Two nights spent in transit without a decent bed to sleep on, two flights across three countries, hours at the airport and a nearly 12-hour bus ride - everything was worth it when we climbed up our very first temple in Bagan to catch our first sunrise in mystical Burma.
We spent our 3 days in Bagan, Myanmar exploring thousand year-old temples, moving from one place to another on foot, on a horse cart, and on rented bikes. The experience was magical, and I wish we could've stayed longer, but as it always does on short term travels, the real world, my desk at the office and 200+ emails waited eagerly for my return, so 3 days (net of transit and a short stay in Yangon, the Burmese capital) were all I could spare. Regardless, it was enough for us to explore the main temples in and around Old Bagan fairly leisurely, with afternoon naps and daily dips in the hotel pool on the side (we stayed in Bagan Thande Hotel, which was at the heart of Old Bagan. Review coming soon!)! Read on and discover the ten must-see temples in and around Old Bagan, and a fairly relaxed 3 days and 2 nights itinerary that covers all ten temples (and a few more).
The Big Three - The Highest, The Largest, and Most Revered
1. Ananda Temple
One of the most popular and highly revered temples in Bagan, Ananda Temple houses over a thousand stone images and sculptures, but its highlight is definitely the four massive standing Buddhas, each facing the north, south, east and west. Local "guides" hang around inside the temple, engaging tourists in conversation and sharing numerous interesting facts about it. If they were polite and made your visit to the temple more meaningful (as they were, from our experience), it would be nice to give them a tip for their trouble.
2. That Byin Nyu Temple
3. Dhamma Yan Gyi Temple
Considered the largest temple in Bagan, this is one of my favorite temples because of its imposing structure from the outside, and its even more majestic and imposing hallways inside. Long, narrow corridors with an extremely high ceiling welcome you inside Dhamma Yan Gyi Temple that remind me of the video game Prince of Persia, for some strange reason. In any case, it is a grand and majestic sight from the outside and inside.
The Sunset and Sunrise Temples
(Perfect for catching either the sunset or the sunrise, because you can climb up these temples)
4. Shweleiktoo Temple
This was the first temple we visited in Bagan and the views from the top took our breath away. You climb up the temple from narrow, nearly hidden staircases inside (thanks to many years of playing the Tomb Raider series we were able to spot them) which opens up to the roof of the temple. We loved this temple so much, we visited it twice, the first time on horse cart, and the second one with our bikes.
5. Shwesandaw Paya / Pagoda
Perhaps the most popular temple to catch the sunset and sunrise (so come early to get a good spot!), there's a steep climb to the top that's not for the faint of heart - hold on to the railings and don't look down! But my favorite part of this temple is perhaps the massive reclining Buddha housed within a much shorter structure nearby.
6. Shwegugyi Temple
This temple provides great views of the That Byin Nyu Temple.
Other Notable Temples
7. Htilominlo Temple
On our last day in Bagan, we rented bikes and rode beyond the gates of Old Bagan to visit this one. The bike ride was part of the fun!
8. Gubyaukgi Temple (Myinkaba)
9. Nagayon Temple
Located along the road towards New Bagan from Old Bagan, we had this temple all to ourselves when we visited, which made it even more special. I didn't notice it while we were actually at the temple, but upon looking through photographs I took of the place, I realized that the afternoon sunlight coming through the temple's arches formed a sort of ancient spotlight on the Buddha found inside. Amazing thousand year-old ancient lighting effects.
10. Sulamani Temple
Bathed in the orange glow of sunset, this temple looked majestic. I especially adored the massive mural of the reclining Buddha found along its inner walls.
A (Leisurely) 3D/2N Bagan, Myanmar Itinerary
*Early morning arrival in Bagan by bus.
*From the bus station, take a horse cart to catch the sunrise in Shweleiktoo Temple.
*Have breakfast at The Moon Vegetarian Restaurant
*Visit Ananda Temple
*Visit That Byin Nyu Temple
*Visit Shwegugyi Temple
*Visit a few more temples along the way to your hotel
*Lunch and check-in at the hotel
*Spend the afternoon and the rest of the day relaxing (the bus ride from Yangon to Bagan takes about 12 hours overnight, so you'll probably want to sleep in a bed afterwards). If your hotel has a pool, take a dip as it can get quite hot in Bagan!
*If you're staying in a riverside hotel (we stayed in Bagan Thande Hotel), catch the sunset from your hotel's viewing area
*Wake up early to catch the sunrise in Shwesandaw Paya. (We stayed in a hotel within Old Bagan so we only needed to take a 20-minute walk to Shwesandaw. Otherwise, you can hire a horse cart or a bike to get there).
*Hire a horsecart and travel towards New Bagan to visit the following temples: Gubyaukgi Temple (Myinkaba), Nagayon Temple, and a few other temples in between
*Lunch at Starbeam Bistro
*Your horse cart driver will need to feed the horse, so you will need to take a break for about 2 hours.
*Ride to Dhamma Yan Gyi Temple and Sulamani Temple
*Rent a bike and ride to Htilominlo Temple and Shweleiktoo Temple. Visit a few more temples along the way.
*Spend the rest of the day exploring more temples or taking a rest at your hotel, as you prepare to leave.
*Take the overnight bus back to Yangon
Note: You'll notice that as I promised, this is a pretty relaxed itinerary. You can condense the activities into a day or a day and a half to make room for other temples, especially if you'd like to go further out into New Bagan or Nyaung-U, or even visit Mt. Popa.
A map of Bagan is easily available in hotels and even in Yangon, so grab a copy so you can map out your route.
Which temples would you want to visit in Bagan, Myanmar?