Ahhh Bagan! likely the most photographed place in all of the country. I spent a couple of nights backpacking in Bagan there while having some adventures in Myanmar and absolutely loved it!
Bagan was one of the most powerful empires in SE Asia and around the 12th century they had built over 10000 temples, pagodas and monuments.
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Today over 2200 still exist. Located in dry lands, the empire was creatively resourceful with water management and at its height it boasted 2 million inhabitants.
A local man told me these temples were built not only by the rulers of the time but also by families, and the size of the temple/pagoda built will kind of show off their status.
At first it comes as a surprise (myself included) that this is not an Unesco protected World Heritage Site.
I later found out that a possible reason for this is because as the country has been affected by several earthquakes over the years, they badly restored many temples with modern techniques and materials.
I cannot confirm that theory is right, but I can sadly confirm that I did see many temples badly restored.
On the other hand, Unesco (as said on their own website) is working closely with the government of Myanmar for its nomination as a World Heritage Site.
Arriving to Bagan
My backpacking in Bagan adventure started after a night bus from Yangon. One thing that you will quickly learn in Myanmar is that the night buses tend to arrive to the destinations at odd times, on this occasion I arrived to Bagan bus station at 5am.
The bus station is a bit far away from New Bagan and Nyaung U Town which are the places where you can find most hostels and hotels in Bagan.
As usual, as soon as you get off the bus you’ll have several people offering you taxi services.
I didn’t have any hostel booked and after spending the night on the bus I was craving to stretch my legs so I ignored all the taxi guys and started walking to Nyaung U Town which is about 5 Km away.
If you take a taxi to avoid walking for a while, I recommend you to walk out of the station and you will save at least 30% of the actually-advertised rate at the station, and if you walk 5-10 minutes you will constantly have taxis approaching you and you can end up paying less than half.
Almost at the end of my walk I even got a free lift offer.
Entrance Fee to Bagan
Whether you decide to walk or take a taxi, you will be stopped about half way to town to pay for the entrance fee to the Bagan Archeological Area.
The price in Jan ’19 was of 25000mmk which is about US $17. I’d not recommend trying to avoid paying this ticket as I got asked for it several times when I was visiting the temples, so make sure not to lose it! this is going to be almost your most important accessory when backpacking in Bagan!
Bagan was almost double the price in accommodation to what I paid in Yangon…
The hostel was ok, the owner very helpful and breakfast was good.
The rentals were very expensive though.
When backpacking in Bagan you “must” either rent a bicycle or an e-bike to move around.
You can walk of course, but the archeological area is rather large so if you want to see as much as possible you need to move faster.
Looking for cheaper options to rent a bike or e-bike, I found Treasure Queen, very close to the hostel. I highly recommend renting here as it was by far a lot cheaper.
I ended up paying 2500mmk for a bike and on the second day 5000mmk for an e-bike (around US $1.5 and $3 respectively).
Ugo, the owner, was super helpful giving me unbiased advise when I was looking for buses to move from Bagan later on and even gave me a free lift to the bus station!
I took an e-bike on the second day as it was going to be a lot easier to find a spot for sunrise. Considering I woke up at 5:30am, I’d have had to do it even earlier if I was pedalling.
Off to the temples!
Bagan’s Archeological Area is relatively big (13 Km X 8 Km) the way to discover it is completely on you.
I didn’t really understand why people paid for tour guides there as you just need to follow simple maps that all hostels give away and “get lost” while discovering the area. Maps.me also works pretty well.
Therefore, it’s pretty much a DIY tour that you will improvise on the go.
There are of course a few “famous” temples, which are also the most crowded ones, and in the path you will find lots of them (+2200 still standing).
These less famous temples are the ones that I enjoyed the most. In many cases you will be the only person there!
In this day and age, it feels incredible to be able to appreciate monuments like these ones without having to bear with the crowds.
Of course, this can only get worse once more and more people visit the country so it’s good to still discover Myanmar while the masses are elsewhere.
During my time in Bagan I managed to see 2 sunsets and 2 sunrises. I found it useful while I was riding during the day to “bookmark” places where I thought these were going to be good.
There are a couple of recommended places on the maps for sunset-sunrise, but of course they will be very crowded.
My advise is to also ask around in your hostel for tips from fellow backpackers that also went searching for them.
My second sunrise was in one of these backpacker-recommended spots and it was awesome!
By the end of the second day I must admit I was overloaded of temples, there are simply too many and by the end of it I didn’t appreciate them as much.
Having said that, you can easily spent an extra day even if you do super long days as I did (from sunrise to sunset non-stop)
Moving on after backpacking in Bagan
I had planned to go to Mrauk U afterwards but I was craving for hikes instead of more temples so instead I went to Mandalay by bus, with a stopover at Monywa which was recommended by Ugo.
He told me to just spent a few hours there and that’s more than enough as I actually felt the place a bit as a Buddha theme-park (with no intention to offend anyone, it just felt too made up for tourists)
Once in Mandalay I took the famous train to Hsipaw for some hiking days! and those adventures will come on a different post!
Feel free to drop a comment if you’re planning to go Backpacking in Bagan!
Check out the rest of my backpacking adventures in Myanmar for more ideas on your next trip!