If you’re traveling to Myanmar, at some point you’ll find yourself at the Bagan Archaeological Zone and boy, will you be blown away! Thousands of temples, stupas, and pagodas within a 20 square mile radius, this site is the key to experiencing the true Myanmar and understanding the religious devotion of its people. Although your K25,000 ($18) entry fee will be valid for five days, you won’t get time to visit every single monument.
So how do you choose which ones to see? Each religious site has a unique story to tell or provides views unlike anywhere else in the world! To help you decide and make the most of your time here are my top picks for the best temples in Bagan and which ones to visit.
The Best Temples and Pagodas of Bagan
With these massive plains full of so much beautiful architecture, it’s no wonder that a lot of people prefer to organize guides. However, you can explore Bagan on your own by mapping out your route and relying on friendly locals for advice and access. While we’re the do-it-yourself, adventuring type, our number one tip (aside from reading this awesome blog) is to speak to the locals! Get their advice as after all, these temples are located in their backyard! Here are some of our best Myanmar Travel tips for exploring Bagan.
The most beautiful and best-preserved temple in Bagan, Ananda Temple is one that lives up to its name! The architecture itself is reason enough to visit, from its glazed tile floors and glowing golden leaf exterior that makes it look white compared to the other reddish tinted temples. However it is the remarkable Buddha sculptures that make this temple unique; standing face-to-face with the Buddhas they appear to be scowling, whilst when you continue to step back further and further they begin to smile until they are completely grinning. Clever right!
Things to note: In late December to early January, there is a huge festival on the Ananda Pagoda to celebrate the lives of local farmers. Expect mass camping on the plains from surrounding villages, local entertainment, and formal alms ceremonies!
One of the largest shrines of Bagan, the Gawdawpalin temple is famous for its history as the “temple of forgiveness.” Legend has it that the King committed crimes against his ancestors and in return was punished with blindness. This temple was then constructed to worship his ancestors in atonement and his sight was miraculously returned! As well as this pretty cool background, this double-storeyed temple is also fun to explore. Check out the secret passages on the ground floor that were revealed after an earthquake in 1975 – oooh mysterious!
The ‘mama’ of all temples in Bagan, Dhammayangyi Temple is impressive in both size and history. You can see its imposing pyramid structure from a distance or by ballooning over Bagan, but you will have to venture inside to experience its full effect. Full of long narrow corridors with extremely high ceilings, you will feel insignificant walking through this mammoth monument. Built by the demands of a tyrant King who killed his own father, brother, and queen, as well as countless slaves, locals believe the temple is haunted by his sins. Dun dun dun!
Sein Nyet Sister Temples
Although not the biggest or tallest or architecturally beautiful, the Sein Nyet Sister Temples are the perfect place to go to avoid the tourist crowds and appreciate the sacred temples in a natural setting. Surrounded by a low brick wall, the monuments stand by slightly overgrown grass ready for you to take them as they are. The ideal place for quiet reflection in my opinion. Bliss!
The Sulamani temple is stunning, mainly due to its many vaulted openings that filter the light and illuminate the inside with an orange glow. Walking through its gateway, you will feel like you are entering a whole new and secret world. Full of Bagan’s finest ornamental work and moldings, it is one of my personal favorites.
At 201 feet high, Thatbyinnyu temple towers above all other monuments on the plains of Bagan. Seriously, you will see it from nearly every vantage point you climb to (challenge accepted?). Although you can’t climb all the way up the temple anymore due to an earthquake making the structure unstable, you can still get great panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes from its terraces. As well as its height, the temple is also famous for its incredibly neat brickwork that a knife blade can’t pass through.
Read: Where to Stay in Bagan
Thambula temple is one that is very beautiful on the inside as well as the outside. Set on a plinth among beautiful landscapes, the first thing you will see is the delicate and elegant architecture of the single story temple. Once inside, you can appreciate the Chinese influence on the Buddha sculptures and admire the painted murals that cover the inner walls.
The Best Temples to Watch the Sunrise in Bagan
Everything is better with a backdrop of a sunrise or sunset, so just imagine seeing these ancient plains basking in a stunning orange glow. With temples dotting the horizon as far as you can see, Bagan sunrises are truly iconic. For this mind-blowing view, you’ll have to venture to these perfect vantage points.
Low Ka Oushang Pagoda
Low Ka Oushang Pagoda is considered THE best off-the-beaten-track sunrise spot in Bagan! Although easily accessible, this pagoda is still a hidden treasure where only a small group of travelers gather to watch the sunset. You also don’t get people trying to sell you things which make this spot even sweeter! Watching the sunrise over the scores of temples on the sacred plains of Bagan is magical and should be experienced in a place like Low Ka Oushang.
Perfectly positioned to capture the best Bagan sunrise, Shwesandaw Pagoda is a very popular spot to gather in the morning. Although quite crowded, there are various levels on the seven-story pagoda that you can climb to. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!
For an easily accessible and less crowded spot to view the sunrise, Buledi temple is an ideal choice. With an incredibly steep climb to the top, you get a crazy physical work out as well as amazing views!
How to Explore the Temples of Bagan
The more time you spend in Bagan, making use of all forms of transport can be the best way to explore the plains. However, if you’re more limited on time or prefer a more structured trip, check out the tours and packages that Flymya offer. To get around this massive area, your choices are as follows.
Hire a Bike – this is by far the cheapest (and best) way to get around the plains and it gives you the most freedom! You can hire bikes from almost every hotel, shop and restaurant around this area for K2000 ($1.5) a day or K8000 ($5.8) for an electric bike.
Trishaw/Small Pick-ups – although another cheap option (K500 / $0.4) trishaws can only be used for short distances in towns and you’ll find pick-ups on the main roads only.
Horse and Cart – a fun and potentially romantic way to explore the temples, however, you are limited to the areas you can go as horses need to follow well-trodden tracks. Ideal for those who want a local guide to take them to the best spots. Prices range from K15,000 ($11) to K25,000 ($18) a day.
Taxi – you can hire a taxi all day if you want to get around fast and comfortably. A taxi will cost you between $20 to $50 a day.
Hot Air Balloon – obviously the most unique and adventurous way to see the temples, head to the skies in a hot air balloon! It will cost you $275 per person but you can’t get a more stunning view than this.
Quick Tips to Remember when Exploring Bagan:
Whilst exploring the sacred temples in Bagan, it is important to remember to:
- Carry your Bagan Archaeological Zone Pass – You can purchase this at the airport.
- Cover your shoulders and knees – these are holy sites so be respectful. It’s always handy to carry a light scarf with you!
- Be respectful – locals often come to these temples to pray, so observe silence and experience the solemness of these temples. Also if you are taking pictures of people, always ask permission.
Hopefully, you are now more prepared to take on the Bagan Temples with a good idea of which ones you want to see and visit. Even with its endless monuments, there are numerous ways to get around and see the temples and stupas that you want to see the most. Among all the temple runs (see what I did there), just remember to take some time and witness that breathtaking Bagan sunrise. It is not to be missed!
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out our other articles about Myanmar
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- Best Places to Stay in Yangon
- Best Places to Stay in Inle Lake
- Inle Lake Trekking Experience