Bagan is an ancient city that was once the capital of the Pagan Kingdom from the 9-13th centuries. This was the kingdom that unified the area into the first kingdom that we today know as Myanmar. At its height, there were over 10,000 pagodas, temples and monasteries in the area and there are some 2000 left today. This means there is plenty to see in the best Bagan tours.
The Bagan Archaeological Zone is at the heart of tourism in the area and is often compared to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It is also a great place to visit if you are a temple seeker like me and love to see how temples have changed over time.
Bagan: Ancient Temples Private Tour
This Bagan tour starts with a morning collection from your hotel and then travels to the local markets for some shopping. You will then also visit the most important temples and pagodas in the city including the Shwezigon Pagoda that was built by King Anawratha and dates from the 11th century. You can also see the Gubyaukgyi Temple and the four Buddha statues of the Ananda Temple.
After lunch at a local restaurant, visit the lacquerware village of Myinkaba where traditional crafts are still active. You will also visit the Manuha Temple and the Nanpaya Temple, unique because it is made from sandstone. Finally, see the sunset over the Irrawaddy River at the Bupaya Pagoda before returning to Bagan.
Brilliant Bagan Bike Tour
Bike tours are a brilliant way to see Bagan and this combines the best of the history and the modern city. You will tour with an English speaking guide and see the local markets where people buy everything from dry goods to fresh produce. Next visit the Bagan Archaeological Zone which had over 4000 religious monuments in it at its peak.
You will also visit the traditional lacquerware-making village of Myinkyaba before heading to the Dhammayangyi Temple, the largest and most imposing of the temples around the city – and also said to be haunted! Next, you will see Ananda Paya with its standing Buddhas and take lunch on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. Finally, you will bike back to the city and visit a tea shop at Nyaung U.
Bagan Community Experience Day Tour with a Local Guide
Lots of Bagan tours focus on the temples and pagodas and for good reason but this one is a little different. It is a chance to experience what it is like to live and work around the city. You will first visit the local market where thanakha is made, a local paste said to treat wrinkles and protect against sun damage. Then you will try some street food in the area.
Next travel to a village called Kyunkalay where you will see the work of charities such as ActionAid Myanmar who help communities find sustainable solutions to their problems. Walk around the village, chat with the locals and then take a meal with a local family. Finally, take a oxen cart ride to Nyaung U jetty and then return to the city.
Bagan: Full-Day Temple Tour
Bagan is famous for its many temples and this tour is a great way to see the best of them. It starts with the Shwezigon Pagoda, the most important reliquary shrine in the city before moving to the cave temple of Gubyaukgyi. The tour also includes tops at Htilominlo with its Bamar style murals before visiting Ananda Temple.
You will have lunch before heading to the lacquerware factory to see local handicrafts then on to more of the many stunning temples in the area. You will travel back to the city along the Irrawaddy River to see the sunset.
Around Bagan tours
While there are lots of amazing things to see in Bagan itself, some of the tours around Bagan are also worth adding to your itinerary.
Bagan: Sa Lay Mount Popa Day Tour
This tour leaves from Bagan and first visits the Yoke Sone Monastery, famous for having the oldest surviving wooden monastery hall which stands on 154 teak posts and has beautiful hand carvings. You can also visit the Hnee Phaya and the market at Sa Lay.
The tour then moves to Mount Popa, an extinct volcano over 1500 metres high. Here you will climb to the top and see the monkeys that call it home before visiting the shrines and monastery at the summit. Enjoy the amazing views before heading back to Bagan.
Beyond Bagan: Small Group Bike Tour with Lunch
Because the roads in the area are sometimes a little underwhelming, a lot of Bagan tours make use of bikes to see the best in the area and this is a good example. Here you will start with a safety briefing before heading to Taungbe, a community of cart drivers – horse-drawn style. Spend a little time exploring the village and chatting with the locals before visiting their 150-year-old monastery.
Next visit Ananda Pahto, the most famous of Bagan’s temples. See the murals and stunning architecture before visiting the Shwegugyi Paya – the name gives it away and means ‘Great Golden Cave!’ Finally, visit Myingabar with its bamboo handicrafts and the largest Buddhist temple in the area, Dhammayangyi Pagoda. The tour will finish with a meal at Nyaung U before returning to Bagan.
Bagan Day Tour with Horse Cart Riding
This tour combines the best of the city and surrounding area. You will start by seeing the best pagodas in the city including the Shwezigone Pagoda and the Wetkyi Inn Gubyaukgyi Temple, which is the prototype of the Myanmar stupa.
After lunch, visit a local lacquerware factory, then a number of other temples before heading to Dhammayangyi Temple and Sulamani Temple, the first being the highest temple in the area. It finishes with sunset at the Shwesandaw Pagoda.
Bagan: Private Half-Day Salay Tour
Salay (or Sa Lay) is a key religious centre in Myanmar and a short journey from Bagan. In this half-day tour, you will travel to the area and see the monasteries there including the 19th century wooden Yole Son Kyaung. You can see the many carvings depicting court life as well as religious texts. You will then visit the colonial centre of the town and have time to explore before returning to Bagan.
If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also like reading about The Best Myanmar Itineraries, Shwedagon Pagoda, Bagan and the Beautiful Temples of Myanmar and Myanmar Tours.
Booking your Flight
Travel insurance is so important as it will help you with emergencies and unexpected costs on your trip. Make sure that you declare any pre-existing health conditions so that you are covered for those. Check your cover for accidents and medical care and also lost baggage or getting things stolen. Remember to report as soon as something goes wrong on your trip because some travel insurance companies require you to report something that you want to claim for within 24 hours. Read the fine print carefully when you sign up. I always recommend World Nomads. You can get a free quote here:
What to Pack for Southeast Asia
To help you pack for your trip to Southeast Asia, the below list of must-have items can be really useful.
First of all, you need a plug converter. Absolutely essential wherever you travel.
It is also a good idea to get a hanging toiletry bag, which is a fantastic way to keep all your belongings organized; and a practical rolling suitcase like the one below by Samsonite in lightweight polycarbonate.
In order to stay healthy while travelling, activated charcoal helps with stomach distress absorbing toxins that may be in your system; and natural jet-lag remedy pills help you sleeping while boosting your immunity and can avoid you to ruin precious days of sightseeing.
For all the ladies, it can be a great idea to get a maxi dress: very versatile as it can be worn at any time of the day and it is ideal to go to temples too.
A scarf that you can put on your shoulders as well as on your head while visiting a sacred place.