Exploring Bagan: One Traveller’s Experience

Once the powerful capital of an ancient kingdom, Bagan is now one of the top attractions in Myanmar. Sitting on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, the site features several thousand temples, stupas and pagodas, making for a truly spectacular landscape. To give you more of an idea of what to expect, here I talk about my own experience exploring Bagan.

Sunset over the Irrawaddy River

Our Arrival

Arriving into Bagan, we headed towards our hotel in the Archaeological Zone. I was in awe as we passed hundreds of ancient stupas of all shapes and sizes scattered across the plains. It’s what you’d imagine Disneyland for Archaeologists to be like, as you’re transported back to an ancient land. Almost all the temples have stood the test of time, with a few under restoration works following the 2016 earthquake.

Once at the hotel, there were some tough decisions to be made. Option 1: rent a bicycle and ride off into the sunset amongst the silhouettes of the stupas. Option 2: grab an icy cold beer from the hotel bar and watch the spectacular sunset across the mighty Irrawaddy with our new found friends. Or option 3: jump in the pool and chill out – preferably with cocktail in hand.

Hot air balloons over Bagan in Myanmar

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Filled with so much excitement, despite the super comfortable bed, I could barely sleep that night. I had just found out that I’d cleared the waitlist to take to the skies for the hot air balloon experience the next morning. Which was lucky, considering just two days earlier it was cancelled due to the rain.

With only limited spaces available, I’d highly recommend pre-booking your hot air ballooning in advance. That way you’ll avoid the almost certain regret of there being no places available as the day draws near. It’s a completely worthwhile experience that’ll take your Bagan journey to the next level (pun intended).

After returning back to earth in the true aeronautical tradition, we enjoyed some champagne. Then we continued with our day’s sightseeing, exploring several different stupas and temples and revelling in the hustle and bustle of the Nyaung-U markets.  The day ended with a sunset boat cruise on the Irrawaddy, the sky turning beautiful hues of pink and purple.

Sunrise over Bagan in Myanmar

Sunrise tips

Before bidding Bagan farewell, request an early morning taxi to take you to Shwesandaw Pagoda for an unforgettable sunrise. It’s a popular place, so I’d recommend getting there early to secure a good spot.

The best location is on the east side, where you’ll witness the stupas appearing from the darkness and the hot air balloons dance across the skies. The perfect image to cherish and encapsulate a wonderful time in Bagan.


We visit Bagan on our Myanmar group tours, why not take a look?

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