Tips for Visiting the Temples of Bagan
The verdant plains of Bagan are flanked off the eastern banks of the Irrawaddy River in central Myanmar. The city is home to the country’s ancient capital and thousands of Buddhist temples, pagodas, and stupas built between the 11-14th AD.
Use the following tips to prepare for your adventure exploring the rich architecture of Bagan’s rich 26-square-mile Archeological Zone:
Best way to get around
Set aside at least a couple of full days to explore the region. Travelers can rent bicycles or E-bikes (electronic mopeds) for $4-10 USD per day to explore the pockets of monuments scattered around the main towns of Nyaung U, Old Bagan, and New Bagan. We recommend hiring a guide from a company like Enjoy Bagan Tours when visiting major temples to gain a deeper understanding of the local history and culture. The guides will point out details and facts that you’d never learn on your own.
Wear shoes that are easy to remove
When visiting a Buddhist shrine, it is customary to remove shoes and socks before entering. This is a sign of respect and keeps the area of worship clean. Carry shoes that slip on and off easily, even small shrines require visitors to be barefoot.
Shoulders and knees must be covered
Buddhist etiquette dictates that shoulders and knees be covered when entering a temple. Dress modestly or carry a long scarf. Longyis – a wraparound sarong worn by Myanmar men and women – are a perfect solution for concealing legs. They can be purchased for a few dollars and make nice souvenirs.
Prepare for dusty feet and legs
The dry plains of Bagan are filled with dusty roads. It’s inevitable that your feet will get powdered with a light layer as you explore. Carry a pack of wet wipes or a bottle of water to clean off feet, particularly when exiting the temples. Waterproof sandals like the Birkenstocks EVA series are easily rinsed clean, stylish, and comfy for walking.
Carry a small flashlight
Many of the smaller, less visited temples are dim inside. Use a flashlight to illuminate the shrine, you may even discover faded ancient frescoes and paintings on the wall. Some of the taller structures have dark, narrow staircases that lead to rooftop views of the landscape. With low ceilings, torches are a must to avoid hitting your head against the winding passageways’ low ceilings.
Have cash ready for the Bagan Archaeological Zone fee
Any tourists visiting the temples of Bagan are required to pay a K25,000 ($20 USD) entry fee. There are fee desks at the airport and major ports of entry, but they only accept cash. Fear not, airports are equipped with ATM machines to retrieve Kyat. The fee can also be paid in American dollars, but bills must look crisp, creaseless, and printed within the last 15-20 years. Once the fee is paid, visitors will receive a pass that is valid for five days. Remember to store it in your wallet during your stay in case tourism officials request to see it (though we must admit, no one ever asked to see ours during our trip).
Stupas and shrines are not jungle gyms
The ancient buildings of Bagan are still considered sacred and many are still used as active religious sites of worship. The structures are also fragile, especially with the devastating damage done by recent earthquakes: of the over 10,000 monuments that were originally built, only approximately 3,500 remain. The In 2017, the Myanmar government imposed bans on climbing many of the temples in order to preserve the area’s delicate architecture. While visiting, be cautious of where you step and what you touch (even if it means foregoing the perfect selfie spot). Avoid crumbling areas and obey restriction signs.
Catch sunrise or sunset on the plains
Watching the sun rise or set from a high vantage point is a mystical way to experience Bagan. The majestic landscape transforms into golden hues, punctuated by silhouettes of stupas and temples. Photographers should consider shooting at sunrise when dozens of hot-air balloons take flight over the monuments. Since many temples are now banned from scaling, ask your tour company or concierge for recommendations on where to go.
What was the highlight of your trip to Bagan? Share questions and tips for other travelers below.
Lara was infected with the travel bug at an early age. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of discovering the world. She recently relocated to Seoul, South Korea, for her husband’s job and hopes to explore much of Asia while there. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as a freelance graphic designer. In her spare time, she contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR,is an ambassador for FIG Clothing, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, instructs Zumba, practices yoga, dabbles in photography, and of course, travels as much as possible. like and share: