Bagan is by far Myanmar’s most popular tourist destination. But, as everywhere else in
When you look at Instagram, all you will see beautiful hot air balloons, magical sunsets, and mystical old temples. And while all of this is true, there’s also another side of Bagan that rarely is spoken of. That is why, we’d like to give you a heads-up on a few things that surprised us.
1. It Is Officially Prohibited to Climb Pagodas
The ticket you will need to buy to enter the Bagan Archeological Zone
That being said, as there are well over 2200 stupas in Bagan, and you will undoubtedly find some structures that are more climbable than others. Occasionally, the locals will even offer to take you to pagodas you could get on top of (most of the time in exchange for buying a sand painting) but then it’s up to you and your conscience… We had a closer look at one of such structures and it wasn’t in
2. Big Temples Are Overrun by Tourists
Before we actually made it to Bagan, we imagined it as one of those places people rarely get to set
Luckily this problem concerns 10, maybe 20, pagodas in total, so we just jumped on our e-bikes and went on to explore the plains in search of some more magical spots! Just run your e-bike through
3. E-bikes Are Fun and Cheap
We probably overpaid as we rented them right in front of our hotel, but still it was approx.
You do not need a license to drive e-bikes. This is so true, that even some children that couldn’t be older than 14, were driving them on the road. Mind you, they easily go over 50 km/h. Just because they’re battery powered, doesn’t mean they’re weak at all!
There is a red/pink switch on the right hand side of the e-bike that changes gears and lets you go
4. Pagodas May Be Hard to Navigate
So you got your ebike and you’re off to the races. But where to go? Google Maps is zero help at least at
Eventually, it came down to simply exploring on our own and the help of other people who were in Bagan before us, or some newly met co-travelers. We recommend chatting up somebody in your accommodation and finding out if they know about any secret spots! There literally are dozens of them.
5. Many Pagodas Are Not Connected by Road
Some of the most beautiful pagodas and stupas we have seen are, unsurprisingly, located off
Many of those roads will either lead to some pagodas, or to another street that may lead to them. Don’t be afraid of just riding your e-bike for 30 minutes into one direction. Bagan is really safe, and we never felt uncomfortable anywhere. We also saw loads of sole travelers, male and female alike, that were doing this on their own. We’d highly recommend doing the same! Just keep an eye on that e-bike battery level.
6. There Is Dust Everywhere
With merely a main-street in the center of Old Bagan, there really are not many proper roads. Most of them are just dirt, or worse, sand roads. Not only is it hard to drive e-bikes on roads that have several centimeters of sand on them, but there is also excessive dust everywhere. Stubble burning and numerous locals burning rubbish do not improve the dust situation.
After each escapade, we were completely covered in dust. From Diana’s hair to Robin’s camera gear, everything required deep cleaning.
Bring a face mask so that you can avoid inhaling all the dust and have a way to thoroughly clean your camera gear.
7. Fake Sand Paintings and Junk Sellers
As we mentioned before, because Myanmar is a very understated tourist destination, we were hoping that Bagan would be this mystical place of forgotten temples that we could explore at our own pace without any distractions. Well, there are places like that in Bagan — in fact, a lot of them — but there are also few tourist traps.
Imagine relaxing at the beach and being approached by sellers with junk they want to sell you. Watches, sunglasses, sarongs, etc. Imagine that, with mass-produced souvenirs that they claim are handmade by their families. Weird though that all of them look the same, even if you’re at the other end of town.
Even in the middle of nowhere, you can occasionally be tracked down by men selling sand paintings that they swear are handmade, with natural colors from sandstone, crushed herbs and so on.
There are other blogs talking about this, too. You can find some useful articles here, here and here.
8. Locals Are Nice First, Then Ask You to Buy Something
Not exclusive to Bagan, but very much alive and well there, is the tactic of being nice to tourists first in order to guilt them into buying whatever is on offer. This literally was happening to us at least every couple of hours. It can be as simple as “do you want me to take a picture of you?” to “I can show you some secret temples/hills with beautiful sunrise/sunset views”.
As much as we’d like to think that every local has true intentions, this was simply not the case. We were continuously asked to buy some sand paintings or were offered to take a look at other souvenirs in a nearby shop. After the first few encounters, we simply said no to whoever was offering us anything at all.
9. Children Are Being Used to Sell Postcards
Heart-breaking at first, it gets annoying really quickly. Apart from some small pagodas in the middle of nowhere, you will frequently be approached by children not older than 10 years old. They will hold either “handmade” or regular postcards laminated in plastic in front of you, asking you to buy them. They’re very persistent and often won’t take no for an answer.
While sad at first, we quickly realized that this must have been a larger-scale operation. All
- Very cheap, just 1,000 MMK (or sometimes 1.00 USD).
- If “handmade”, they will throw in the words “Pablo Picasso” to sound cute.
It was obvious that somebody has taught them how to exploit visitors. In one particular case, they would even get a bit overconfident and started arguing with us. Unfortunately, this was during
Similar to other places where this is a problem, please don’t give in. Every time you support
10. November and December Have
the Most Beautiful Sunrises and Sunsets
During our hot air balloon ride with Balloons over Bagan, we were told that the best season for sunrises and sunsets is at the beginning of the season, which is November and December. Apparently, in these two months, you can experience the real magic of the pictures you see all over Instagram.
Also, note that the balloon season is between November and mid-March (double check the exact dates) so that’s when you want to be there in order to see the numerous balloons dotting
In our case, we had a hazy morning which was a bit of a bummer when you pay hundreds of Dollars for a ride in these, but at least we can give you the inside scoop if you plan on doing the same!
11. Hot Air Balloon Rides Are Ridiculously Overpriced
If you consider a hot air balloon ride in Bagan, know that you will pay at least double if not more than you would in other locations (like Cappadocia or Napa Valley). There is clearly an oligopoly of
Prices range from 350 to 450 USD which is more than twice than usual. If you have the budget for it, it’s a great experience though. For us, it was our first ride ever and we enjoyed it immensely. We wouldn’t do it again in Bagan but we are hooked and will definitely jump in those baskets elsewhere.
12. Hot Air Balloons Are Stunning
Driving around at dawn and trying to find the perfect spot to see the balloons go up into the sky was
Somehow, we were never 100% correct, so the second we would spot the balloons rising in the distance we would declare the “balloon hunting season”. We would chase them around on our e-bikes and snapping pictures from every possible angle. The view of balloons flying over you is in fact quite surreal.
As mentioned above though, the season is exclusively from November to mid-March. So plan your trip accordingly. We did not know that but got lucky! Arriving only one week before the season ended — phew!
13. Plastic Pollution Is Real
This is not specific to Bagan but is certainly omnipresent in Southeast Asia. The second you leave
Often, the locals even try to burn it which releases toxic fumes. Yet, another reason to cover your nose and mouth when you cruise around the plains.
Honestly, this should be on top of this list as we were really saddened and disgusted by how much garbage there was in some places. You cannot close your eyes to it and you will inevitably see it yourself. It really makes you rethink your plastic consumption.
Considering all the points, we would say that our experience in Bagan was a little bit underwhelming. It was a typical case of too high expectations versus reality.
That being said, we had a great time there and would definitely recommend visiting Bagan when you’re in Myanmar. It’s one of those special kinds of places that cannot really be compared with anywhere else.
If you want to know more about Myanmar, check out our other articles:
- The First-Timer’s Guide: What to Know Before Visiting Myanmar
- 8 Things They Don’t Tell You About Myanmar
- An Essential Guide to Mandalay
See you on the road,