Bagan Travel Guide: Travel Tips for Your Next Trip to Myanmar

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bagan travel guide

Much of our trip to Myanmar was focused around trying to find a connection to my family who had once lived there as part of the British Colonies. We visited Bagan though purely as tourists. We have traveled to Borobudur in Indonesia and Angkor Wat in Cambodia but there is something uniquely special about Bagan. There are more temples to explore than at Borobudur and it currently is much less touristy than Angkor Wat. Find some great tips in this Bagan travel guide.

family atop a temple in bagan

Tickets

Before we went to Myanmar we read a lot of posts from people online suggesting that tourists should not buy the entrance tickets to Bagan. The writers offered tips on how to avoid paying and they promised that no one would ask to see your ticket when you traveled around the city.

monks at a temple in bagan using cell phone

It’s still true that you probably won’t be asked to show your ticket. In 5 days we were only asked to show it once. There are now ticket booths before the exit from the airport in Bagan though so skipping out on paying the fee is not as easy as before. You would need some careful planning to avoid it and at a reasonable 25,000 Kyat or $22 USD per person (our 3 year old son was free) it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. We lined up, got our ticket and were out the door in less than 5 minutes.

ananda temple bagan in the mist at sunrise
Pagoda Phya That Gyi at sunrise bagan myanmar
small white temple with flowers bagan myanmar

Temples

Throughout the desert landscape of Bagan there are more than 2000 temples and other religious structures still standing from the 11th to 13th century. Some of the smaller ones can even be found in the backyards of homes with kids playing soccer around them. The atmosphere around the temples is pretty relaxed and visitors can climb up or go into, nearly any that they wish. But these are still places of worship and religious significance for many. Therefore, shoes must be taken off before you set foot on or in a temple out of respect and to help preserve the monuments.

sunrise temple bagan myanmar

Ananda Temple in bagan myanmar

On August 25th, 2016 a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Bagan damaging many of the temples. Restoration is underway and looks like it will continue for quite some time to come. With the devastation a bit of a silver lining has emerged for the city. Much of the damage that occurred was actually restoration work from the 1990’s which had been done quickly and not using original materials. As a result, Bagan did not qualify for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Aung San Suu Kyi has insisted that the process of restoration be taken slowly and under the guidance of UNESCO. Hopefully when the work is done Bagan will be better than ever and will hold the much deserved status!

shwezigon pagoda at sunset father carrying son with manduca baby carrier bagan myanmar

Temples in the mist bagan myanmar sunrise

Getting Around

Getting around Bagan is pretty easy and economical. We stayed in the Nyaung U area which is within walking distance of quite a few restaurants, shops, and some smaller temples.  You will need some sort of transportation to visit the big temples though.

cows and cart in bagan myanmar

Many places rent bicycles for less than $2 USD a day and some accommodations proved them for free. The area is very flat and so it is an easy ride if you set out early in the morning or late in the afternoon. When the sun is high in the sky the city is incredibly hot and options like e-bikes (around $6 a day) or a car with a driver (around $15 for half a day or $35 for the whole day) may be better options. There is even the popular option of taking a hot air balloon ride over the temples as the sun rise!

Many tourist sites recommend that you spend around 2 days in Bagan but we were there for 5 and we left wishing for more time to explore!

Htilominlo Temple hot air balloon bagan myanmar

Hot air balloon crew bagan myanmar

Hot air balloon crew returning after a morning flight

Bagan with Kids

We found Bagan to be really kid friendly! The side streets were quiet and our son joined other kids chasing bubbles and playing. People in Bagan love kids and they went the extra mile to make sure we were all ok. A group of men even showed him how to play a board game during their lunch breaks. Some hotels in the area have swimming pools as well so kids (and adults!) to cool down a bit from the afternoon heat.

board games street men

Going into and around the temples with kids is very easy but climbing up them is much more of a challenge. The many of the steps are very narrow and you have to walk down some of them sideways! We used our Manduca baby carrier to get our son up and down some of the more steep temples. Even then it was a bit precarious. Not all of them are this difficult though and it is completely doable especially if you just take it slow and steady.

temple stairs bagan myanmar

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Borobudor Sunrise Tour in Beautiful Yogyakarta, Indonesia

borobudor sunrise tour
Before we traveled to Indonesia I knew embarrassingly little about the country. I knew about Jakarta because we know some people from there. I had of course heard of Bali but actually hadn’t realized for the longest time that Bali was part of Indonesia. And I knew about the fantastic Komodo Dragons. I had never heard of Borobudur. We came across it while planning our vacation and instantly knew visiting it was going to be the highlight of our trip. Amazing as the 9th century Buddhist temple is, it’s eve
n more amazing at sunrise so we decided to plan a Borobudor sunrise tour.

borobudur statues temple

 

Options for Seeing the Sunrise

There are a large number of tours that go to the temple from Yogyakarta which is around an hour from Borobudur. They tend to start off from your hotel around 3:30 am and arrive at 4:30 am at Manohara Hotel within the grounds of the temple. Another option is to stay at Manohara Hotel itself so you just wake up and go. Since we were traveling with our son we decided to stay at Manohara Hotel. He’s an early riser (he was getting up at 4 am most days then) but we thought that waking him up at 3:30 am and then driving for an hour to the Borobudor sunrise tour would be pushing it.

There are also some smaller guesthouses that have been popping up just outside of the temple. If you stay in one of them you can wake up closer to the start of the Borobudor sunrise tour, bike over to Manohara and join the sunrise group. In hindsight, I wish we had done that. Some visitors try to be there right at 6:00am when the gates open and then make their way up to the temple without the sunrise tour. Depending on the time of year, the sun may not be completely up yet and it is possible to climb the temple in time to see the sun rise in all its glory. When we visited, “blue hour” occurred around 5am. Then around 5:50am there was a pastel light of dawn, followed nearly right at 6am by a brilliant orange sky. The dramatic colors only lasted less than 15 minutes though, so on the day we went you would have really had to run from the front gate and then up the stairs to catch it with a 6am start.

Hotel Options

We flew from Bali to Yogyakarta and stayed at the Hyatt Regency for a night. The hotel was a bit beyond our price range for the trip but considering it is a Hyatt hotel, the price (around $70 USD a night including buffet breakfast) was very reasonable. We did have an issue with a double booking that was eventually cleared up when we got back home but we were there for the pool and the pool is spectacular! This was our peace offering to our son for dragging him around to a bunch of temples. There was a huge winding pool in a garden setting accented with buildings in the style of Borobudur.  The waterslide even came out of a temple! There were stone bridges, a basketball net, and even a waterfall. The pool alone is worth the visit!

hyatt regency yogyakarta pool

The following morning we were picked up by the driver we had arranged to take us to Manohara Hotel. It was pouring rain. Absolutely pouring down and we were starting to feel a bit worried about our sunrise tour. The streets were flooded and it didn’t look like the rain was going to give up any time soon. Our driver assured us though that we had nothing to worry about and that after a big storm, the sunrises were always spectacular.

We arrived at Manohara Hotel and were checked in quickly. The grounds were beautiful and there right outside the dining area was Borobudur in all its glory. It was still raining so we didn’t explore the temple much that day.

Borobudur Manohara Hotel Rain

The hotel itself though was less than spectacular. They have a monopoly in the area and it seems like the owners are taking advantage of the fact. Our bathroom was filthy with hair and dirt everywhere. Our shower had hot water for less than 2 minutes. I’ve since read other reviewers have mentioned this as well so it wasn’t the first time it had happened. The staff acted very surprised and said they would come and fix it but never did. There were ants everywhere in the room. I left my toothpaste out on the counter and when I woke up in the morning there were hundreds of ants covering it. We continued to find ants in our luggage for days after we left the hotel. The food in the restaurant was also overpriced and poor quality. Our stay at the Hyatt outside of Yogyakarta had been cheaper so we were really quite annoyed.

Borobudor Sunrise Tour

The convenience of just being able to roll out of bed and go straight to the Borobudor sunrise tour was fantastic though. We got out of bed around 4 am, gathered our things and met the people coming from other hotels joining the Borobudor sunrise tour at the front desk by 4:30. We were given flashlights, put our son on my husband’s back in our Manduca baby carrier and followed our escort to the temple. There was nearly no light at all as we walked up to the temple but luckily there are railings going along the steps that you can hold on to. 

Borobudur Sunrise tour

It stayed fairly dark for about 15 minutes more until blue hour came and we started to take photos. While there is plenty of room to get a great photo without anyone in it, the light from all the people using their phone’s cameras can get really annoying when you are trying to set up a shot.

Borobudur temple blue hour   Borobudur temple blue hour

Blue hour faded into a pinkish dawn as we listened to the morning prayers being broadcast on loudspeakers and watched the mist roll through the trees.

borobudur dawn temple statue
mist fog borobudor sunrise tour
We had been up at the top of the temple for about an hour and the sun was quite high in the sky. People were starting to make their way back down the stairs and though it was pretty we were feeling a bit let down. Our driver had promised a spectacular sunrise. Suddenly at almost precisely 6:05 am the sky changed to brilliant oranges, reds and yellows! We were told that it was the most spectacular sunrise they had had in a month.borobudor sunrise tour temple   borobudur temple sunrise tour

The brilliant colors lasted less than 10 minutes but we stayed for another hour just watching and listening.

borobudur temple sunrise tour   borobudur temple sunrise tour


Hours

Open hours:  6 am – 5 pm

Cost

Foreign Visitor: 280,000 IDR per person
Domestic Visitor: 30,000 IDR per person

Borobudur Sunrise Tour or Sunset tour (via Manohara Hotel)

Foreign Visitor: 400,000 IDR per person
Hotel Guests: 250,000 IDR per person
Domestic Visitor: 270,000 IDR per person 
Kids 1-5: Free
Kids 6-10: 50% the adult price


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