Exploring Amazing Temples in Bagan

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in a #followmeto style at Ananda Temple

This post will tell stories of my 2nd day out of four days adventure in Myanmar on November 30th, 2017 and I will cover the other day on another post. And this one is a long post, so grab your snack and enjoy 😉

I arrived in Nyaung-U, a small town near Bagan using night bus departing from Yangon. I had no time to sleep except in the Bus (I barely sleep on the bus) and arrived in Nyaung-U around 5 am in the morning. The pick-up arranged from the Hotel in Bagan picked us up and I arrived at the Hotel around 5:30 am. After taking shower and short rest, I quickly sprinted to have adventure of the day: Exploring temples in Bagan. I had only one day in Bagan since the following day I needed to go to Inle Lake for another adventure.

Although I will eventually list the temples, I would like to also share about details of how to get to the Bagan, where is Bagan actually located, a bit of its history, where to stay in Bagan, Where is Nyaung-U anyway and what’s the relations to Bagan, and all the nitty-gritty about Bagan.

Things to learn about Old Bagan, New Bagan, and Nyaung-U

​Bagan is an ancient city in Myanmar, or at least it was. It was founded in the 2nd century, and bloom in 9th-13th centuries with approximately over 10,000 religious monuments were built over the course of 250 years (1000 stupas, 10,000 small temples and 300 monasteries – source: Wikipedia). From these 10,000 monuments, only about 2000 are remain in the region surviving earthquake, weather, and aging.

The restoration of the temples in Bagan have often criticised of not paying attentions to the original architecture styles and used modern material, causing the area have not yet earned a title of one of UNESCO Heritage Area.

Nowadays, as archaeological zone Bagan covers the area of Nyaung-U township/district, Old Bagan, and New Bagan and they are part of Mandalay Region in Myanmar. This archaeological zone has been seen in comparison to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Old Bagan is where all the religious architectures spread, where the ‘main attraction’ live, and currently off limits for permanent resident. Although there are limited numbers of hotels, most of the hotel, motels are located in Nyaung-U and New Bagan.

I stayed in Nyaung-U, and rented an e-bike (electronic motorcyle) to have easy access exploring temples in Old Bagan. It takes about 10-15 minutes ride from Nyaung-U to Old Bagan temples by e-bike, and it’s connected to asphalted main road, the Anawrahta road. There are many more accommodations and restaurants in Nyaung-U than in Old Bagan or New Bagan. Nyaung-U is where most of the tourists stay in Bagan (more affordable stays and restaurants), and it is where the overnight Bus from Yangon ends its journey (Bagan Shwe Pyi High Way Bus Station).

If you want to stay closer to the temples, you can choose to stay at Old Bagan or New Bagan instead. But of course, it comes with more budget than those in Nyaung-U. For more reference you can read it here and here.

How to get to Bagan

Like I mentioned before, I went to Bagan (or Nyaung-U) using OVERNIGHT BUS from Yangon. It departs from Aung Mingalar Bus Station in Yangon and arrive at Bagan Shwe Pyi High Way Bus Station. There are many overnight Bus from Yangon to Bagan, but I used Joyous Journey Express.

After arriving in Yangon airport in the morning, me and my friend went straight to Aung Mingalar Bus Station to buy ticket in JJ Express bus office. There were so many bus offices and we had our taxi driver searched the office for us by asking people in the station. But, you can also buy the ticket online via its website that I shared above. The ticket costs about 23,000 MMK (or 19 USD). The bus ticket price when I bought it was quite different with what I read in the blog and lonely planet, so make sure you check the web for the latest price. I also found that other than the transportation cost, entrance fee to the temple were also different as there had been official price raising on Myanmar attractions. So, I would suggest to check the latest price right before going as it may help you prepare the budget as well.​After the transaction had made, I was told to capture the transaction detail they made on their ipad on my phone. I needed to show it later when about to check-in the bus.

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Joyous Journey Bus Office (source: http://placesmap.net/MM/Joyous-Journey-Express-Bus-Stop-2390262/)
As you may also notice in JJ website, there are several departure times from am to pm. I selected the overnight bus since I didn’t want to waste the daytime on moving from one place to another. Overnight buses on First class departs at 8 pm, and the premium economy departs at 10 pm. I selected the first class at 8 pm as i wanted to be as comfortable as I can and had a great sleep before continued exploring Bagan Temple the next day. It was scheduled to arrive in Nyaung-U the day after at 5 am (9 hours journey).
​Around 7 pm I arrived at the JJ Office, showed the booking details and get a sticker (as a ticket to enter the bus) stamped on my shirt with Bus Number and seat number on it. If you bring luggage, you also need to tell the JJ employee, as they will collect them and give you a card matching the one tied to your luggage as an identification. About 5 minutes before the bus departed, they were calling all the passenger manually. Somebody screamed the destination and the bus number as a sign for boarding.

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JJ Bus Sticker-ticket
The bus was big obviously, with spacious leg room. I could not stop comparing it to airplane ride as somehow the services were made to make passenger feel as if they were on an airplane. Blanket was provided, reclining seat, even drink and snack were provided, and small screen on the back of the seat. They also offered hot drink as well. But as I never sleep well in the airplane nor a car, I could not sleep well in the bus. Not because it was not convenient, but I simply can’t sleep when my back is not well rested. My friend slept well the entire journey. The Bus made several stoppages for drink, toilet, and rests. There was one major stop on a rest area that was very big, with restaurants everywhere and it was very crowded. I didn’t recall the name of the place though, but we stopped there for about an hour.

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JJ overnight bus details
​We arrived around 5 am in the morning at Bagan Shwe Pyi High Way Bus Station of Nyaung-U. At that time, the pre-arranged pick-up from the Hotel where we stayed at Nyaung-U already there. The Pick-up is the bare-back open space on typically pic-up car, so my bumps were literally screaming along the way as we crossed bumpy road to the hotel. I can still recall myself wondering how exciting the trip had been for me, and as bumpy as it was, I wouldn’t trade it with luxury, comfortable, pillowy, soft seat on a usual car.

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This is what picked us up, hard and windy 😀
As an alternative, you can also buy local airplane in Myanmar. There are Air Bagan, Air KBZ, Myanmar National Airlines, and Air Mandalay. To save time, the best way to travel between Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, and Mandalay is using airplane. But they are quite expensive for inter-region flight. My research on dummy booking through the airplane’s website also sometime ended up with booking glitch, which made me unsure to book online. Also, not every airline website has online booking capability. So me and my friend decided to use overnight bus to go to Bagan (to save money), and use flight only from Inle Lake to Yangon. Here’s another reference on how to travel to Bagan.

Where to stay in Bagan

My earlier research in Nyaung-U resulted in myriad accommodations. So, I chose the one that close to Shwezigon Pagoda. But, since I found it close to my departure date, almost accommodations had been full. I chose Thiri Mingalar Hotel. It offers hotel transfer (we have to pay), e-bike rental (if I’m not mistaken, we got MMK 8000 per day), the room was spacious and clean.

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Hotel Room

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Breafast at The Hotel

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Hotel Bathroom

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E-bike that we rent from the Hotel

Temple to Visit in Bagan (at Sunrise, Daylight, or Sunset)

Before I jump to tell the stories about Bagan Temples, it is important to note that e-bike is the best way to explore Bagan Temples. It is cheap and clean. We were given helmet but somehow it’s different with those for motorcycle or even bicycle. The safety rope hanging weird around the head and it’s choking me instead so I left it behind. My friend luckily brought masker and we used it instead (i know it’s not interchangeable to helmet, but it’s another thing worth wearing while e-biking).

It is also important to note that driver in Myanmar is on the right side of the car. BUT, the vehicle is to stay on the right side of the road, which we found weird. In Indonesia, driver of a vehicle is on the right side of the vehicle, but the vehicle is to occupy the left side of the road. So, my friend who drove the e-bike found it a bit awkward and needed some time to adjust with this situation. But, we made it save and sound the whole time.

​Now let’s talk about the temples. To be honest, all of references that I read about temples that were good for sunrise or sunset were not valid when I was there in 30 November 2017. I referred to Lonely Planet (July 2017) and several personal blogs from traveler’s experience dated back from 2014-2016. I visited all of them, but almost referred temple’s access to upper level were closed, either for restoration or for other reasons we may not know. But to be fair, our reach only covers nearby area in Old Bagan given one -day itinerary. I am quite sure, other temples that we hadn’t had chance to visit may gives beautiful view of sunrise, and or sunset.
​​Our plan was to have sunset on the afternoon of 30 November, and have the sunrise on 1st of December before we went to Inle Lake. At first, we visited the famous temples, and then we also decided to visit most temple we referred to watch during sunrise and sunset. During our exploration, we found that the access to the upper level were mostly closed. This, and the fact that the top of those temples was covered with scaffoldings and some construction workers made us think that maybe they are closed for restoration works. We went around and about from 8am to about 7 pm to find “our sunset and sunrise temple” in old Bagan Area and these are the temple that we visited that day.

Some tips and information before exploring Bagan Temples:

  • Rent e-bike (it saves your time and money). Ask that if you run out of the battery, they can re-charge/switch the battery for free. Make sure the headlamp of the bike works. It is especially useful when you hunt temple for sunrise since it’s a total dark out there in the temple complex.
  • Bring maskers as this is one of the driest area in the country, the dusts are everywhere.
  • Bring enough water with you
  • Use sandal instead! It is compulsory to put off your footwear before entering the temple, so wearing sandal is the easiest one.
  • Dress well and make sure your arms and legs are well covered as a respect to the local religion.
  • Have a lunch at Old Bagan, this will save your time, and there lots of great restaurants and café out there.
  • Entrance fee to Bagan Archaeological Area is MMK 25,000 as of November 2017

1. Hitlominlo Temple

​This temple is 45 meters high and was built in 1218. This is the first temple that I visited in Old Bagan. The entrance of the temple was full with hawkers and some of the souvenir they sell are worth checking.

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2. Ananda Pahto 

​It’s one of the best, hard-to-miss Temple in Bagan. To quote from Lonely planet, it is most finest, largest, and best-preserved temple in Bagan. From the outside, the creamy and light brown color attracted me instantly. Not to mention the detailed craving on its architecture. Ananda Pahto also has golden, shimmering top (hti) and mixed perfectly with the whole architecture.

Inside the temple is more remarkable sight. There were so many engraved terra-cotta glazed tiles that decorate the wall’s passage ways. To admire fully the architecture, one has to circle each of its sides from inside and outside. As I have experienced in every temple in Bagan, is that I often lost orientation on which direction I had come in and where to come out, since it has four entrance. Make sure you remember which way you come in/out.

Legend has it, that King Kyansittha killed the eight monks that built the temple, so that there was no other temple like Ananda Temple. Another believe that they were killed to serve as guardian spirit of the temple.

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Ananda Temple from outside

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Intersection of the passage ways

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the amazing stupas embedded on the wall

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3. Shwesandaw Pagoda

This temple was quoted as one of the best spot to watch sunset in Bagan. Unfortunately, it was under MAJOR constructions and took up the entire building. So, we did not even enter the temple.

W hen we were there, there was a building on the right side of the entrance path that house the reclining Buddha statue. The room was quite dark and narrow and maybe only 3-5 people fit there.

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​4. Loka Oakshang (and the stupas in front of it) –  Where I watched Sunrise

I visited this temple because one of two references that I read (here and here) mentioned that Law Ka Ou Shaung (next to Loka Oakshang) was the best spot for sunrise or sunset.

But when I got there, i could not find Law Ka Ou Shaung. I used google map so it was pretty accurate (I guess). On the map, it’s located next to Loka Oakshang. There was actually another temple beside Loka Oakshang, but it wasn’t accessible. The visible access towards it was full of bushes and it seems that no-one goes to the Temple.

So, we went inside to Loka Oakshang instead, and figured out if the access to the upper level was opened. It wasn’t.

​After going back and forth looking for Law Ka Ou Shaung, we decided that maybe it wasn’t opened again. We also found out that right in front of Loka Oakshang was a Stupa (no name, and it’s not even in Google Map) that was pretty solid, and provide a great access to view the plain and its surrounding. We immediately listed it as a back-up spot to watch the sunset later back then or sunrise if we couldn’t find a better spot.

Beware, the hawkers in this area (around Shwesandaw Pagoda and this one) are persistent and relentless. They are polite but somehow, they don’t take no for an answer. 

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Loka Oakshang Temple

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Stupas in front of Loka Oakshang

5. Sulamani Temple

I enjoyed my time in Sulamani temple. It was quite when we visited the Temple, not as crowded as Ananda. It has five doorways known as the crowning Jewel and was constructed around 1181 by Narapatisithu (source: Lonely Planet). After several Temple, I felt the similarity between Htilominlo and Sulamani, and probably other temple that we passed by.

I also found that access to the upper level was locked here in this temple, which mean we could not go upstairs to watch sunrise or sunset from this Temple. There’s possibility though, that the accesses are opened during sunrise or sunset. But we would never know that. But looking at the scaffolding installed on top of the Temple, it was very unlikely.

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scaffolding at the top of the temple

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Sulamani Temple

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Entrance gate of Sulamani Temple

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Rules of entering the temple

6. Thitsarwadi Temple

​This one was also quoted to be the best spot to watch sunrise/sunset in Bagan. But there was construction structure as well and the access to the upper level was closed. The temple itself was relatively simple and quite.

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7. Pyathetgyi Temple

This two stories temple was also very quite, in fact, we were the only visitors at that time.

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8. Myauk Guni (Where I watched sunset)

As we approaching sunset, we still couldn’t find nearby temple worth to watch sunset, until we stranded in front of Myauk Guni. At about 6 pm, the temple was so packed that the access road was full of motorcycle, e-bike, cars, and hawkers. That was a sign that the temple was open for sunset spotting. So we decided to stop on this Temple and went upstair. At that time the upper level was so crowded with tourists, monks, and hawkers. All tourists already picked up their spot and awaits until sunset. So this was where we watch the sunset. Not as we expected, but it was pretty anyway.

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* SUNSET AND SUNRISE EXPERIENCE IN BAGAN*

​Actually, what I wanted is to spend sunrise and sunset in a temple that’s not too crowded, but provide excellence view of the entire landscape. With little research and exploration that we had in just a few hours, we managed to find some temples that provide good view although most of accesses to the upper level (where it’s supposed to give higher view of the entire Bagan landscape) was closed to restorations. But we success nailing Sunset and Sunrise in Bagan! Yeayy! Bucket list checked!

In Summary, I spent the sunset in Myauk Guni and sunrise in the Stupa in front of Loka Oakshang Temple. Both experience was beyond amazing. I love watching the sunset color over the Bagan temple. And I love watching the sunrise, how the balloons fly over temples in Bagan. Both was surreal and experience in a lifetime.

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Sunsets photos in Bagan taken from Myauk Guni

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Sunrise from Stupa in Loka Oakshang

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Sorry if it’s too long to read, but that’s about it and i hope you enjoy reading it. I will write another post about Day-1 in Yangon soon.

​Thanks to my travel buddy Jennifer who expertly navigating the e-bike through Old Bagan and being the best that she is.

If you are planning to Bagan and you have some questions please let me know. I will try my best to answer. Thank you for reading, Happy Travelling.

Asana Kusnadi
I'm Asana Kusnadi from Semarang Indonesia. Some of my friends call me Mei, it is taken from my Chinese Name. I was born in Semarang, capital city of Central Java and lived there until I graduated from University. After graduated i worked in Sumatera island and it's been almost 9 years now i live in Riau Province

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