Itinerary Overview

March 2019 Update: In an ongoing preservation effort that began in January 2018, Bagan has begun shutting down its temples. Most temples with rooftops are now locked and those that can be climbed from the outside are likely guarded by police. Some temples are still open to tourists and the city is considering a rotating system where several temples will be open for months at a time.


Background: Bagan is one of the greatest architectural sites in Southeast Asia and a must see on any visit to Myanmar (Burma). Imagine ancient ruins on point with Cambodia’s Angkor Wat or Peru’s Machu Picchu and, for the time being, without the crowds. Bagan became the capital of the Pagan Empire around 1044, and when its ruler converted to Buddhism a campaign began to construct thousands of Buddhist temples and monuments. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples were built. During this period, Bagan had up to two million inhabitants and was the most powerful empire in Southeast Asia (true fact!).

Of the 10,000 monuments once standing only 2,200 remain today. The remaining temples and pagodas are in various states of repair, some very well maintained and restored, while others are neglected and overgrown with vegetation. Bagan’s tourist infrastructure is still in its infancy which means spotty wifi and limited dining and hotel options. Nevertheless, it is filled with friendly, English speaking locals (including a large community of monks and nuns), and it offers a rare opportunity to experience one of history’s great architectural achievements without all the formality or crowds found at other major sites.

How to Navigate Bagan: Bagan is divided up into three towns that form a lower case ‘r’ along the southern bank of the Ayeyardawy River – New Bagan, Old Bagan and Nyaung-U. Bagan-Chauk Road (North to South) and Anawrahta Road (East to West) are the two main roads in town. Most temples are easily reachable by dirt trails leading from these main roads. This arrangement makes Bagan a surprisingly easy town to navigate.

The most notable temples can be seen in three full days. Some of our favorite spots, however, were places we stumbled upon and were not otherwise found on other website’s list of “must see temples.”  Here are a few basics about visiting Bagan that you will find helpful:

  • Make the most of your sunrises and sunsets. Bagan is flat so sunrise, when air balloons are taking off in September to April, and sunset make for unspeakable beauty. The weather is also cooler and the sunlight is better for taking pictures. We tried to be out of our hotel and exploring by dawn, return to town and spend 10:00 am (10:00) – 4:00 pm (16:00) eating and relaxing, then head back out around sunset.
  • Renting an e-bike is the best way to get around town. The main streets are wide and usually have little traffic, however, many of the temples are reached by narrow sandy trails, making an e-bike more ideal than a normal bicycle. If you are really short on time, hiring a private car and driver may be a good option.
  • Start by purchasing your ticket. Entrance to Ancient Bagan and all its temples is included in a five day ticket that can be purchased for $15 at a number of the larger temples, (e.g. Bulethi).
  • The commercial center of Bagan is Nyaung-U. We were very happy staying in Nyaung-U, which has the greatest variety of lodging and food options, despite being further from the major temples. Bagan is a small town as is, so staying outside of the commercial center will mean very limited food, lodging, and entertainment options.

Day 1

1. Shwesandaw Pagoda
2. Low Ka Oushang
3. Dhammayangyi Pagoda
4. Sulamani Temple
5. Shwe Nan Yin Taw Monastic Complex
6. Seinnyet Nyima / Seinnyet Ama
7. South Guni / North Guni

Time: 7+ hours

Budget: $40 per person

(all $ figures in USD; includes entrance fees, food, and transport)

Day 2

1. Bulethi
2. Thatbinnyu
3. Shwegugyiphaya
4. Htolominlo
5. Oak Kyaunggyi

Time: 5+ hours

Budget: $40 per person

(all $ figures in USD; includes entrance fees, food, and transport)

Day 3

1. Ananda Temple
2. Kyan Ma Ba
3. Shwe Leik Too
4. Shwezigon Pagoda

Time: 5+ hours

Budget: $40 per person

(all $ figures in USD; includes entrance fees, food, and transport)

Fast Facts


UTC/GMT +6:30 (that’s right, half a time zone)

Intermediate English proficiency

C, D, F and G Sockets / 230V / 50Hz

Tap water is NOT considered safe for drinking, cooking, or brushing

All non-SE Asian passport holders are required to obtain a eVisa prior to arrival

The CDC recommends Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccines for most travelers

When You Arrive

$1.00 (USD) = 1,500 Burmese Kyat (MMK)

Tipping is not customary in restaurants. Consider rewarding your guide or driver with a few dollars for a job well done

E-bikes are the best way to get around. They can be rented from hotels and locations in the city center for around $5 per day. Bicycles cost about $2 and taxis can be arranged at a rate $15-45 per day

Drive on right side

Airport to Bagan: (NYU) Taxis are the best way to get to Nyaung-U, Old Bagan, or New Bagan (15 minutes; $5). (MDL) OK Minibus provides daily service between hotels in Mandalay and Bagan (5 hours; $6). (RGN) Bagan Minn Thar provides daily VIP bus service between bus terminals in Yangon and Bagan (9 hours; $14)

Preferred accommodation type is boutique hotel, homestay, or hostel

Best Time To Visit

October to March is the best time to visit Bagan

October to March is considered the best time to visit Bagan because it offers the best weather and visitors can see or ride in hot air balloons (September to April). That also means there are more tourists than other times of year. We recommend visiting in either October or March to enjoy the good weather and thinner crowds. Between April to June, temperatures can reach as high as 110F (43C), but there are almost no other tourists around and hotels are at their cheapest rates.  July to September is considered rainy season and visitors should expect rain daily. 

Neighborhood Guide

 Nyaung-UOld BaganNew Bagan
DescriptionCommercial hub, best variety of food, lodging, and transportation, short ride to most templesCentrally located, contains most temples, limited food and lodging optionsQuiet, outside of town, limited food and lodging options, close to a few major temples

Detailed Itinerary


————————————– JUST BEFORE SUNRISE ————————————

1) Shwesendaw Pagoda – Few would debate that Shwesendaw is one of the best temples to visit at sunrise. At over 300 feet high, it is one of the tallest in Bagan. It is also the most popular temple in town, so get there early and stake out a spot. It is a white painted structure consisting of a bell shaped stupa set on a base of five square receding terraces. The corners of the pagoda’s five terraces are adorned with statues of Ganesha, the Hindu God with the elephant head. Narrow, steep flights of steps on all four sides of the receding terraces lead to the base of the stupa, from where visitors have amazing views of Bagan’s landscape.

 1-2 hours  $0

2) Low Ka Oushang – This is a smaller temple off the main path and a great alternative, or follow up stop, to the busy Shwesendaw. If you show up at 5:00 am, you may find the entrance locked. The key holder lives in a hut just behind the temple and can help you get upstairs.

 1-2 hours  $0

3) Dhammayangyi Temple – This is the largest of all temples in Bagan. It was built in 1170 A.D. by King Narathu who became King of Bagan after murdering his father and his brother, who was next in line for the throne. It is considered to have the finest brickwork of all the temples. In fact, the story goes that King Narathu had the laborers killed or their hands chopped off if the work was not done perfectly. The structure consists of a massive square topped by six receding terraces, giving it the look of an Egyptian step pyramid.

 Up to 1 hour  $0

4) Sulamani Temple – Sulamani was built in 1183 and was considered to be the crown jewel of Bagan. The temple features two stories standing on broad terraces creating a pyramid effect. Pagodas stand at the corners of each terrace. A high wall, fitted with elaborate gateways, encloses the entire complex. Sulamani has some of Bagan’s finest ornamental work and is still in good condition. Glazed plaques around the base and terraces are still visible. Buddha images face the four directions from the ground floor and stairways lead very close to the top of this temple, from where the views are incredible.

 Up to 1 hour  $0

5) Shwe Nan Yin Taw Monastic Complex – This is a charming collection of temples and pagodas removed from the noise of the main road. During off season, you will have the place entirely to yourself. From here, consider lunch at Weather Spoon’s Restaurant and Bar in Nyaung-U. It offers both local and western options and was by far our favorite spot in Bagan.

 Up to 1 hour  $0

————————————– JUST BEFORE SUNSET ————————————

6) Seinnyet Nyima and Seinnyet Ama Before you get to your final sunset destination, consider making a short stop at these two temples. They were believed to be constructed by the Seinnyet Queen in the 11th century. Seinnyet Nyima is a solid stupa resting on three terraces and the bell-shaped dome is decorated with molded bands and pendants. The terraces have miniature stupas at the corners and each in the second terrace is guarded by a lion. Seinnyet Ama is a square temple with four entrances attached to projecting porches. The original artwork on the ceiling, walls, and entrance arches is still notably visible.

 Up to 1 hour  $0

7) South Guni / North Guni – These two temples are located just behind the unmissable Dhammayangyi and are often completely empty during peak hours. For those willing to navigate the temples’ narrow passageways, some of the best views of Bagan at sunset await.

 1-2 hours  $0


————————————– JUST BEFORE SUNSET ————————————

1) Bulethi – This is a smaller temple with sunrise crowds usually much smaller than Shwesandaw. The steps to the top are steep and narrow, but it is a brilliant place to watch sunrise. If you happen to visit during hot air balloon season (September to April), you are likely to have several soaring directly above you.

 1-2 hours $0

2) Thatbinnyu – Thatbinnyu is a magnificent white temple that towers 200 feet high, making it one of the highest monuments of Bagan. It is double-storied, each story having three receding terraces adorned with corner stupas. The temple was recently damaged in an earthquake and thus the terraces are closed to the public to prevent further erosion to the structure. The structure’s unique color and design, however, make it a must see.

 Up to 1 hour  $0

3) Shwegu Gyi Phaya – This is a double-storied monument located in front of the Royal Palace. It was built by King Alaungsithu in 1140 A.D. and there are four Buddha images seated around the sides of the central block in the cellar.  

 Up to 1 hour  $0

————————————– JUST BEFORE SUNSET ————————————

4) Htilominlo – Htilominlo is a towering 150 feet high and plastered with intricately carved depictions of ogresses and mythological animals, like Makara sea creatures. The massive lower story is topped with three receding terraces and the much smaller second story has another three terraces. All of them contain small stupas on each corner. According to legend, Htilominlo was chosen to be the next King out of the five sons of King Narapatisithu. The five sons stood in a circle with a white umbrella in the center. When the umbrella would tilt and point towards one of the sons, that son was to be the next King. The umbrella pointed towards Htilominlo and the pagoda was built on that very spot.

 Up to 1 hour  $0

5) Oak Kyaung Gyi – This is a great sunset spot to avoid the crowds. Once the sun goes down, you’ll have a perfect view of Htilominlo’s golden glow. Oak Kyaung Gyi is accessible by a series of narrow dirt trails from Anawrahta Road. Inside the temple, there is a very narrow stairwell that leads to the second floor, then another set of stairs that leads to the roof. 

 1-2 hours  $0


————————————– JUST BEFORE SUNSET ————————————

1) Ananda – Ananda is well known for its beautiful architecture, glazed terracotta plaques, and spacious grounds. It was donated by King Kyanzitthar in 1091 A.D. and is one of the most treasured temples in Bagan. If you arrive before 8:00 am, when tour groups begin to show up, you are likely to have the grounds to yourself.

1-2 hours $0

2) Kyan Ma Ba – Kyan Ma Ba is a small pagoda across the road from Gawdawpalin. The pagoda itself is not much to speak of, but you can climb to the roof and have a clear unobstructed view of Gawdawpalin and surrounding temples. It’s a good final temple of the morning before heading back for lunch and some well deserved rest. For lunch, Sanon Training Restaurant in Nyaung-U offers a great collection of local food in an outdoor and casual setting.

 Up to 1 hour  $0

————————————– JUST BEFORE SUNSET ————————————

3) Shwe Leik Too – Shwe Leik Too is famous for sunrise photo shoots over Old Bagan, but consider visiting this temple for sunset as the views are equally amazing and the tourists are few. The temple has several levels and the higher you go, the better the view of the horizon becomes.

 Up to 1 hour  $0

4) Shwezigon Pagoda – Shwezigon is one of the oldest and most impressive monuments in Bagan. The pagoda sits in the center of a large platform, around which several other shrines and pagodas have been built. All four sides of the pagoda have a central stairway leading to the top of the terraces. The three terraces contain glazed terracotta plaques depicting scenes from the 547 Jataka tales, or the stories about the previous lives of the Buddha. After dark the pagoda is illuminated by spotlights that give the place a mystical atmosphere. It makes for a memorable, final temple visit of the day.

 Up to 1 hour $0


Three active mornings and evenings in Bagan will be enough time to see the most notable temples and monuments. Bagan is a place for exploring, however, and you will want an additional day or two to roam and discover your own favorite temples, perhaps not found on this itinerary. The town is best seen from a hot air balloon in September to April or from atop a temple when balloons fill the horizon at sunrise. This is particularly true now that Bagan is closing many of its temples for preservations purposes. Make the most of the sunrises and sunsets, leaving the afternoons for relaxation and keeping cool.

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