Watching the hot air balloons rise over the temples of Bagan during sunrise is quickly becoming a popular bucket list item, and we can understand why! The sunrises we witnessed were beautiful, serene and magical. Bagan is a city of ancient temples that apparently hit 10 000 in number! Now, at just over 2000 temples left, it is treat to explore.
Unfortunately over the last few years, temples in Bagan have been outfitted with gates to prevent tourists from climbing for better views of the archeological plain. The closures have significantly increased over the past couple of months (our post published December 2018). We’ve heard many reasons about why this is happening, the main one being that the temples aren’t structurally sound after earthquakes have hit the region. Other reports are citing overtourism, which is becoming an issue in many southeast asian countries. We aren’t experts on why this is happening, so we won’t go into that. This post is all about showing you where the temples that are still open to the public for climbing are located, and letting you know which ones provide the best views for your ideal sunrise/sunset experience!
We stayed in Shwe Na Di Guesthouse in Nyaung U while exploring the temples. The Bagan archeological plain has three main areas for tourists to stay (listed in order from most affordable to least affordable): Nyaung U, New Bagan and Old Bagan. Nyaung U was a cheap and fun place to stay, with a market nearby and lots of restaurants and bars to hang out at in between temple hunting. We stayed in a double room with air conditioning, a private bathroom with a hot shower, a mini fridge, and a great free breakfast for 32,000 kyat/night. Our only complaint was that the wifi consistently cut out, but otherwise the place was great for what we were paying. You can book a room online here.
We use maps.me religiously, so this post will be referring to the offline map app a lot. We highly recommend you download it, as it’s especially helpful for finding temples in the Bagan archeological plain (no, we are not associated with the app, we just love it!). The temples on our list will be labelled as they appear on maps.me and will include the exact GPS coordinates so you can easily input them into maps.me.
For sunrise, the main attraction is the hot air balloons that float through the sky. While a ride in one with cost you upwards of $300 USD, you can still admire them from afar, with the stunning sunrise in the background. The trajectory of the balloons depends on the wind direction that day, but both days we were there the balloons launched from the golf course in the north (we assume, but it’s very close to there) and floated south. Plan your time lapse videos accordingly!
The easiest way to explore the temples is to rent an e-bike for the day. Most hostels charge 7000 kyat for the day, or 5000 for a half day. We rented ours from a shop across the road from our guest house with much better bikes (and longer lasting batteries!) for 6000 for the day, or 3000 for a half day. It seems like most of the places on the side of the road are cheaper to compete with the hostels! Also note that you need to pay 25,000 kyat to enter the archeological plain, and your ticket only last 3 days.
The sun rises at about 6:20 am so we woke up at 5:00 am and aimed to leave around 5:15 to 5:30 am. From Nyuang U it takes about 30 minutes to get to the temples, so we arrived while it was still dark. However, this ensured that we had great spots for the sunrise as the temples do fill up! Remember that you will be entering temples with religious and spiritual significance, so please be respectful. Do not wear your shoes on or in any temple or stupa, and it is custom to have your knees and shoulders covered.
Sunrise/Sunset Climbing Temples
Gone are the days of exploring and having a temple all to yourself for sunrise or sunset. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t have a magical sunrise/sunset experience. Here are the temples we know are open for climbing as of December 2018:
- Utrecht Temple (listed as “Best views for sunrise and sunset climb high” on maps.me) – 21.149777, 94.871041 – Probably the most quiet sunrise/sunset temple you’ll find, as it’s actually a stupa. It is a solid pyramid shaped structure so there are no stairs inside to climb up the inside. On the northwest corner you’ll be able to climb up the outside. Since it’s a more difficult climb, there’s a small, mostly younger crowd. We visited twice at sunrise and were accompanied by 10-15 people.
- Lever de Soleil – 21.14805, 94.871902 – This temple is close to Utrecht, but is a classic temple with stairs accessible from the inside. When we visited for sunrise, we were accosted by a tour group of about 25 people, all outfitted with multiple cameras and tripods. Not sure if this will be the case every time, if the tour group wasn’t there it would have only been a handful of people. The nice thing is that if Lever de Soleil is busy, Utrecht (above) is very close by.
- “Excellent temple plus roof access for sunrise or sunset” – 21.150101, 94.86139 – We were here for sunset and it got relatively busy (20+ people). Based on its location, it makes for a classic sunset view. Also very close to Nagayon Paya (below).
- Nagayon Paya – 21.147862, 94.859231 – We loved this spot for sunset, as the sun went down directly behind a large temple, creating an amazing scene.
- Sunrise Temple – 21.156784, 94.867959 – We never made it here for sunrise or sunset, but did climb up just after sunrise one morning. The nice local man selling art, who seemed to be in charge of the temple, told us there weren’t many people there for sunrise. We’ve heard from other research that it gets quite busy. Either way, it’s a pretty easy internal stairway climb, and definitely an option for sunrise or sunset.
- Temple 860 – 21.145909, 94.883118 – Temple 860 is the busiest temple in a group that includes the two temples listed below. It’s also the easiest to climb, as the stairs are around the outside of the temple, and you don’t have to squish through a tight stairwell. This is probably why most tour groups end up here.
- Rooftop 360 view – 21.145138, 94.882221 – Still busy, but definitely quieter than Temple 860. You’ll share the sunrise with 30 people or so, but it doesn’t seem to get tour groups. From our other sunrise spots, we could see that it was often close to the hot air balloon trajectory. It has a tight internal stairway to climb up. We were there for our first sunset in Bagan and though it was busy, it was a great start.
- Behind “Rooftop 360 view” – 21.145187, 94.8817 – The quietest of the last three temples listed, we only saw people on this temple from neighbouring “Rooftop 360 view” but never climbed it ourselves. It is unlabelled on maps.me, but the coordinates will get you there!
Those are the temples we know of, let us know if you’ve climbed any others recently so we can add to our list! Alternatively, if you end up at one of these temples and find it closed let us know so we can keep this post up to date, and help as many people as possible have an amazing Bagan experience!