Edit: Due to recent changes in Bagan, 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 blog post up for my own memories but am sad to say it will no longer be of use to any travellers.
Imagine standing on top of a 1000 year old temple as the stars fade and the sky changes from inky blue to soft yellows and pinks. Watching the red, yellow, and green hot air balloons slowly fill up and lift off, floating across the sky in front of you as the sun breaks over the horizon. That is what its like watching the sunrise in Bagan from a temple. It’s pure magic, and I know if I lived here I would get up every single day to see it happen.
There are several popular places in Bagan to watch the sunrise. The most popular, and also the biggest, is the Dhammayangyi temple. It offers beautiful panoramic vistas and has a large viewing platform that is easily accessible. Another big one is Shwe San Daw Pagoda, which offers multiple viewing platforms for those brave enough to climb the steep stairs. Of course these are also the busiest temples; hosting hundreds of viewers every morning.
There are more, less popular, temples and pagodas from which you can watch the sunrise in Bagan. But, if they are on the map, chances are you won’t be the only ones there. And although the sunrise looks beautiful from everywhere, having spent my first morning at one of the busiest view points (Shwe San Daw) trying to get a clear photo while ducking under dozens of flailing arms and cameras, I can honestly say it doesn’t exactly make for a magical and relaxing start to the day.
After my first morning at Shwe San Daw, I was bummed. What I wanted was somewhere quiet and peaceful. Where I could take a photo without having to wait for my turn, and sit or stand without being bowled over by someone with a tripod who thought their photo was more important than mine just because they had a more expensive camera. In an area with thousands of temples, I didn’t think that would be too much to ask for.
Of course it wasn’t. While there are a dozen or so major temples and pagodas listed on the maps, there are hundreds more not listed at all. I asked the reception team at Ostello Bello hostel for some suggestions and he quickly drew several on my map, listing them for sunrise or sunset, or both. The final one he added fell into the ‘both’ category. “This is my favourite” he told me. “It’s tricky to find, so go a little earlier, but it’s the best.”
He explained that there were stairs up to a flat viewing point, but if we were feeling a little adventurous we could scale up the walls to the next level to walk around for a 360 degree, panoramic view. He told me that occasionally there might be a local taxi driver with a tourist or two, but chances are we would have it to ourselves.
It sounded pretty perfect, and it was. I had my magical sunrise in Bagan moment, not once, but three times. I took dozens of photos without people blocking my view, and I felt kind of like Indiana Jones which, for me, is always a good thing. Which is why I am now recommending it to you.
At the time I didn’t know the temple’s name (though now I’ve learned it’s called Ta Wet ). However, when we compared the map from the hostel to online maps, it did appear. It’s unnamed on these maps, but you can definitely find it on maps.me which helps a lot when you are trying to find it in the dark on a motorbike. That being said, I still suggest heading there a little early because it is off the beaten track and Bagan’s motorbikes are really e-bikes and (heads up) batteries tend to die at very inopportune moments. Yes, that’s me speaking from experience.
Directions (from New Bagan)
-Head towards Old Bagan, but don’t go inside the walls. Where the road forks take a right and head as if you are going to Ananda (a major temple on all maps)
-There is large dirt road on your right side- check the map posted above to make sure you take the right one.
-Head down this road for awhile. There will be two paths on your right side and one on your left that will lead to Sulamani temple- don’t turn on any of these.
-After the first turnoff to Sulamani (the path to your left) there will be a small path on the right- its almost directly across from Sulamani temple and its beside a pond. Go down this path to find the temple.
-At first the temple looks closed off, the front is gated but you can get in from the left side. Climb up the stairs to the main platform, then climb the tiny staircase to the next level. From here you can use the pillars on the side and ridges to climb up to the next level.
-Prepare to be amazed and feel free to thank me for the most magical sight ever in the comments below.
Note: It takes about 30-40 minutes to get here from Old Bagan on an ebike, so make sure you allow yourself the time. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it.
Want to see what sunrise in Bagan looks like? Check out my time-lapse video here.
Update October 2018: Readers have informed me that this temple is no locked and no longer accessible. Bagan has prohibited climbing the majority of their temples to best preserve them.