Choosing the areas to explore
With thousands of pagodas to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start! We found it easier to divide the time we had into exploring different sections, spending a day each on the road from Nyaung U to Old Bagan, Old Bagan Town and the area to the south of Nyaung U. Really though you can just travel around and find yourself stumbling across beautiful ancient buildings at every turn.
The biggest and most impressive pagodas to tick off the list are the Htilominlo temple, Ananda temple and Dammayan Gyi pagoda so make time for these.
The Ananda temple is beautiful having been sculptured from white stone, whilst the Dammayan Gyi is the largest of all and features 4 enormous Buddha statues.
The hawkers can be a nuisance but some will offer short guided tours of the temples for the price of a small tip which is very worthwhile to understand the history of the larger monuments.
Best pagodas for sunrise and sunset
For the most awe inspiring sunrises and sunsets make your way to the La-Kha-ou-shaung, Pyathetgyi and Shwesandaw pagodas which are the most famous spots for good reason. They do get very busy though so either get there early or head to a quieter spot.
For incredible views and a peaceful space for some morning meditation there are a number of small pagodas that can be climbed near the currently closed Buledi temple. (It was closed after the 2016 earthquake along with many of the smaller pagodas). This is by far the best place to enjoy a tranquil and breath-taking sunrise and will leave you amazed as the balloons start to ascend and the sky drifts through an amazing array of colours.
Best off the beaten track pagodas
Some of our other favourites that are a little more off the beaten track and offer perfect spots to enjoy the amazing atmosphere of Bagan without the throngs of tourists include the Pa-tha-da, Sulamani and Mya-zi-gon pagodas.
The Pa-tha-da is a small red stone complex with a beautiful golden roof and a couple of very peaceful and mysterious smaller pagodas to spend some time exploring. There are so many dotted across the landscape though that it's easy to find a quiet spot and all of the pagodas are incredible in their own ways.
Most hotels will happily provide maps and it's worth using this alongside Google maps or maps.me so you can track your route accurately. Despite there being only two roads there are many unsignposted dirt tracks so it's surprisingly easy to get lost!
Other top tips include taking warm clothes for sunrise and sunset as it's very chilly without the hot sun, and a scarf to protect from the dust is also handy.
For a different view over the pagodas take a boat to Bagan from Pakokku or Mandalay.
The tourist infrastructure in Bagan is reasonably well established so there are plenty of places to eat and drink along the way, whether a small snack or drink from the stalls outside the larger temples or one of the many restaurants in Nyaung U or Old / New Bagan.
Many of the temples are clustered into a relatively small area so it's very easy to get around. Nyaung U is just 5km from Old Bagan whilst New Bagan isn't much further on from here along the river so travelling is simple and quite quick depending on your chosen method of transport.