Bagan sunrise pagodas – a guide to the hidden spots
The Bagan Archeological Zone, which is spread along old and new Bagan, is the main tourist attraction of Myanmar.
Some compare it with Angkor Wat in Cambodia and say it’s even more impressive.
We haven’t been to Angkor Wat yet, but we can absolutely agree that we have never seen anything more breathtaking than a Bagan sunrise.
This view over hundreds of pagodas in the morning mist is a sight you find no place else in this world.
So keep on reading to find out where to find the best spots for Bagan sunrise and also sunset views.
At a glance:
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From the 9th to the 11th century Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom.
Which is known as the first kingdom that unified the regions that are known as modern Myanmar.
During the kingdom’s height more than 10.000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were built.
Today there are around 2.200 temples and pagodas which have survived over the years.
Since the latest earthquake in 2016 has destroyed another 400 buildings and damaged even more of them, it’s not allowed anymore to climb the ancient pagodas.
Many say the inappropriate behavior of the tourists may play a part of the prohibition as well.
Related Article: “How to apply for a Myanmar eVisa online 2018”.
Rent an e-bike
E-bikes are available all over Bagan.
We recommend checking if your accommodation offers an e-bike service because it’s the most convenient.
You will get completely a charged bike in the morning and can leave it at the concierge in the evening so they can charge it for the next day.
Even though a bike from your hotel is the easiest option you should check the prices.
You can get a bike starting at 5.000 kyats in old Bagan.
Some of the hotels charge double.
We would also recommend getting helmets (we never drive without!).
Good to know: it is common that you rent the e-bikes per day and not for your whole stay.
Get your pagoda map
Get a map of the Bagan Archeological Zone at your hotel or mark the pagodas you want to visit on your phone’s map.
At the end of this post we summarized all the mentioned pagodas and hidden spots for you. ;)
Get your Bagan Archaeological Zone Pass
To be allowed to enter all the thousands of pagodas you need to pay an entrance fee – in return, you’ll receive the Bagan Archaeological Zone Pass.
At popular pagodas, you need to show the pass at the entrance.
You can buy the pass at different stations throughout Bagan.
We got ours at our first pagoda visit, since the office, which should be selling the pass, was closed. ;)
Wear the right clothes
If you want to enter any of the pagodas or temples you always need to take your shoes off and cover your knees and shoulders.
It’s ok for men and women to put a sarong or scarf around your legs or shoulders if you don’t want to wear long clothes all the day. ;)
Learn the difference between temples and pagodas
Pagodas consist of a stupa and its surrounding enclosure.
The stupa – the bell-shaped center – contains a relic chamber where belongings or parts of Budhha are believed to be enshrined.
Stupas exist in all sizes and colors.
Even huge towers plastered in solid gold.
The large ones are generally built on several terraces, which often represent the layers to Mount Meru.
Devotees walk around the shrine in a clockwise direction.
A temple is seen as a place for meditation used by monks for retreat, study and contemplation.
Pagodas for the most stunning sunrise
If you are in Bagan you have to start your day early.
Getting up around 5 am is an obligation.
Believe me, the sunrise view will be so rewarding 5 am won’t sound that bad on day 2. ;)
(And we are NOT morning persons!)
It’s cold in the early morning.
The temperatures are only between 18-20 degrees Celsius before sunrise.
So grab some warm clothes, hop on your e-bike and start driving into the (still) dark night.
It depends on your accommodations location how long it will take until you reach the Archaeological Zone.
Have in mind, that the e-bike’s speed may not exceed 20km/h.
So choose your accommodation wisely. ;)
Travel Tip: Do not leave the pagoda when the sun has risen.
Instead, wait a little bit, enjoy the view and when all tourists are gone take awesome photos with incredible light.
Hidden Sunrise Pagodas
On our first early morning in Bagan we realized that most of the pagodas were closed due to the earthquakes.
Luckily two local boys were around and showed us a close pagoda, which was accessible via narrow stairs.
We learned later, that it’s common for locals to watch out for tourists who are looking for the perfect viewpoint.
They will show you a pagoda you can go upstairs and in return the will show you their paintings or other crafts (in the hope you will buy some).
Instead of buying a painting we gave the boys a few Euros since they were collecting foreign currencies.
So each of us was happy! :)
We watched the sunrise in Bagan from 2 different pagodas.
Each of them has no official name but they are close to popular pagodas which makes it easy to find them.
The locations are great for either sunrise or sunset.
We experienced both from the top and if we’d have to choose, we would opt for sunrise. ;)
Bagan sunrises are just breathtaking!
From the pagoda, you will have an incredible view of Bagan’s landscape and be able to watch the Hot Air Ballons.
Rising into the air and slowly passing all the pagodas in the orange and pink colored sky.
This is a sunrise to remember! ;)
Travel Tip: The Hot Air Balloons are only operated from October until March.
So if you want to see them during sunrise, or even fly in one of them, make sure to book your trip between those months.
Best Sunset Spots
For sunset, we recommend leaving your accommodation (depending on its location) around 4-5pm.
Which gives you enough time between sunrise and sunset to spend a few hours at the pool or to get some more sleep. ;)
During our time in Bagan (end of February), the sunset was around 6:30 pm.
So before heading to your sunset point of choice, exploit the perfect lightning during golden hour, 1 hour before sunset.
It’s perfect to visit a few of the must-see pagodas and take incredible pictures.
The sunlight is redder and softer than during the day, which makes your photos even more magical.
Top Sunset Spots
As mentioned above the hidden sunrise pagodas are also great for watching the sunset.
But if you want to explore new places and a different scenery than in the morning check out the following 3.
There are a few sunset hills.
Your hotel will probably lead you to one of the touristy ones.
During our hunt for great spots, we found a hill which was almost empty compared to its crowded counterparts.
We got some great landscape shots and great pictures of the local farmers, who drove the cattle.
Thisa Wadi Pagoda
The view from Thisa Wadi’s upper deck stretches out to the west and south for great pagoda sunset views.
This pagoda is off the beaten path, which makes it a valuable alternative for tourists looking to avoid the crowds.
With its golden stupa, Lawakananda is a very famous spot for tourists.
We recommend to stay a little further and watch the sunset from the lakeside.
Overviewing the pagoda on your left and the beautiful sunset, glimmering on the lake, to your right. ;)
Six Must-See Pagodas in Bagan
Appart from sunrise and sunset spots Bagan has so many more beautiful and historical pagodas to offer.
The top 6 and where to find them is listed below.
As with everything, be there early to avoid the tourists.
The one that started it all.
Shwezigon was the model of the famous and most popular pagoda in Myanmar – the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon.
The pagoda serves as a place to pray or give thanks for success.
This purpose is reflected by its name – Shwe means golden and zigo stands for victory.
Shwezigon is believed to enshrine a bone and tooth of Buddha.
This pagoda may not be one of the most beautiful in Bagan but its atmosphere is special.
It’s like a big marketplace.
Surrounded by a brick wall along many market stalls sell paintings, clothes and other souvenirs.
Inside the pagoda you find four gilded Buddha figures facing each of the cardinal directions.
The chambers are connected by hallways painted with frescoes representing Buddha’s life.
On top of the stupa, you can see an umbrella which symbolizes the origin story of this pagoda.
King Htilominlo was announced king after a superstitious ceremony.
His father gathered his 5 sons around an umbrella and the one, the umbrella fell to point in his direction, became king.
Also known as the perfect pagoda.
The plan of Ananda resembles a Greek cross.
The big, light-flooded hallways reach out to the four cardinal directions.
Each leading to a hall presenting one of four Buddhas.
You can reach each hall by two hallways: the interior, reserved for the royal family, and the exterior for the monks and other devotees.
Definitely, worth a visit, but due to the latest earthquakes, it’s not possible to climb up to the upper terrace.
This pagoda was famous for its view of the Ayeyarwady River in the far distance and a popular spot for sunrise and sunset views.
We paid it a visit and it is still an impressive and beautiful pagoda.
Sadly not a viewpoint at the moment.
Bagan’s most massive pagoda was built under the regime of a madman, who became king by killing his father.
Dhammayangyi is a unique pagoda in Bagan.
It’s pyramidal shape and the brickwork reflect the extremely high standards the mad king Narathu expected from its architects.
They say that he commanded to lay each brick so close that it’s not possible to fit a needle through.
When the supervisor checked and it was possible to insert a needle, the responsible worker was killed.
People still believe that this place is haunted and don’t dare to enter the pagoda in the night.
The highest of all the pagodas in Bagan.
As mentioned above Bagan is meant for sunrise views!
We haven’t been to any place with more magical sunrises than Bagan.
Take your time before sunrise to arrive in time and exploit the golden and blue hour for even more stunning photos.
Bagan was definitely our highlight in Myanmar.
Below you find all the pagodas we mentioned in this post so you can easily tick each one off your list. ;)
Blue for the hidden sunrise spots, red for not crowded sunsets and green marks the 6 must-see pagodas.
Have you been to Bagan or did we make you book your trip? ;)
Let us know if you experienced any updates on the closed pagoda situation in the comments!