Chasing the orb around Bagan’s temple plain became our favorite pastime during our visit to the famed archaeological zone. Climbing at least one of the ancient temples for the extraordinary light shows should be on every world traveler’s bucket list.
Squeezing in Bagan’s impressive sunrises and sunsets wasn’t too difficult. Aside from the chilly morning air we favored the sublime sunrises. The way the soft light lingers, casting magnificent shades of lavender, pink and crimson as the sunlight slowly peaks from behind the hills was a complete feast for the eyes. Factor in the hot air balloons bouncing along overhead, and you’ve got quite a skyline.
From most impressive to least, the following list describes our search for the best sunrise and sunset locations throughout the Bagan temple plain. By no means is this an exhaustive list, rather it should serve as a jumping off point for independent travelers who desire to discover a personal favorite.
1. Pyathada Pagoda
Pyathada Pagoda turned out to be our favorite location for sunrise, and we returned here for a second time to experience the fantastic lighting and full 360 degree views from the top platform. Pyathada is far enough away from the popular sites that it doesn’t attract the hordes, although one of the few buses that did show up was a Chinese photography tour that quickly took the place over.
If you plan on doing some serious photography, it pays to arrive early to have a chance to scout out a spot to set up a tripod. The Balloons Over Bagan start nearby and floated directly overhead, making for interesting subjects.
2. Lowka Oushang
Another fantastic sunrise location, Lowka Oushang Pagoda is much closer to Shwe San Daw and other popular temples and it did prove to be a bit crowded for our tastes. Nonetheless, its proximity to other large temples means you’re treated to an amazing skyline. This is one place where it pays to come super early and snag a good spot with unobstructed views. The downside here is the limited space and number of people. Moving around the rooftop is difficult, so if you have a good spot, plant yourself and enjoy the changing colors from there.
Buledi is a small Pagoda with a steep set of stairs not far off the Nuang U to Bagan main road. It’s high enough to get a good view of the temple plain and near the starting point for the hot air balloons. This was our first sunrise location in Bagan and we came here straight from the overnight bus on our taxi driver’s recommendation. The previous two mentioned spots have far superior views overall, but Buledi did not let us down.
4. Small Hill Near Dhamma Yazaka Zedi
We mention this to warn you that it is totally not worth it. Not only is it not a hill, it’s very time-consuming to actually find. We were hoping to get a different perspective of the sunrise, but this spot did not deliver. Fortunately, we had five mornings to explore the different locations, and we say with experience that the best views are had by climbing as high as you can. It’s worthy to mention Shwe San Daw as a sunrise location although we skipped over it for less popular and less crowded sites.
There’s a big difference between the sunrise and sunset experience in Bagan. The soft shades during sunrise tend to linger while the vivid blood stained evening sky is over in a flash. Secondly, if you thought we were moaning about the morning crowds, it’s the sunsets that everyone comes out to see. Getting a good seat early is no joke.
1. Shwe San Daw
This pyramid-shaped pagoda has five terraces, the uppermost providing 360 degree views. The height and location make Shwe San Daw the perfect platform for sunset (and sunrise) viewing. A victim of its popularity, the big downside here is the crowd factor. By the looks of the parking lot there must have been 50 buses and hundreds of motorbikes. We arrived too late for a prime seat, but squeezed into the top terrace where we stood on our tippy toes for what was an absolutely stunning scene.
2. Pyathda Pagoda
The 360 degree rooftop of Payathada Paya is a pleasant and spread out platform for sunset (or sunrise) viewing. Outlines of palm trees and scattered small pagodas fill the frame. It’s not as dramatic as Shwe San Daw, but you won’t be getting stepped on by little old ladies or elbowed in the ribs by monks (no kidding it happened).
3. Tuang Guni (South Guni)
The North and South Guni Pagodas lie in the shadows of nearby Dhamma-yan-gyi temple. We enjoyed the smoky evening mist that lingered over the arid landscape as the sun turned the sky into burnt crimson.
4. Ayerwaddy River Sunset
On our first night in Nyuang U, we walked through the Shwezigon Pagoda then detoured down to the Ayerwaddy for an ‘only in Myanmar’ experience. Locals were busy bathing in the lavender water and these two boys tossed in a line trying to catch some dinner. Unique experiences like this are really what makes traveling so special for us. Gaining insight into the everyday slice of Burmese life is something we will never forget. There are evening sunset boats that ply along the Ayerwaddy. Prices are variable depending on the quality of boat, we were more than satisfied with this view.
Thisawadi Pagoda was our last temple (and last sunset) before leaving Bagan. We decided to just sit back and enjoy the view rather than busy ourselves with taking photographs. Thitsawadi is a bit removed from the main temples of Bagan and sits high enough for decent views. The multi-leveled terrace has enough space to seat about a hundred people, even so it got pretty tight when the few tour buses rolled in.