Chasing The Orb: Bagan’s Best Sunrise and Sunset Locations

Bagan’s Best Sunrise and Sunset Locations

 

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.

 

We could not get enough of these lavender and cotton candy skies. Looking over the temple plain from Pyathada Pagoda at sunrise.

 

Best Sunrise Locations in Bagan

1. Pyathada Pagoda

 

Taking flight. The Balloons Over Bagan and a flock of egrets, a surreal scene. Pyathada Pagoda.

 

Once the sun peaks over the hills the lighting changes and twilight evaporates. Looking south from 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.

 

This is what makes Pyathada Pagoda our favorite sunrise location.

 

For those interested, the hot air balloon experience is about $400 USD per person. We were happy with the views from here, thank you.

 

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.

 

Don’t stare into the sun too long, often the best view is right behind you.

 

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.

 

The grand Shwesandaw Pagoda in the foreground (left), makes for a special sunrise from Lowka Oushang Pagoda.

 

Smoky mists and crimson skies, Lowka Oushang Pagoda sunrise.

 

A wide-angle shot from the GoPro showing how precious the space is atop Lowka Oushang. If not for this aspect, Lowka Oushang may have become our favorite sunrise location, so hard to choose.

 

With each moment, the colors evolve into another breathtaking view.

 

3. Buledi

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.

 

Buledi is very near to the balloon take off point and fit the bill perfectly when we had little time to catch our first sunrise over Bagan.

 

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.

 

We thought this small hill we saw on the map would provide an alternative viewpoint, unfortunately it was too low and the shrubbery blocked out the temple views.  The adventure to get here however was a ride on the e-bike we will not soon forget.

 

Best Sunset Locations in Bagan

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.

 

This is the reason Shwe San Daw Pagoda is so famous for sunset. Steep stupas smothered by the blood-orange sky.

 

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).

 

The Pyathada sunsets are not at all bad, and have the added bonus of not being overrun.

 

Sunset Pyathada Pagoda

 

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.

 

Tuang Guni’s top-notch sunset

 

The sunbow from Tuang Guni

 

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.

 

There is really something timeless about two boys going fishing. The unbelievable sky and reflection off the Ayerwaddy are a bonus.

 

5. Thitsawadi

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.

 

Our last sunset in Bagan.

 

The view from the GoPro doesn’t lie, at least 3 tour buses, a dozen minivans and a collection of motorbikes. Certainly not Shwesandaw crowded, but strangely folks tend to get a bit pushy.

 

We had these prime seats much to the envy of the standing room only section behind us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments on “Chasing The Orb: Bagan’s Best Sunrise and Sunset Locations

  1. Best post about Bagan’s sunrises & sunsets I’d ever seen! Curious, are the temples open for public climbing? I went in Sept last year and most of the temples prohibited people from going up. I saw the sunset from Shwesandow – probably the biggest one that’s still opened for climbing at that time.

    • Thanks Kritine, we wanted to provide travelers with some up to date information about which temples are still open for climbing after the earthquake in 2016 (August). We were in Bagan after you, December 2016, and were able to climb Buledi, Shwe San Daw, Pyathada, Tuang Guni (south Guni), Lowka Oushang, and Thitsawadi which we listed in the blog post as well as a few smaller temples we were able to climb up to the roof. Initially after the quake it seemed the temples were off limits to climbing but the restrictions eased as it is so popular. We’re so thrilled you enjoyed the post and Bagan, still one of Myanmar’s highlights despite being so popular.