station. It’s also where you can find the best selection of places to eat.
We stayed in Royal Bagan in Nyaung-U, and though I don’t recommend it because of poor front desk service, the location is convenient. The row of restaurants and bars are just walking distance from here.
Ananda Temple (most beautiful), Bulethi and Shwesandaw Pagoda (great for sunrise and sunset), and other popular temples such as Htilominlo, Dahmmayan Gyi and Sulamani are all located in Nyaung-U.
#2 Explore around Bagan in an e-bike.
With an e-bike, it’s simple to get around and reach hidden temples in narrow or unpaved roads. You can stop and go as you like, and can easily mingle with locals too. Instead of sweat pedalling from temple to temple using a traditional bike, choose an e-bike or electric powered bike that could last a day when it’s fully charged.
#3 Watch Sunrise at Bulethi Pagoda.
Bulethi is one of the best Pagodas to view the sunrise and see some hot air balloons floating away. It can be a bit crowded though. Be sure to arrive at around 5:30 AM to get a good spot. Also, the stair steps are high and narrow. But don’t fret! With the view you’re about to see, it’d be totally be worth it.
#4 Look out for Novice Monks.
Every morning, some cute novice monks walk around town barefoot. They carry an alms bowl and collect food from the residents. It would be their only meal for the day and they are not allowed to eat after noon. It’s an opportunity to witness the Buddhism way of life.
#5 Try to put on Thanaka.
Thanaka is the yellow cosmetic powder/paste that Burmese love to apply on their skin. It’s made from the grinded bark of thanaka tree. Mixed with water, it turns into a milky liquid that dries up easily. It acts as a sunscreen that keeps the skin cool, stops oiliness and tightens the pores.
#6 Find a local guide and/or speak to the locals.
The Burmese people are the best resource of Myanmar. They are kind, generous and probably the most hospitable people you’ll ever come by in the planet. If you have a few days to spend in Bagan, I highly recommend spending one with a local to help them. Tourism is one of their major sources of income as not many corporate businesses operate in Bagan.
Also, if you’ve seen too many temples in a day, they’d all look the same eventually. But Bagan temples aren’t the ‘what you see is what you get’ type. There are interesting stories, history and explanations on the materials used behind each temple. Having a local guide will allow you to appreciate history and architecture better. You get to ask questions and make a friend. :)
You can contact our guide, Poant Poant, via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or her mobile number (+959256016381). You can find her Facebook account here. She speaks English well. I also like that when we say something she doesn’t get right away, she probes and find the right words until we understand each other. We had driver tour guides too but it was really difficult to make long conversations with them.
#7 Eat at Weather Spoon’s.
Lunch or dinner, look for Weather Spoon in Nyaung-U and try what they call as the “best burger in Asia”. It’s their popular dish and tourists swear by it. Pair it with an iced-cold local Myanmar beer and you’re good!
They also have options for Thai or Chinese food in their menu, and the serving is quite big.
#8 Enjoy the view from Lawkaoushaung Temple.
Lawkaoushaung is a perfect place to watch either sunrise or sunset, or go on just about any time of the day. From the top floor, you can see other nearby small temples which make for a good viewpoint when you take your photos. This was probably where my most favourite view is. You have to find the key holder though in order to get in.
#9 Spot the goatherds as you temple hop.
Look out for goatherds tending to hundreds of goats (or cows) as you explore around Bagan. You’ll surely meet them in the road every now and then. They guide the animal crowd on foot, and under the sweltering sun, in order to find food for them.
#10 Watch Sunset at North Guni Temple
Watching the sunset is a perfect way to end your day. To get the most out of the experience, skip the most popular Shwesandaw Pagoda and watch the sunset from North Guni. It’s getting popular by the minute, but still with far less crowd than the sunset temple.
Like in all other countries, let’s play our role in preserving and maintaining the beauty of Bagan. While there are thousands of temples, pagoda and monasteries to see and enjoy, not all of them should be climbed upon. Most of these structures have lived for hundreds of years and are already fragile and delicate today. We do not want to damage or decrease any more pagodas and temples. And we certainly do not want anyone to get hurt and be in danger because of it. It’s important to be informed.
Have you been to Bagan? If not, would you want to visit it one day?