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Whether self-guided, on a bike or via horse cart, a Bagan tour at any pace means exploring a city filled with thousands of ancient temples. Here’s how best to go about uncovering this magnificent city of Myanmar.
I arrived at 4 am following another long overnight bus from Inle Lake. I had two options of finding my hotel – by foot, since I knew it wasn’t too far away, or by horse and cart. “How wonderfully quaint,” I thought. “Horse and carts, just like days of old.” Sitting in the open cart, feet dangling over the edge, bumping along with the clip-clopping sound down the dark streets in the early hours of the morning, Bagan was already beginning to feel mysterious – like I had stepped back in time by centuries.
Taking Temple Hopping to the Extreme
The temple city of Bagan is one of the four top traveller hotspots in Myanmar, alongside Yangon, Mandalay and Inle Lake, and it still retains an ageless feel, nostalgic of the time when the temples were constructed between the 9th and 13th centuries.
But if you are thinking of a temple complex here that’s similar in size and easy navigation to that of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, think again.
The ENTIRE city is filled with temples. Everywhere. Over 2,000 of them – around every corner, alongside every road, tucked away behind housing and shop fronts and scattered across the vast arid plains. Small and nondescript, big and imposing, huge and magnificent – they are there.
Put simply, Bagan is extraordinary but completely exhausting.
READ MORE: Ethical Myanmar Travel Guide: What To Know Before You Go.
How to Get Around and Exhaust Yourself
Your hotel or guesthouse – many of which are based in New Bagan (half an hour from the main temples predominantly based in Old Bagan) will help you mark out the most interesting 10 or so temples on a map. They will also tell you the best route to get around and where to watch sunrise and sunset – an incredible view as you look out across the never-ending landscape and see all the spires of the hundreds and thousands of temples, like stalks sprouting through the undergrowth.
There’s two options to get around the vast chunk of main temples (and anything else in between should you be able to muster up the energy), by hiring a horse and cart for approximately $15-$20 for the day or to hire a bike for around $3.
I chose the cycle option, which would give me more freedom to stop when I wanted, hang out with the locals at the snack stalls in between, and ride to any hidden little nooks and crannies as and when I found them. Plus the horses there made me sneeze so much I’m surprised I managed to still breathe – my guess being they are rarely groomed. However, in May the sun was scorching, which isn’t the greatest idea for a LONG cycle ride.
I passed out in bed after five hours of exploration. Here’s just a small taste as to why.
And then there was sunrise in Bagan.
And sunset in Bagan.
One and a half days was enough for me (including sunrise and sunset) and the views were incredible, especially when for most of the time, I had the landscape all to myself – one of the pros of not riding around the temples really early in the morning (at risk of sunstroke) and visiting during the low tourist season.
A visit to Bagan requires a conservation fee/sightseeing ticket fee of $10, valid for the entire time you are there. Tickets can be purchased from your hotel or guesthouse upon arrival.