Bagan is fairytale land where hot air balloons drift through the sky as the sun rises over hundreds of ancient temples… but not during off-season (May-September). We found out in the arrival hall of Mandalay airport.
The best part about Myanmar hot air balloons is the way they look floating above the temples. Riding in them won’t quite give you that picturesque perspective. If you’re interested in hopping in the basket, the price is over $350 per person. Out of your shoestring price range? Go to Vang Vieng, Laos for the cheapest ride in the world at around $80 per person.
If you can’t make it to Myanmar during peak season, do not despair. It’s always a beautiful place to visit, and you’ll appreciate the temples being less crowded than they would be otherwise.
Long story short, Myanmar public transport leaves something to be desired. Your best bet is to fly into Mandalay and take a bus or private hire to Bagan. DO NOT TAKE THE TRAIN. There are multiple reports of the train crashing or flipping. Nightmarish. The buses are much easier, but they only run at certain times. If you don’t want to wait, splitting a private hire from the airport is a reasonable option and the journey will only take 3 hours opposed to 5 on the bus.
PRO TIP: Get your visa before you leave. You can do it online, and you’ll need at least 24 hours to get it. Cheaper if you do it further in advance.
FREE PASTA SNACKS! Need we say more?
If you’re not convinced yet, here are some more reasons to go: cheap beer, chill vibes, great food, a/c in the dorms, friendly staff, organized day trips including free ones around Bagan!
There are two locations in Bagan. One has a pool, one has a more social atmosphere. We meant to stay at the pool one, but accidentally ended up at the chill one. We were happy about it anyway. Ostello Bello also has locations in Mandalay and Inle Lake if you’re continuing on to other spots in Myanmar.
Sunrise Temple Touring on an E-Bike
What’s an e-bike you ask? Basically just a tourist-friendly scooter. We wish every country in SE Asia gave these to tourists instead of regular motorbikes. They’re safer, cheaper, quiet, but only intended for short distance putting around. You just won’t need more than that in Bagan. You can rent them basically anywhere, but there’s a convenient place just outside Ostello Bello. It costs less than $2 per day.
So here’s how it goes:
Plan your route the night before. Consult someone who knows what they’re talking about (hostel employee, seasoned backpacker who’s been there, or a local). Pick your temples before you leave.
Wake up at 4am before the sunrises. Tear yourself from your pillow, you’ll get back in bed for a nap later.
Rent an e-bike. There will be someone there at 4am, they know what the deal is.
Caravan with fellow sunrisers to your temple of choice (make it a good one!)
Take your shoes off before entering any temple. Pick a spot along one of the top tiers to wait out the sunrise. Don’t climb on the temples, even if it’ll give you a better view. Be respectful, always.
Enjoy the sunrise and take cool pictures.
Go back to bed until it cools down:)
You will need respectful clothing. Cover your shoulders and cover your knees.
If you can’t decide on where to go (or if you get lost along the way), you’ll see locals out and about. Just ask someone for help and they’ll point you in the right direction.
There will be locals selling souvenirs at the temples, even at 4am. Bargain if you want to buy, but be respectful if you don’t. It’s their job and their home.
Don’t do stupid things and be on your best behavior. Don’t forget that you’re in an ancient temple, it’s not a playground.
Watch your step, watch your head, and bring a flashlight.
There will be other people there - you’ll have to get up earlier than 4am if you want the best spot at one of the more popular temples.
If you’re looking for something to do outside of the Bagan temples, Ostello Bello will organize it for you. We spent a day at Mount Popa, or more aptly called, Monkey Mountain. It’s a stunning view, if you’re willing to climb 777 steps while being harassed by monkeys. They are not friendly. They will steal your food. They will attack if provoked, or not provoked. Just breathing near them angers them. Look down. Don’t run. Be alert. Hide your belongings. Good luck.
The view of Mount Popa is better scene from the hill across from it. Tell your driver that you’d like to see a good view of the temple and he’ll know where to take you.