Bagan was just named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019. Although you can clearly see where some temples were “fixed” while under military rule, the country has taken great pains to preserve this landscape. You should visit this place before other tourists do since it’s only going to get crowded with time.
With time, I’m sure it will become impossible to climb the temples (only a few were available to be climbed when I was there). But it was certainly still possible if you were willing to look. However, worry that with increased tourism along with the earthquakes prone to the region, the ability to climb some of the temples may soon come to a close.
Let me preface this by saying this is not a political commentary nor is it an endorsement for anything political or humanitarian that is occurring in Myanmar.
I had wanted to visit Myanmar and specifically Bagan for some time now. The views of countless pagodas doting the horizon just seemed like something from a movie and I wanted to see it for myself. The views certainly didn’t disappoint.
Getting here is simple enough as there are multiple airlines that fly the routes to the main tourist destinations. From Yangon, it was just about an hour flight to Bagan. You arrive at an incredibly small airport where you walk into a two room terminal and wait for your luggage to be unloaded. Right before you walk through the terminal building, you’ll see a booth that sells the pass you need to visit the archaeological park. It costs 25K kyat and you’re told to keep it on you at all time when visiting.
I bought it right when I got there but to be honest, I don’t know where the park starts or how a park ranger even looks. I saw a few sheds which looked official but they were all closed whenever I rode past them. I was also never stopped or asked but it could just be luck since the area is so large and I was there during low season so that could explain it as well.
In Bagan, you can rent e bikes (electric scooters) for around $10/day. They can be rented all over the place and they’re really the only way to see the park. You could rent a car, go with a tour bus, or order a taxi but it really won’t be as fun or liberating as riding around on an e bike. Just make sure you ride around a little slowly until you get the hang of it.
There are signs asking visitors not to climb the temples and pagodas and many of the stairwells up are gated and locked. However, that isn’t to say that ALL of them are gated and locked. I wouldn’t be able to tell you which ones because I don’t know if they all have names nor am I sure where they are on a map. You can also pay some local kid(s) to take you but half the fun is in the search. It also seemed to me like some were being reinforced to be safer for tourists and so they could be open for climbing. Finally, there are more than a few structures that you can climb fairly easily if the urge hits. All this is to say that there are options for you to climb some of the structures if you really wanted. Just know that the passage ways are very narrow, dark, and cramped. And you’ll be walking around barefoot so at the very least, remember a flashlight or your cell phone with you to see.
Sunrise/sunset in Bagan is one of those things everyone talks about and believes it’s worth doing. My feeling is the light is better for taking photographs but the reason everyone talks about it is because there really isn’t much else to do here. All the attractions rightfully revolve around the pagodas. If you’re up at that hour, you might as well ride around especially if you have the full day since it won’t be as hot and you’ll have the full use of the e bike. If you’re not a morning person, I never felt the park to be crowded at all. Again, if you’re going during peak season, your experience will most certainly be different.
Bagan was a really fun and interesting place to visit. If you have an opportunity to visit Myanmar, getting a visa is simple and can be done online. Bagan is certainly a town that is growing as tourism grows. Yangon already has a new, modern airport and I can’t imagine Bagan being too far behind. There are numerous places to stay and the locals are certainly learning languages from countries where tourists are visiting.
I’d also like to say that at no time did I feel unsafe (remember I’m a solo traveller) or unwelcome. Of course the usual precautions should be taken as you would when visiting any city (ie being aware of your surroundings, avoiding unwanted attention, etc). The people I met were incredibly warm and friendly. Even people who didn’t speak any English would try as hard they could to help me. I think it’s important to realize that the government of a country bears little resemblance to the citizens and people of that nation.