Brilliant if you find the right spot
The most stunning features of Bagan are the overall views rather than any specific temples. These are obviously at their best at dawn and dusk, and usually from a vantage point on an upper level of a pagoda.
Local regulations about which temples visitors can climb and which are prohibited change at short notice. Authorities cite the main problems as being damage to the sites as well as tourists behaving badly by drinking alcohol, dancing or being inappropriately dressed. In March 2015 authorities introduced a blanket ban on climbing any of the pagodas, but this was relaxed in February 2016 to provide exemption for five sites. Here’s a rundown of where they are. We’re not covering privately owned Nan Myint viewing tower, which is an eyesore.
Shwe San Daw Pagoda
Located just off Anawrahta Road, to the southeast of Old Bagan, Shwe San Daw is easily accessed and hugely popular. Its location makes it good for morning and evening views though in high season it can be standing room only at both and incidents of tripod-rage are not uncommon. Get there early on a low season morning and it might just about be okay otherwise we’d be tempted to find another or even stay in bed.
North and South Guni. or Taung Guni and Myauk Guni
This pair of adjacent pagodas lies approximately one kilometre to the southeast of Shwe San Daw, not far from Dhammayan-gyi, and access is permitted to these relatively low temples. That’s a kilometre of dirt track to be travelled in the dark, which can prove tricky, so there will be considerably fewer people here. With a central location, this vantage point provides excellent sunset or sunrise views.
This pagoda has an even more central location but is correspondingly harder to get to (and find). It’s not really near any major sites or roads but is roughly speaking around 1.5 kilometres southeast of Sulamani by dirt track. If you’re coming from New Bagan then it’s more easily reached via a two-kilometre track off the airport road. Views to the east are spoilt by the Nan Myint tower, but vistas to the north and west are splendid, making it particularly good at sunset. There shouldn’t be many other people around but good luck getting home afterwards!
Thitsar Wadi Paya
This modest-sized temple is just off the New Bagan to airport sealed road and close to the larger Dhamma Yazika Paya. We’ve seen some good sunrises from here but the southeast situation means it is generally better for sunset views. Quiet during low season, it can get moderately busy during high since it’s convenient for New Bagan. Its long distance from Nyaung U though means that it won’t ever be as crowded as Shwe San Daw. It's easy to find, too.
As far as the larger temple sites go that, for now, is it. However few of the smaller temples warrant any regulations and wouldn’t have anyone applying them even if there were. You don’t need to get high for the best views and upper storeys at, say, Shwe San Daw mean that you’re looking down upon the landscape rather than across it. If you want those moody, misty silhouette pics, then you need to stay lower. What you do need rather than height is an unobstructed view, with plenty of spires in your target area; some fine viewpoints can even be at ground level. Have a look at some of the minor sites as you wander around during the day. Check which ones seem to provide clear vantage points, bearing in mind east and west aspects, and check if they have stairs and lockable gates; if all looks good, note carefully the location since you may well be finding it again in the dark.
For slightly different but excellent views, don't forget you can also head down to one of the riverbank chedis such as Bu Paya in Old Bagan or Lawkananda in New Bagan for sunset over the Ayeyarwaddy.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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