The Best of Bagan in 2 Days

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Myanmar (also known as Burma) has been one of those mysterious countries that most people know very little about and few people choose to travel to. In the past, the military control of the country had most tourists afraid or unwilling to venture into the South East Asian country, and those that did dare to explore the country were restricted on where they could and couldn’t visit.

Since the November 2015 elections things have become a little easier and more accessible. There are still no-go zones but the country as a whole is now seen as safer, and over the past few years has become a very popular tourist spot. Having visited myself in 2015, I know exactly why. The people are amazing and although the parts of the country I visited were more touristic than I expected, it still retains a lot of it’s old-world magic. Especially Bagan. Without a doubt, Bagan is high on my list of absolute favourite places and is a must visit for anyone travelling to Myanmar. I suggest spending at least 2 days in Bagan- here are my recommendations.

Bagan in 2 Days

How to Get to Bagan

There are four main ways to arrive to Bagan. The most expensive is by plane which arrived in Nyaung U, about a 30-minute drive to Old Bagan. It is important to note that, at this time, the Nyaung U airport is a domestic airport only. 

There are plenty of bus options to Bagan as well; this is usually the cheapest option. There are different services and companies but many of them offer pick up and drop off at your hotel. Expect bus rides to be pretty bumpy, and depending on the service you choose, your bus may stop to pick up locals in smaller towns and villages.

The third option is to take the train. Burmese trains have quite the reputation, and not necessarily in a good way. Rides are bumpy and loud and there has been more than one story of baggage bouncing out the windows. However, those that have travelled by train say it’s an authentic Burmese experience that everyone should try at least once.

The final option is only available from Mandalay, and it is to take a boat down the river. The boat takes about 8-10 hours and leaves early in the morning to arrive in Bagan mid afternoon. Should you choose to take the boat make sure to arrive early to get a seat on the deck, and wear plenty of sunscreen because the sun is quite strong reflecting off the water. You should also bring a book or something to entertain you. This option does book up pretty quickly, so don’t leave it til the last minute. You can book the boat from Mandalay to Bagan here.

Tip: The most picturesque part ride is the first hour or so and the last 20-30 minutes as you arrive in Bagan, so don’t nap during these times! 

The view from the boat leaving Mandalay

**Note: Bagan is an archaeological zone. You will be charged a one time fee to enter the zone. This is not a scam- everyone has to pay or else you cannot enter. In return you will be given a ticket-make sure to keep it on you for the duration of your stay should you be checked.

Getting Around Bagan in 2 Days

If there’s one negative thing about Bagan it’s that is it definitely not walkable. However, being home to thousands of temples, you can’t really expect that it would be.

The cheapest option to get around is to rent a push-bike. But you better be in some seriously good shape to spend two days cycling through dusty dirt paths to see all the temples. Bagan is huge, and the temples are very spread out so push bikes are quite limiting and not recommended to those who want to see a lot.

The most common (and most fun) option is to rent an e-bike. Basically a battery-powered moped. They can be rented everywhere and the small ones go for about $5USD/day while the big ones go for about $10USD/day. E-bikes are the most convenient way to see Bagan and offer the most freedom. Beware: Batteries die regularly so it helps to have a phone and be able to call the number of where you rented it (on your key or the bike itself) for them to bring you another battery. If you don’t have a phone flag down a local- trust me, they are used to it and happy to help. *Tip: You may be able to bargain on a multi-day rental for a discount.

My e-bike gang

If you are uncomfortable driving an e-bike yourself you can always hire a driver/guide. There are three ways of doing this. 1) Hire a motorbike guide (the cheapest option if you are travelling alone) 2) Hire a taxi or 3) Take a horse and cart ride. There are plenty of locals who act as guides for tourists so just ask other travellers who they have used or at your accommodations for suggestions.

Of course, you can also rent a car to explore yourself. Check rates here.

Where to Stay in Bagan for 2 Days

Bagan is divided into four main areas in which tourists can base themselves.

Nyuang U: This is where the airport, main bus station, train station, and boat from Mandalay arrive. It’s about 20-30 minutes outside of Old Bagan. There are plenty of accommodation options here- especially for budget travellers (also, one of the best spots to find ATMs!) However, although it is the most convenient area for getting in and out of Bagan, it’s the furthest from the attractions.

Old Bagan: The most expensive spot to stay, but also closest to the main temples. Old Bagan is located within stone walls and is a beautiful place to base yourself in. Most accommodation options here are higher end hotels.

Myinkaba: Not too far from Old Bagan, Myinkaba is a busier area best known for it’s lacquerware shops.

New Bagan: Created in the 1990s, it’s the newest place to stay and furthest south (still closer to main temples then Nyuang U). There are plenty of budget and mid-range accommodation options here, ATMs, shops, and restaurants (both traditional Burmese and western-style). It was where I chose to stay (at Ostello Bello) as it allowed easy access to the main temples near Old Bagan but also the less popular temples further east, which are definitely worth exploring.

Personally, I suggest choosing a place in Old Bagan or New Bagan. Need some suggestions? Take a look at: 

Hostel: Ostello Bello or Ostello Bello Pool  

Midrange: Bagan View Hotel or Bagan Htate Htar Hotel

Luxury: Aurem Palace Hotel & Resort or Myanmar Treasure Resorts

The Best Things to do in Bagan in 2 Days 

Bagan is known for it’s temples and pagoda’s, so that’s what you are here to see. There are literally thousands. At one point, when the kingdom was in it’s prime, it is estimated that there were 10,000 temples. Today however, after time, weather, and the earthquake of 1975, there are a little over 2000 temples and pagodas perfect for exploring.

Important: These temples may be old, and some may be ruins, but they are still holy and sacred places. DO NOT wear shoes or socks inside the temples. Women must also dress appropriately; this means keep your shoulders and knees covered. Please be respectful during your visit.

Must-see Pagodas and Temples in Bagan

MYANMAR (25 of 59)

A lot has changed with Bagan’s temples since my visit in 2015. When I visit we were encouraged to explore and even climb them. Now, however, climbing temples (even the ruins) is off limits to better protect these incredible landmarks. Please be respectful as you visit Bagan’s many temples.

Ananda: Nicknamed the “west minister abbey” of Myanmar, it’s one of the most beautiful and revered temples.

Dhammayangyi: The largest temple in Bagan; however only part of it is accessible. For an unknown reason much of the interior has been sealed behind brick walls.

Shwesandaw: The most popular place to view sunset. Legend says this pagoda holds a Buddha hair relic, it’s name means Holy Golden Hair

Shwezigon: One of the most popular pagodas among tourists and locals. Probably your best chance at seeing local monks. Note: As one of the most popular spots it’s where you are most likely to get taken advantage of. Shop owners will greet you and take your shoes for you to find when you return outside their shops so you buy something. There is also a dragon “scam” where locals will bring you to a part of the temple for a little ceremony and expect money from you. If you are ok with paying a few dollars for the experience it’s kind of neat, if not just say no thank you.

Thatbyinnyu: The tallest temple in Bagan.

Htilominlo: A beautiful red brick temple best known for the elaborate plaster mouldings.

Sulamani: A popular temple with many frescos on the interior.

Thambula: Known for it’s obvious Chinese influence

Nanda Pyin Nya: Nicknamed the painted temple- the inside of this small temple is covered in painting telling legends and stories. No photos allowed though to better preserve the paintings. If you are lucky, Tin Tin will be there to explain.
*more about Tin Tin to come under the “Shopping” section of this guide.

Other Temples: Again, Bagan is filled with thousands of temples, so although the above temples and pagoda’s shouldn’t be missed, don’t forget to stop by and visit any interesting ones you pass by. There are too many to show on maps so embrace your inner Indiana Jones and go exploring!

I loved exploring Bagan’s temples by e-bike during my 2 day visit, but if you are looking for something a little more relaxed, check out this guide to Bagan which takes a more leisurely approach.

Where to See Sunrise in Bagan 

Sunrise in Bagan

The ultimate experience here involves getting up super early to watch the sunrise in Bagan. For those who have the money, hot air balloon rides over the temples are an incredible way to start the day. However be prepared for fork out $350USD+ per person, and book well in advance to ensure your spot. Since climbing temples is no longer permitted, the hot air balloon ride will be your best bet for the spectacular Bagan sunrise views. 

Want to take a sunrise balloon tour? Book your spot here.

For those with slimmer wallets, don’t worry. You can still see the famous Bagan sunrise ground. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, you can no longer climb the temples for the view. While I am glad that the country is taking better care of the temples by not allowing this, it does make me a little sad since it was a highlight for me and made me feel like Indiana Jones. That being said, if I hadn’t been encouraged by locals, I don’t think I would have thought to climb what are actually religious structures anyway. So, while climbing temples for sunrise in Bagan remains one of my favouite memories, it really is for the best.

If you want to experience sunrise in Bagan for free, I suggest getting out into the fields. Bagan is relatively flat which means while you won’t have an elevated view, you will still be able to watch the balloons rise beside all the temples in the distance. When I visited, balloons came up from a couple different areas so ask at your accommodation if they know where the balloons will depart from and where you can best see nearby. Trust me, the locals and hotel/hostel staff know the best places for great views away from the main crowds.

You can also try the Nann Myint Viewing Tower which charges $5USD per person. The structure itself is quite ugly against the ancient-temple filled landscape, but it does offer photogenic views you see of sunrise in Bagan. 

Another option, if you are looking to splurge is to stay at Aureum Hotel. It’s an upscale hotel that I don’t remember from my visit. But today it is known as one of the best places to watch the sunrise in Bagan (and sunset for that matter). You can book your stay here. 

Important tip: Hot air balloon season runs from October-April. So if you dream of hot air balloons during your sunrise in Bagan, make sure to plan your trip accordingly. 

Minnathu Village

A small village where visitors can be shown different aspects of traditional Burmese country life. From farming to making the traditional Burmese thanaka. There’s also a restaurant on site. Although it is meant for tourists it’s not very touristic. It’s a free ‘attraction’ but tips are welcome.

Thanaka

**Tip: Bagan is large, so it’s best to divide your days to explore the sites closest to each other together. For example, if staying in New Bagan, explore the temples and pagodas of Old Bagan and area Day 1 and Day 2 go the opposite way.

Shopping in Bagan

Bagan isn’t exactly a shopping mecca, but if you are looking for a special souvenir there are a couple of options.

As mentioned earlier, Minnathu Village is known for it’s lacquerware stores. There are many, so shop around, but most of them are run by families that have been artisans for years. Their work is beautiful and there are all kinds of things to buy from tiny tea cups and dishes to wardrobes and tables. Some shops to accept credit cards but have a minimum, so it’s best to bring cash.

Sand painting are also a great souvenir and can be found for sale at every major temple. There are all kinds of prints from Buddha to monks to floral designs, however, if you shop around at the temples you will notice they are all the same. If you want something really unique, go see TinTin who, as mentioned above, can be found in the Nanda Pyin Nya temple. He is an incredible artist who bases his work off the artwork found in the temple, meaning it’s all original to him as he refuses to sell his work to other locals to replicate. He has sand paintings and sandstone carvings on canvasses for sale. They are the perfect souvenir as you can crumple them up small to fit in your bag and just iron them out at home. Note: You will pay more for TinTin’s work than the knock-offs. My sandstone elephant carving (pictured below) was 30USD.

Sandstone elephant carving

Of course, there are plenty of other vendors as well, many of which set up shop in front of the temples. They will sell elephant pants, postcards, books, thanaka, and sometimes even their services as a guide. It’s up to you whether you choose to buy or not and haggling is always an option, but keep in mind that this is the vendor’s livelihood and although a dollar may not be much to you, it is to them . As in any other country, please do not give money to the young children.

If you Have More than 2 Days in Bagan

For me, two days was the perfect amount of time to explore Bagan before getting ‘templed out’. Ho,wever if you do have a third day I would suggest hiring a taxi for a day trip to Mt Popa and Salay. Salay is about 30 minutes away and home to some incredible monasteries. It’s more spiritually important to the Burmese than Bagan. Mt Popa is an extinct volcano overlooking Salay. You can also ask your driver to take you to the nearby Tuang Kalat Monastery, known as the gathering spot for Burmese spirits known as the “Nats”. There are plenty of myths and legends surrounding this monastery, giving it the nickname the Mt Olympus of Burma.

Bagan is also home to a few museums including a museum of archaeology that might be worth a visit should time allow.

Bagan is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been- so enjoy!

A Note on Travel Insurance in Myanmar

Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWingfor travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.

Bagan in 2 Days

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26 Comments

  1. Priya on March 22, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    A balloon ride in Bagan is high on our travel wishlist. Pinning this wonderful post so I can refer to it when I make it out there!

    • Hannah Logan on March 22, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      I didn’t have the budget to afford the balloon ride but from what others have said its a once in a lifetime experience!

  2. Karisa @ Flirting with the Globe on March 23, 2016 at 3:11 am

    Great informative post, Hannah! Pinning this for when I (hopefully) travel to Bagan this fall! 🙂

    • Hannah Logan on March 23, 2016 at 9:55 am

      ah I hope you go! You will love it 😀

  3. […] I had to start my journey back to Canada for Christmas, I really only had time for two cities. Bagan was a must- there was no way I was missing those temples and sunrise moments that I had been […]

  4. Kristine Li on December 30, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    This post is so comprehensive for an introduction to Bagan! I can’t wait to see Bagan again in better weather =D

  5. Farrah on May 15, 2017 at 11:22 pm

    Hi hanna, as a first timer to explore outside my country and bagan was one of my bucket list. Thanks for this article its really helpful. But if you dont mind can you give me arleast a breakdown of how much it will cost for for bus from yangon to bagan?? And if there’s available hostels for backpackers instead of hotels??

    • Hannah Logan on May 16, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      Hi Farrah, I didn’t go to Yangon so I can’t tell you how much the bus would be. From what I remember though there were night busses, day busses, and more local vs more touristic (i.e. comfortable) ones. So you will have some choices. I don’t think any were very expensive. There are a couple hostels for sure- be sure to book in advance though because they fill up quickly.

    • Thinzar Myint Thu on March 11, 2018 at 1:02 am

      It will cost around 20,000 MMK

  6. Michael Rico on December 18, 2017 at 4:40 am

    Thanks to your tips I found this temple using maps.me. Quite creepy as I’ve traveled 5am alone and there was nothing but darkness on the way here (if not for the app I wouldn’t have found this). There were seven of us in the beginning but it eventually became 15 to 20 people by sunrise. So your blog may have reached to more people.

    • Hannah Logan on December 18, 2017 at 7:58 pm

      I’m glad you found it! This post gets quite a few hits so I guess it is growing a bit popular. Still, 20 people is better than the hundreds at the others!

  7. Tonkin-Travel Vietnam on May 25, 2018 at 3:19 am

    Your post is really useful and inspiring. Thanks so much for your sharing!

  8. Shane M Spencer on June 22, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    Thanks Hannah, this was very useful not only on what to do/see but also an honest appraisal of duration of stay!

  9. Myanmar Tours on June 26, 2018 at 11:13 pm

    Thank you for showing our country in a beautiful way ! really like reading your blog

    • Hannah Logan on June 27, 2018 at 2:10 pm

      Aw thank you! I absolutely adored my time in Myanmar!

  10. […] Is your time in Bagan limited? Click here to learn how best to explore the city in two days! […]

  11. […] speaking families in Vietnam and bartered my way through Egypt. I’ve driven motorbikes around the temples of Bagan and scuba dived with bull sharks in Fiji. I may not be the most extreme or adventurous traveller […]

  12. Carolina Saruca on March 18, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    Hi Hannah. Thanks for your tips.
    Do they require an international driver’s license to rent an e-bike?

    • Hannah Logan on March 18, 2019 at 8:33 pm

      I didn’t get asked for one!

      • Carol Saruca on March 19, 2019 at 3:08 am

        Ok. Thanks Hannah.

  13. Kelsey on October 22, 2019 at 3:13 am

    It’s such a good blog. I will travel to Bagan next month. I need to prepare more. This blog helps me to find more beautiful places in come. Thank you so much.

  14. Exploring Myanmar (Burma) | Foodie Flashpacker on December 4, 2019 at 12:13 am

    […] Is your time in Bagan limited? Click here to learn how best to explore the city in two days! […]

  15. Sorin on June 7, 2020 at 3:39 am

    Ananda Temple is one of my favourite in Bagan and it’s a must visit while traveling to Myanmar. But it’s difficult to have a favourite temple because it’s impossible to see all of 2000 temples or more in Bagan!

  16. […] your photos, make sure you choose high quality ones. The photo from me standing on the temple in Bagan (as seen above) isn’t quite as sharp and detailed as the other photos. It’s an older picture […]

  17. […] access to my secret temple (and every temple) is no longer permitted. Please take a look at my 2 days in Bagan guide for an updated version on where you can see sunrise in Bagan. I’ve chosen to keep this […]

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