Type ‘Bagan’ into an image search to instantly understand that this is a destination worthy of superlatives. More than 2000 temples lie scattered across 26 square miles of verdant plain, their stupas tapering skywards above the trees giving the whole area an otherworldly, almost magical feel.
The majority of the temples were built here in the 11th and 12th centuries by the kings of Bagan, who believed that each temple built would earn them higher esteem in the afterlife. The area became an important hub of power and religion until the Mongols invaded in 1287. Some of the temples are still in use today, but many others have been left to the elements.
Sunrise and sunset are special times to experience the beauty of the plain, with clusters of pointed pagodas creating an unforgettable silhouette against the sky. The low light brings a glow to the brick structures which stand out against the green of the palms - in short, a photographers dream.
So where to go for the best sunset views? Many people congregate at the sunset ‘hotspots’ of Shwesandaw and Buledi, where there are various terraces to take in the scenery which, providing you can elbow your way through the crush to get to the front row, is indeed spellbinding. If you like a side order of bustle, crowds and hawkers with your sunset, look no further.
However, most visitors would rather find somewhere peaceful and serene to enjoy the view. Here are a few pointers that TravelLocal would like to share to help you in your search.
You will need a map to find your way around, but definitely try to keep hold of the same copy so you can mark on any recommendations as and when. Once you have decided where to go, check before you set out that your chosen site is viable. Your TravelLocal partners, hotel staff and cart drivers will usually have the latest tips and conditions. Temples do open and close to visitors depending on whether they are being renovated or are deemed safe.
Use the daytime to explore the area by bike or horse drawn cart. There are so many temples it is relatively easy to get off the well worn path. Mark those with a special appeal and /or outlook so you can return for sunset or sunrise.
An exciting (quite expensive, but definitely exciting) way to see Bagan is from the air. A dawn ride in a hot air balloon gives you a spine-tingling vista across the whole plain, and a totally new perspective on this unforgettable place.
Sunrise is usually the quieter time to visit the temples. Even the better known and busier sites are more manageable, crowd-wise, in the early morning. You may be lucky enough to encounter local people at worship, or to experience the misty scenery and the balloons rising above it all in complete solitude.
In February 2016 the Burmese authorities who oversee the Bagan temples declared that some tourists were not respecting the sacred nature of these ancient stupas, and were displaying ‘disgraceful’ behaviour by climbing, dancing and sleeping on the temples as well as wearing inappropriate clothing. They also stated that they were becoming concerned for the safety of visitors after a tourist was badly injured when he fell from a pagoda, and therefore from 1st March 2016 climbing on the temples would be completely banned.
They have since decided to allow visitors to climb on a few of the temples only which is a blow for those looking for that perfect sunset spot - usually climbing up to a higher level of the temple offers the best views over the area. Temples currently permitted for climbing are Myaukguni, Shwesandaw, Boo lei Thee and Pyat That Gyi. Do remember, however, that you can visit any of the temples at sunset, as long as you do not climb on them.
Oak Taike and Thitsawaddy (near Dahmayasaka temple) along with Myauk Guni and Pyathada Paya are our tips for the best sunset views. Another serene option is to take a boat on the Irrawaddy at sunset.
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