These aren’t just another of those South East Asian sunrises/sets, if you’ve been travelling in the area for a while you’ll understand. But this really is the Marks & Spencers of sunrises. Maybe it was the balloons that got me over excited, they added something so different to the moment, but for me it was totally worth all those early EARLY wake ups.
My top sunset/sunrise spots in Bagan
Shwesandaw Pagoda – of course.
This beautiful big white temple is full to bursting with coachloads of tourists at both sunrise and sunset for a reason. It’s very centrally placed in old Bagan and you can climb right to the top which means a pretty decent view over the Pagoda fields with hundreds of Pagodas and Temples in your field of view. You will also have the hot air balloons dotted in the background as well as a couple of mountains. This is the picture you see on the postcards. Possibly because this is where the guys with the longest lens cameras are situated, but also because it is beautiful.
For the ambience rather than the view, although you can see the river which is nice and a great spot to see the beautiful glowing golden Hti-lo-min-lo Temple after dark. Just myself and 9 other people were on the roof to watch the sunset, and most of them left straight after, leaving me to enjoy the sounds of Bagan (mainly monk sounds) while laying on the roof and watching the stars come out. To get to the roof there is a very narrow secret passage way up, keep looking, you’ll find it ;).
My favourite sunrise of all time ever in the world was atop of a Pagoda in Bagan that I don’t know the name of.
After arriving at 4am on the nightbus and then checking out a few hotels before ending up at the first one again, it made some sort of sense to try to go and see the sunrise. A group of 4 of us just started walking in the hope we’ll find a pagoda to sit on, and boy did we find one! Just us and a few others atop a little (yet steep) stupa, close enough to the hot balloons that we could see the people in the baskets faces. It was spectacular and exactly how I thought Bagan should be, every person there just silently appreciating the beauty of the vista in front of them.
Here is map of around about where it is: And here are some of my pictures of the view!:
This charming little temple has more to it than meets the eye. Maybe slightly complicated to get to in the dark before sunrise, but worth going at least at some point. This humble little guy has a hidden staircase inside one of the corner pillars which means you can climb all the way to the top and have some lovely views of the bigger Dhammayangyi and Shwesandaw pagodas and it gives a different kind of vista than always looking westwards. A bonus was that it was totally empty, silent and calming, even when a child who saw us from a distance came to try and sell us postcards.
During the day you need to ask the man that lives in the little farmhouse behind it to open the doors for you, at sunset however, this Pagoda is prepared for you. Come around 5pm and there will be tiny candles set all the way up the staircase showing you the way. It’s makes for a lovely journey up the stairs to the top where there is an equally lovely view. Sunrise/set here is interesting if not only to be able to see the sheer amount of people on the nearby Shwesandaw pagoda, it gives you some perspective to how big these temples really are as the people look like ants, it looks like a huge ant hill because of the amount of people.
Although the bigger, more popular temples such as Shwesandaw have better views, I felt the smaller unknowns had a better ambience.Find one to yourself and listen to the silence or the monks singing, this is how Bagan was meant to be experienced, not with 100 other people fighting for a the best camera viewpoint (camera knobs).
Also, if you have a chance, skip a sunset and sunrise atop a temple to see Bagan from the ground. You’ll see how legitimate it is, head through the Old Town and watch the monks receiving genuine donations (not like the tourist crap in Lao), then carry on down to the harbour to watch everyday life, men bathing in the river, women balancing huge bags of onions on their head to carry from boat to shore, no touts, no hassle, just life in the morning before the tourist masses leave their sunrise viewing points on the pagodas.
Sunset is also special from the ground, we found ourselves watching a local football match where the occasional cow or horse carriage would walk across the field. I got chased by a cow. It was terrifying.
Can’t be bothered moving much before breakfast? Just take a short walk along the streets and sandy paths at sunrise (the one opposite Winner Hotel is the best) and dance along to the music blasting from the monasteries or schools, the best way to wake up.
Only have one day in Bagan and need to choose between sunset and sunrise? My pick would be sunrise, the balloons make it just magical.