Bagan in 3 days? Is that enough?
If you are thinking of visiting Bagan (Myanmar) for only three days, but are still hesitating on what to do with so little time, look no further!
There are plenty of amazing activities to do there, and actually, 3 days in Bagan can be more than enough to get a glimpse of the archaeological zone at a relaxed pace.
Bagan 3 Day Itinerary
Former Burma remained isolated from the world for 50 years, at which time a military junta ruled the country from 1962 until 2011.
In 2012, a year after opening, 357,159 foreigners entered Myanmar. By 2015, the number had already jumped to 4,501,020 annual visitors.
But why all this interest ..?
The city is home to the largest concentration of pagodas, Buddhist temples and stupas in the world! And many of these buildings date back to the 11th and 12th centuries.
With 3 days available you can visit most of the archaeological site and still head to Mount Popa!
The suggestions for accommodation in Bagan are at the end of this post, including the hotel where we stayed.
WHAT TO DO IN BAGAN ?
VISIT THE TEMPLES
During the reign of Anawrahta (the unifying king of Burma), Buddhism became the state religion and Bagan became a huge centre of study, attracting monks from the Thai and Khmer kingdoms.
At that time, students from countries as far away as India and Sri Lanka came to study Buddhism in Bagan, which had more than 10,000 temples.
Over the centuries, after successive earthquakes and Mongol invasions, the number of temples gradually declined.
Today there are more than two thousand temples that can be visited, so you will surely need to give priority to the most important ones!
2. RIDE AN E-BIKE RIDE (OR HORSE CARTS)
There is a bit of controversy about the most romantic, ideal or politically correct way of getting around the archaeological site of Bagan.
According to the Myanmar Times, the only ethical way to travel there would be to ride the horse carts or a bicycle, as the modern E-bikes are "against the spirit of Bagan" and are ruining the archaeological site.
Furthermore, horse carter families have always depended on this business, in a tradition that dates back a long time before the arrival of tourism in the country.
In spite of this, E-bikes have been gaining a lot of space among visitors, while cartwheels are declining because of the new “political correctness”.
You can rent an electric bike almost anywhere. The price fluctuates between 6000 - 8000 kyats ($ 4-6 / day).
We tested both (horse carts and e-bikes).
In any case, if anyone wants to try the horse cart just give a call to the Bo Bo, horse cart No. 200, or the Ko San, cart No 45, on the phones 09-402658563 and 09-402532985.
They will come to pick you up at your hotel and you will be literally transported to the past.
3. ATTEND THE SUNRISE / SUNSET
Bagan's number 1 activity, climbing to the top of the temples to watch the sun, seems to be a controversial subject these days.
When we went to Bagan in April 2016, it was still possible (and legal) to climb most of the temples.
Shortly after, Bagan suffered a major earthquake, and later, UNESCO’s intervention. To make things more complicated, last year, a tourist fell to her death from a 20-foot pagoda, reinforcing the controversy.
In March 2018, the Myanmar Times confirmed the official climbing ban.
According to the Bagan Archaeological Management Committee, visitors can no longer climb on the ancient pagodas.
In spite of this, the government is still studying how to limit the number of visits.
Currently, most of the temples have a fence preventing access, but everything may change again in a short time.
Please update us if you have been there lately!
4. VISIT A LACQUER MANUFACTURE
The origins of art in Myanmar date back to Bagan from the 12th and 13th centuries, and the earliest artefacts were discovered in the Mingalazedi pagoda.
The raw material used as a base for bowls, dishes, vases and boxes is bamboo, which is cut, softened and finally worked to give shape to the desired object.
In some cases the horsehair is also used to shape the base.
Then the mould is covered with the black resin of a tree called Thit-si. The resin extraction process is similar to that of the latéx.
I confess I had no interest in it until I passed one of the workshops and fell madly in love with the objects.
Ok, it may be a touristy activity and a bit of a thesaurus, but I advise you to check it out!
I confess we did NOT do it, for two basic reasons:
Number 1: We visited Bagan in the summer, i.e, out of season. To tell the truth, we only saw a balloon in the sky as soon as we arrived in the city, at 6 in the morning… and then, never again.
Number 2: We did not worry too much about going to Bagan at the "right" season because I had just returned from a flight in Cappadocia (Turkey).
If you decide to go, which I strongly advise for someone who has never flown, prepare your pocket because in Bagan the ride will cost you about 350 US$.
Tip: There are three companies in the area. You can buy your tickets online in advance!
Most of them take off at dawn due to the weak winds, the low temperature and the favourable light. Few of them take off in the afternoon.
The flight season starts on October 1 and runs through March 31.
6. TRY THE LOCAL CUISINE
When I was living in Montreal (Canada), I used to have lunch at a Burmese restaurant on Saint Laurent Avenue.
At that time I thought that Burmese curry was one of the few viable food options in the country. How ignorant I was!
Today, living in Singapore (almost a curry specialist ha ha) I realised that food options in Myanmar are so much wider than any western could suspect, and although the country has Indian influences, they do not rely on naan and roti prata to subsist!
Specialities: Burmese paratha, Shan Tohu Noodle (Tohu Nway), Myae Oh Myee Shae (Claypot Noodle) and Kyay-Oh (Noodle Dish) among others.
To know more details about the classics of the country, visit the gastronomic blog Seth Lui.
Restaurants I recommend:
7. TRY BETEL NUTS (QUIDS)
Just as many people try coca leaves in South America, or a good weed in Amsterdam, should you try the betel nuts in Myanmar?
The mix of areca nut and betel leaf is a tradition dating back at least 4,000 years in Asia, and if you pay attention, you will see the widespread habit well rooted in Myanmar.
It is a symbol of marriage in Vietnam (and traditionally used by the families of the bride and groom) and is also offered as a form of hospitality in Malaysia.
Chewing betel quid is an important and popular cultural activity also in Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives, India, Nepal, Philippines, Palau, Cambodia, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, China, Laos, Yap, Guam, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Indonesia.
If you've travelled extensively around here, you've probably noticed some places with a red mouth and weird teeth (or even sidewalks completely tinted red because of the spit).
Voilà, now you know what we are talking about!
The active principles of betel are arecaine and arecoline (alkaloids like nicotine), and have intoxicating and appetite-inhibiting properties.
It is said that a single nut is equivalent to 6 cups of coffee.
In addition to the stimulating effect, the nut may cause a slight euphoric feeling. Medical use is also described in some countries (reduction of caries and intestinal worms)!
Despite this, chewing betel regularly WILL DESTROY YOUR TEETH. The betel, in contact with the saliva, produces a red and dark liquid, that in the long term impairs oral health. Regular use can even cause cancer!
We experienced the better in Bagan, and in addition to the buzz similar to smoking a cigarette, the effect was not much like we expected.
Translating: you can not chew betel and go partying all night long…!
In addition, the betel nut is very bitter and can cause stomach pain.
8. TO VISIT MOUNT POPA
Mount Popa is a volcanic plug located about 50 km southeast of Bagan.
It is also called Taung Kalat (the hill pedestal) and rises to 657 meters from sea level.
As a cherry on the top of a cake, the majestic Buddhist monastery decorates the hill.
From the top, you will get a panoramic view of the whole region.
To know how to prepare for this epic place, be sure to read the article below.
WHERE TO STAY IN BAGAN
The best place to stay is the Old Bagan, which is, by chance, the most expensive place!
With the huge influx of tourists in recent times, new hostels in New Bagan and Nyang-U are appearing, and although they seem far of everything, it’s nothing that a good E-bike couldn’t solve.
We stayed at the Bagan Thande Hotel in Old Bagan, a rather midrange to high, central choice.
The rooms were comfortable, the pool decent and the breakfast good.
The Bagan Thande is a good value for money since it’s located in the best area but you don’t need to sell a kidney to pay. The daily rate starts from 80 US $.
From 15 - 40 US$
Click on the images to check it out:
From 40 - 100 US$
From 100 US$
Do you like to photograph? Check it out:
Are you travelling with kids?
Take a look at: Things to do in Bagan with kids.
Staying longer in Myanmar?
Check it out this fabulous 10 to 14 Day Myanmar itinerary!
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