The overview map below shows Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung-U. The Bagan Archaeological Zone is not as large as the Angkor temple complex, the main Bagan temple area between Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung-U is roughly 7km by 7km. The huge Angkor archaeological park stretches to 400 square kilometres; the Bagan Archaeological Zone is less then 50 square kilometres.
Bagan Hotel Zone tourist map
Hotel map of Bagan, Touristenkarte/karte von Bagan
Nyaung-U is the main town in the north-east near the airport and bus-station, it is the central transportation hub for Bagan. The budget hotels, guest houses and restaurants are in the charming old town of Nyaung-U. For the evening out Nyaung-U (Nyaung-Oo) with its many restaurants is the place to be.
A Resort, a hotel or a guesthouse in Bagan?
Booking a hotel in Bagan can be confusing because the 3 locations of Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung-U are all very different in character and price. Where you want to stay depends on your budget too; Nyaung-U has the cheaper budget hotels, New Bagan has the mid-range and quieter hotels, Old Bagan is the posh but rather quiet area.
A price indication (high-season rates) for the three hotel area's:
Note: the low-season rate of mid-range and top-end hotels can be 20 to 30% less than the high season room rate (december - january).
- Budget hotels : 10 - 40 US dollar
- Midrange hotels: 30 - 70 US dollar
- Top- end hotels : 60 - 250 US dollar
Where to stay - from cheap to expensive.
The centre of Nyaung-U village is interesting, with some colonial architecture and a market which is a hive of activity. Most of the very popular restaurants are in Nyaung-U, on restaurant street, though New Bagan also has many restaurants.
The busy north-south road from the market towards the airport and the monasteries can make Nyaung-U noisy; in some area's the monks wake up very early in the morning and diligently start their morning chanting. Nyaung-U has many guest houses and cheap hotels, and a few mid-range hotels.
New Bagan has a good range of mid-price accommodations. It was built in 1990, when the government relocated the villagers from Old Bagan, and that's why lacks the colonial charm of Nyaung U. New Bagan is a pleasant town however; it is very quiet and has some lovely restaurants.
The historic city of Old Bagan has the luxury resorts and posh hotels, but has far less restaurants than Nyaung-U. However if you rent an e-Bike scooter then Nyaung-U is less than 15 minutes driving away; and perhaps half an hour by bicycle. Old Bagan is the best location for the popular main temple group, but if you bicycle out of Nyaung-U towards Old Bagan you will soon notice temples left and right. And even New-Bagan has some fascinating temples very close to it, notably the golden domed Dhamma Yazika.
The Airport area has a few new hotels, but no restaurants at all. It seems to be the worst location; only useful if you want to stay very close to the airport or bus station.
E-Bikes / e-Scooter rent.
E-bikes can be rented at many hotels; but you can ask for a discount if you ask around at e-bike shops and if you rent more then one day. The e-bikes in Bagan are really quite big and fast e-Scooters; the most powerful e-bike can do 50km/hour. Depending on the size and performance the rent is between 6.000 to 8.000 Kyat (can be more in posh hotels).
There are two types of e-bikes, a medium size and a large one. Bigger is better but both types are quite good. The standard e-bike can do about 45 km/hour but when going top speed for a full day you might run out of battery power - slow down when you see the dial going to 80% charge. Most of the larger eBikes have a better battery endurance. If your eBike's top speed is less than 40 km/hour the battery is in a bad condition.
Be careful when you have no scooter experience; you won't become a good driver in an hour. That said, there is little traffic in Bagan and no licence checks so you could try it if you are a good bicycle/moped driver and know your limitations. Drive slow and stay on the asphalt or hard dirt roads, but be careful because on soft sand patches you can crash. Test the e-bike before you rent it and get the phone number of the rental place in case a problem occurs.
And if you don't know how to ride a scooter, use a bicycle, horse cart, tuktuk or taxi. Be careful on soft sand, it is very slippery with 2 people on a bike. Perhaps walk a short stretch?
Improving tourism to Bagan.
Bagan Archaeological Zone ticket changes (2018).
All tourists must purchase a Bagan Archaeological Zone ticket at a fee of 25.000 Kyat; or you can pay in dollars: 20 USD.
On 01-july-2018 the Bagan Authorities shortened the Bagan zone ticket validity from five days to three days. They did not reduce the 25.000 Kyat entry fee for the ticket.
However, they soon realised that three day validity was so short (it includes the arrival day); and sometime in 2018 reverted the validity back to 5 days from the date of the purchase. This is not widely known or published on any official website (there is none for Bagan).
2019: Bagan Archaeological Zone tickets are 5 day entry validity
Note the three has been replaced by a 5!
Bagan has introduced digital tickets on the 1st October 2018, but the checking of tickets remains a weak point. With the IT infrastructure in Myanmar it remains to be seen if digital tickets are an effective and efficient system, or money thrown at an expensive electronic system that a developing country does not need. Why re-invent the wheel if you can copy the perfectly operating Angkor Wat ticketing system?
The digital ticketing will solve some fraud problems, like passing on a ticket to someone else. But if Myanmar wants to professionalize the Bagan ticketing system it could have a look at the Angkor Wat pricing and ticketing system. Bagan has a quite reasonable zone fee of 25.000 kyat; but a time limit of five days (winter 2018/2019). Angkor park has a ticket validity of 1, 3 or 7 days and a watertight validation system.
And do take note that the Angkor Archaeological Zone pricing system is set up to entice people to stay longer. The cost of the one-day Angkor pass is $37, while a week-long visit pass – valid over a one-month period – costs $72; which amounts to about 10 dollars per day.
Some backpackers try to avoid the Bagan entrance fee; avoiding it is sometimes suggested by stingy travellers with a tight budget and the rather feeble excuse "I don’t want to give money to the government". In my opinion Bagan has a quite reasonable Archaeological zone fee; but the authorities should put up a website of the cost and validity of the Bagan Archaeological Zone ticket. Perhaps have a three-day ticket and a one-week ticket. And have thorough checks and fines; which are relatively mild or non-existent at the moment. One last tip: pay the 25.000 Kyat zone fee, since 20 dollars is well over 30.000 Kyat at the moment.
The photo below shows a Bagan official checking the Zone tickets. Which person do you think is the real Bagan ticketing official?
Bagan Archaeological Zone officials.
(Not the uniformed man - it is the left one in orange shirt...)
Angkor Wat and Bagan visitor statistics compared
It is getting busier in Burma but it's all quite relative if we compare it to Cambodia. In 2016 Bagan welcomed 280.000 visitors but ... Angkor Wat had 2.2 million visitors; almost 8 times more. There are about 650 hotels in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) but less than 100 in Bagan. Around Christmas/New Year it can be busy in the small towns around Bagan or Inle lake; but most of Myanmar is not overrun with tourists - yet.
Graph: Angkor and Bagan visitor statistics compared (2011-2017).
If Myanmar wants to compete with the Angkor Wat tourism in Cambodia then they will need to improve their infrastructure significantly. Siem Reap has an international airport, whereas Bagan (NYU) airport is a small airport which is only served by local flights. The Mandalay international airport does not have a regular bus or taxi connection with Bagan; though it is only 3 hours away from Bagan. The building of new hotels is severely limited by the Bagan Archaeological Zone where new hotels are prohibited.
Sunset viewing sites - the end of pagoda climbing!
The sun has set over the sunset pagodas.
Sunset on the Pyathatgyi (PyathaDa/Pyathat Gyi), 2016.
Following the earthquake the government has started to build four new sunset hills; in august 2017 the construction of these lookout sites was completed. Once these were finished, in the last months of 2017, all the usual sunset pagodas were closed. In 2018 the Bagan authorities have closed all staircases for access to upper floors of ALL temples. The tour buses now drop their tourists at the viewing hills; these hills or mounds are lower than the old sunset pagodas, but do offer some reasonable or good views.
The major sunrise/sunset pagodas were: Shwesandaw Pagoda, Pyathada (Pyathat Gyi/Pyathatgyi), North Guni, South Guni, Bulethi/Buledi, Lawkaoushaung and Mingalazedi temple.
One alternative: small temples.
There are a few alternatives for the sunset pagoda's: One possibility is using the viewing hills or mounds, another is the Bagan Viewing tower or Nann Myint tower.
When biking around; you will be approached by touts, young women and men who, for a few thousand Kyat, will show you small temples that are still open. These temples are quite small compared to the sunset hills or mounds, and in my experience do not have good views. A good sunset photograph should have a few nice temples set off against the sunset. These temples do not have that, so they are not working for the great sunset photos that used to be possible from the famous Shwesandaw and Pyathatgyi temples. Also the government has caught on to this and is also gradually closing these small temples.
Bagan, 2018. Visitors on a sunset pagoda;
this temple is too small to have a good view.
The sunset pagoda above is too small to have a good view; if it was three times the size it might be a good vantage point.
Please be careful when climbing just any temple; most of the small pagoda's are not suitable for climbing and should not be climbed without permission. Several tourists have been wounded when climbing a temple, notably a 20-year-old American woman who fell to her death in November 2017 while trying to view the sunset from a 20-foot pagoda. au.news.yahoo.com
Bagan, 2018. Damage at a small sunset pagoda.
The best alternative: sunset viewing hills.
Sunset viewing hill map.
There are two new sunset mounds around the Sulamani temple. One of the best sunset viewing places is the Nyaung Lat Phat Kan hill; which is situated just south of Sulamani pagoda (S). From this hill you have a good view of the large Dhammayangyi pagoda (D) and a few smaller temples against the sunset.
Sunset crowd on the Nyaung Lat Phat Kan hill Dec. 2018.
The Bagan Viewing tower or Nann Myint tower is actually an upmarket restaurant; part of the Aureum Palace Resort. The tower has an open air viewing point from the 12th floor, and behind glass on the 11th. The restaurant is on the 9th and 10th floor. At 60 meters (200 feet) tall, this is a pretty good place to get a bird's eye view of the magical sight of thousands of temples, pagodas and stupas.
Unfortunately, the tower is a bit far away from the main temples near Old-Bagan so you need a zoom lens, and it can also be crowded at sunset. If you visit the Viewing tower you are supporting the government; the viewing tower is owned by the Htoo Trading Company Ltd. which also operates the Aureum Palace Resort next to it. The entrance fee for the viewing tower is 8000 Kyat or 5 US dollars. The admission fee is waived if you have booked at the (pricy) restaurant.
Another possibility for sunrise viewing is the hot balloon trip, though it is quite expensive at 300 to 400 dollars for a flight of less than one hour.
Typical sunset view from Nyaung Lat Phat Kan hill, Dec. 2018.
Promoting Bagan's sunset viewing.
Climbing the sunset pagoda's and little temples was always a fun ritual to end the day. But the Shwesandaw Pagoda has been closed, along with all other temples. Gone are the days when you wormed your way into the small, cramped stairs along small and sometimes a bit dangerous passageways to find yourself on the top of a sunset temple.
The Shwesandaw Pagoda was always the favourite temple for sunset viewing. The five receding terraces used to be covered with hundreds of terracotta plaques depicting the scenes in several Jataka tales about the previous lives of Gautama Buddha. Unfortunately, during the restoration work in the 1990s these were removed or covered. Now the Shwesandaw is a rather plain, whitewashed temple.
The Shwesandaw Pagoda, 2017
The Shwesandaw Pagoda is a large "stepped" temple with quite steep stairs; but it is not fragile and very suitable for climbing. It is unlikely that visitors cause any damage. The small pagodas on the contrary are not suitable for climbing and should not be climbed. At the moment these are being climbed; and they do get damaged. Also, many of them are dangerous; there are no rails or good stairs and are not meant to be climbed. It may be a good idea to re-open the Shwesandaw for sunset viewing; for safety reasons and for a controlled viewing environment.
Temple accessibility after the earthquake.
On the 24th of august 2016 Myanmar was hit by a 6.8-magnitude earthquake. The epicenter was in Chauk in central Myanmar, which is close to Bagan, where more than 400 temples were damaged. Chauk is just 30km south of Bagan on the way to Saleh, which is also a tourism destination. The Sulamani, North Guni and Mingalazedi temples were seriously damaged; as were the lesser known Gubyaukgyi (Nr.298 in Wetkyi-in), SitanaGyi and Tayoke Pyay. Visitors are prohibited from entering some temples and pagodas.
A peek at the Thambula temple Buddha, Januari 2017.
Open Temples (major temples).
- Ananda Pahto - open. Has had a 6 year restoration until 2018. (facebook.com/IndiaInMyanmar )
- Ananda OK Kyaung - open (A Kyaung is Burmese for stone monastery building)
- Dhamma-yangyi - open
- Dhammayazika/Dhamma Yazika - open
- Gawdawpalin - open
- Htilominlo - open
- Pyathada (Pyathat Gyi/Pyathatgyi) - open (*Ex sunset temple, now closed for sunset)
- Shwesandaw - open (*Ex sunset temple, now closed for sunset)
- Shwezigon Paya - open
- Sulamani - open, but under restoration.
Closed or partially open temples (major temples).
- Bulethi/Buledi - closed as of January 2018 for sunset.
- Mingalazedi/Mingalar Zedi pagoda - closed, undergoing major repairs.
- Thatbyinnyu/That-Byin-Nyu - open, restoration has started in 2018.
*]Note: Open means accessible but not ascendable. All sunset temples have been closed in 2017; read more below.
- Gubyaukgyi temple (Nr.298 in Wetkyi-in, near Nyaung-U) - Open
- Gubyaukgyi temple (Nr.1323 in Myinkaba village) - Open
- Lawkaoushaung/Law Ka Ou Shaung Pagoda - Open
- Loka Hteik Pan - Open
- North Guni/Myauk Guni - Open (*Ex sunset temple, now closed for sunset)
- South Guni/Taung Guni - Open (*Ex Sunset temple, now closed for sunset)
- Tayok-pye/Tayoke Pyay - Open (In 2017 the name changed to Narathihapatae Paya)
- Thisa Wadi/Thitsarwadi - Open
- Thabeik Hmauk - Open
- Thambula/Tham Bula Paya - closed
- Upali Thein - open
The sunset photo's after the Bagan earthquake: scaffolding on many temples.
The statistics - the number of damaged temples
There are an estimated 2200 temples in Bagan; many of these are small stupas or solid brick temples without entrance. There are perhaps only about a dozen "grand temples" like the Ananda Pahto, Dhamma Yazika and Sulamani temple that are on the must-see list of most visitors.
Of the 2200 temples 453 have had earthquake damage; it is usually the top that has been displaced or fallen off. The quake reduced 17 small temples and stupas to rubble. However most temples have just minor structural damage like brickwork damage and are still accessible. Therefore there is still plenty to see; for example the Sulamani will need extensive repairs but the Htilominlo temple looks strikingly similar - at least on the outside.
The quake damage includes 56 ancient buildings with murals or Jakata wall paintings (mmtimes.com). Many temple tops are scaffolded and partly covered for restoration work; unfortunately they use large orange, blue or green tarpaulins (plastic sheets) for this.
UNESCO Myanmar is now coordinating an international team to work on the monuments. The renovation of the first group of 41 “priority monuments” is expected to take around two years. A total refurbishment of the 453 damaged monuments may cost up to 12 million US-dollars. The famous Thatbyinnyu Pagoda in Bagan will be repaired as a priority: mmtimes.com
Structural damage in temple nr. 998, Januari 2017.
Earthquake damage to pagodas and stupa's.
The Dhamma Yazika / Dhammayazika pagoda has suffered damage to the front entrance; and to the top on the dome. The temple is open to visitors.
The top of the Dhamma Yazika pagoda has been damaged, January 2017
The quake has destroyed or damaged many small buildings; but also revealed an unknown 11th century stupa which was covered by a more recent brick structure.
The quake has revealed an unknown 11th century stupa.
The Seinnyet sisters - temple or pagoda?
The Seinnyet temples are 2 temples located between Myinkaba and New Bagan, just north of New Bagan. The closest to the road is Seinnyet Ama Pahto which means elder sister; behind it is Seinnyet Nyima Paya, the younger sister. Pahto means temple and Paya means pagoda, so the 2 sisters are actualy one temple and one pagoda. The Ananda Pahto is therefore a temple and not a pagoda, and the same goes for Dhammayangyi Pahto (Dhammayangyi temple).
A temple has at least one entrance but usually 4, so a temple can be visited inside. A Burmese pagoda is a large massive conical shape which can be covered in gold; though it is usually made from cheaper metals like brass. Famous examples of pagoda's are the Shwezigon Paya and Dhammayazika Paya in Bagan, or the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon which is covered in real gold.
Seinnyet Ama was built by queen Seinnyet; Seinnyet Nyima is a pagoda built in the 12th century by her sister. The top is a stylized umbrella in the form of concentric rings. The foto below shows the typical damage the quake did to many temples: the top has been shaken and damaged and will need to be rebuild somewhere in the future.
2016 Quake damage to Seinnyet Nyima pagoda
Burmese Temple Architecture.
And finally an explanation of the most common parts of the Bagan temples. The illustration shows the architecture of one of the smaller types of the Bagan temples. It is a one-story temple and quite common on the Bagan plain; there are perhaps dozens of this type.
The naming convention is from the book "Inventory of Monuments at Pagan", by Pierre Pichard. The inventory covers more than 2000 monuments within an area measuring 13 by 6 kilometers. Each monument was measured, photographed, and described. The Herculean field-work began in 1982 and took nearly a decade, ending only in 1991.
- Platform and base of the temple.
- Flaming arch pediment: The entrance to a temple often has a stucco or stone facade in the shape of a "flaming arch". Windows can have the same kind of decoration.
- Terrace: The first story of a temple usually has an accessible terrace, nowadays these are closed to tourists.
- Square tower: the square tower or Sikhara is the uppermost part of a temple.
- The Tower Lancet is the central part of the Sikhara.
- Spire: the conical spire has several varieties.
Sikhara or Shikhara is a Sanskrit word translating literally to "mountain peak"; and it refers to the square tower often used in the temple architecture of North India.
The Sikhara below has a nice tree decoration on the tower lancet.
Bagan temple tower decoration
The best tablet or smartphone online map for Bagan.
View Larger Map
If you want to use a GPS-map in Bagan the Open Street Map (OSM, see the map above) is much better than Google maps; because OSM shows the many footpaths as well as most of the smaller temples in Bagan. Open Street Map seems to show all of the 2200 stupas and temples in Bagan! For hotel locations however Google maps is more accurate than OSM.
Maps.me is a useful mapping app based on Open Street Map; it's available on iPad, iPhone and Android phones and tablets. Maps.me does not need an internet connection, it works offline using only a GPS signal.
Links, Youtube and Wikipedia.
Some Youtube video's on Bagans' earthquake damage.
- youtube.com - Lasers and Drones Help Preserve Ancient Temples (Scientific American)
- youtube.com - Drone footage of the North Guni and Sulamani temple damage.
Bagan on Wikipedia and other sites.
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Gordon Luce was one of the first researchers of Bagan; in his now rare book "Old Burma - Early Pagan" (1969) he writes: "Most of the famous pagodas of Burma have been repaired so often that one can say little for certain about the original shape of their upper parts."
Copyright © 2017 - 2018 R. Schierbeek.
About the author: aboutme.htm