THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BAGAN + HOT AIR BALLOON TIPS
One of the most magical and historical places we have come across in South East Asia. If you love temples, culture, history, hot air balloons, photography and friendly locals then you will love Bagan just as much as we did. With 2200+ temples/pagodas, it is sure to keep you busy! Bagan is currently in the process of finally becoming a UNESCO world heritage site so things are changing quickly. With many temples closed after the earthquakes due to damage, and the cities efforts to protect the remaining, it has become difficult to find pagodas you can still climb for those famous Instagram photos. We did, however, manage to find some!
This is a mandatory 25000Kyat Archaeological Zone Fee that must be paid if you plan to explore Bagan. Although it seems like a lot, it covers you for five days so you could always try sell the ticket to someone just arriving for some reimbursement if you are only there for a short stay.
Be sure to keep it on you at all times, especially if visiting the popular temples/pagodas as they will ask for it!
TEMPLE HOPPING WITH AN E-SCOOTER
No one comes to Bagan and misses out on the temples and pagodas dotted around the desert like landscape! There are many ways you can do this depending on your preference whether you want to bike, scooter, drive, go by horse or with a tour guide, Bagan caters for your every need. In our opinion, there is no better way to explore than with an E-Scooter (5,000K per day). These allow you to venture further distances and cover more temples in a day, plus hooning around on the dusty tracks is a fun activity in itself!
PAGODS YOU CAN STILL CLIMB FOR SUNRISE/SUNSET
There are two well-known pagodas the locals will happily offer to show you. Although there are large crowds at sunrise/sunset, they are an easy option. During sunrise and sunset, as you drive around you will find many locals out on scooters asking if you need help to find one of these, beware of what they may expect in return (Although most are kind and expect nothing, you might find yourself feeling guilty for not buying their souvenirs)
Here are some other options we found
-Myauk Guni: This one does have gates to prevent you from going up, but when we visited, a few others were making the effort to climb over this and head up for sunrise. (Also explore its neighbor Taung Guni)
-Search Dhammayazaka on google maps: Although you cannot climb this huge Pagoda sadly, go to the left-hand side as you drive in and you will find many medium-sized temples right next to it with no gates, and great views! These are perfect if you want one all to yourself.
The following cannot be climbed but are well worth a visit!
-Dhammayan Gyi Temple
Here you can see for yourself the village traditions such as painting, silversmith, weaving, cotton growing and much more. You can also see where they sleep, cook and keep the animals.
We popped in for some lunch at their restaurant which was cheap and delicious before the lady offered to take us on a tour around the village. We had read previous reviews about the expectation to buy something or give a donation at the end, which is true! We did not buy anything due to the price so we gave a small but fair donation of 5000k.
The locals around the village were kind, enjoyed talking to you and showing you what they were doing as well as inviting you to take as many photos as you please.
Obviously, this is not in everyone's budget, and trust me it wasn’t in ours either! But we decided after much deliberation, that we had to tick it off the bucket list at some point in our lives, so why not now? We are glad we did because the view was absolutely breathtaking, the crew was super friendly, and the champagne and croissants were delish! Great to see the temples from above and how many ruins lay around still.
BAGAN BALLOONING TIPS
BOOK IN ADVANCE – CHECK THE SEASON DATES
We recommend booking in advance especially in high season because seats fill up quickly as it is a highlight of Bagan.
Typically Balloons over Bagan runs from October to April, but we suggest checking online to be sure!
WHERE TO SIT
This is crucial if you want a good photo.
Do not be the first in the basket. If anything, BE THE LAST!
We made the mistake of hopping in first which means you are closest to the middle, right next to the HOT gas and other people will end up in your photos! Being on the outside corner is the way to go.
YOU WON’T NEED BREAKFAST AFTER
Although it may not be your usual breakfast, Champagne, croissants, water bottle, banana bread, shortbread, tea/coffee, and fresh cut up fruits are all provided as part of your package.
We wish we had thought of this! Although we did not see anyone using one of these, it would be great for your phone or GoPro to get a shot of you inside the balloon!
BALLOONS OVER BAGAN – AMAZING
Couldn’t recommend this company enough. Obviously, do your research and decide for yourself, there is probably not much if any difference but Balloons Over Bagan was the first Hot Air Balloon company in Bagan launched in 1999, followed by the others only a few years ago. Our pilot went out of his way to start up conversations and get to know everyone on a personal level as well as making many jokes to keep spirits higher than they already were.
YOU DO NOT NEED A JUMPER
We were prepared for the icy cold air considering we were going up high in the sky, but due to the hot gas pumping out into the balloon, you will be more than toasty. If anything, we found ourselves getting a light sweat sitting so closeby!
WHERE TO EAT + DRINK IN BAGAN
Khaing Shwe Wha Vegetarian Restaurant- Vegetarian or Not, this should not be missed. We simply ordered two curries with rice and a fruit juice, but the staff went out of their way to spoil us! First, they brought out some chips and peanuts for a starter, then as we were eating our curries, the lovely chef brought out the famous green tea leaf salad of Myanmar, banana slices in honey, grapes AND tamarind balls. All for free! If your not that fazed about food, then be sure to go for the lovely locals and their friendly service.
Date Café & Bakery- Friendly staff, best burgers AND best coconut shake + frappuccino we have had in a long time. Plus it is very well priced! We paid 3000 for a shake and 3500 for a burger, so still within a budget backpackers range.
Minnanthu Village- Cheap and right in the village premises. We had the fried vegetables and fried rice which was delicious. They will also give you locally grown peanuts as a starter to nibble on while you wait!
HTI Bar & Restaurant- Great cocktails and absolutely delicious food! We were there for happy hour which ran until 7 pm, two for one on selected drinks meaning we were spending 3000 for two drinks at a time. They also had a dart board, great seating area options, and friendly staff.
WHERE TO STAY IN BAGAN
There are three main villages, Nyaung-U, New Bagan and Old Bagan. The temples are well scattered and considering you will have a bike, it does not really matter where you stay in regards to location. Nyaung-U is the most popular and cheapest destination for backpackers so this was where we chose.
Shwe Na Di Guest House - We stayed here for three nights and it was perfect for backpacking on a budget. Although you have a shared bathroom, they are all clean, hot showers and your bedroom has a huge comfortable bed.
Ostello Bello hostel - Located in new bagan, Ostello Bello is a modern hostel that offers cheap dorm rooms or private rooms and has great communal areas for relaxing.
Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort - For the Luxury Traveler or Serious instagramer, this resort is as good as it gets and features an amazing infinity pool looking out to the awsome Bagan temples. You will be looking at a decent price tag for a room here however.
Check out other great places to stay here.
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