Old Bagan: Chasing the Perfect Sunrise

In a city of thousands of ancient Pagodas, I had a self-assigned mission, I had to find the perfect Pagoda to sit atop for magic hour (sunrise), a mediocre view for a place as unreal as Old Bagan just wouldn’t do!

Shoes off,  shoes back on, turn the key on the Electric motorbike, back out on the dirt trails, and climb another Pagoda. That was the drill minute by minute, hour after hour, as my new friends and I searched for the perfect place to view the breathtaking landscape of Old Bagan, a famously ancient city within central Myanmar that is uniquely frozen in time. You can truly just feel the history in the air here, and with each gaze out into this landscape it hits you; it doesn’t feel real, this place is like somewhere out of my wildest dreams. 

Old Bagan temples

They made me wear my sarong as a dress inside the temples, but I think I’ll just keep this fashion statement going….it’s kinda freeing 💃🏼

The morning fog sweeps through here and blends with the picturesque sun peaking over the horizon like something I’ve never seen before, but what makes this view truly spectacular??! Each and every single morning in this ancient city they release a multitude of hot air balloons out over the landscape that is littered with historic pagodas in what seems like every couple meters in every direction, and directly as the sun comes up like clockwork the balloons are released, and every single person with a heartbeat and a camera is instantly trying to do their best impression of a National Geographic photographer and get the perfect shot of this event.

It’s honestly challenging to not get a good photograph at Old Bagan, the landscape does all the work, it’s something magical that cannot be read (though I’m trying anyway for shits and giggles) and must be viewed with your own eyes to be believed, but I tried to help anyway with some shots!

Old Bagan pagoda

Thousands of these ancient temples cover the landscape in every direction, and also make the perfect viewing platforms for sunrise

The E-bike Shenanigans

The thing that brings foreigners from all over the world to this area is the breathtaking sunrise/sunset views, we have that part down, but how will I know where to go to watch this spectacular event?!

I asked myself the same question, so first naturally I had to figure out how to get around the area. We opted for the option of  renting Electric Scooters, these are the most effective/cheapest/most fun way to get around Old Bagan, put simply, they’re THE way to get around Bagan it’s a unique experience in and of itself. These little E-bikes make literally zero noise, I was astounded when I first fired it up and heard nothing, even while moving, it was purely ridiculous. Even Prius drivers would be like; “damn that thing is quiet”, and I’m pretty sure they’re so fuel efficient they put good quality air back into the atmosphere, how’s that for green??

Fun story: At one point in the morning before sunrise we had randomly collected about a dozen people from nearby hostels to set out to find the “perfect viewing pagoda”, I was in the lead in front the whole time trying to find one, and I could have sworn it was like I was driving solo because there was no noise coming from the 11 other bikes behind me. Then I would just look back to make sure they were still there and of course, still 11 bikes behind me quietly humming along at the max of like 30 KM/hr, it was hilarious.

You can rent these bad boys from anywhere within Old and New Bagan (the modern city next to Old Bagan, shocking I know). Seriously there’s an E-bike dealer like every 10 meters on the streets, and they cost about $5 USD for a full day, much like any other motorbike in Asia.

Old Bagan motorbikes

One of thousands of pagodas, with our manly E-bikes

So assemble your badass E-biker gang of random foreigners, saddle up on your 10cc powered lawn mower engine, and get ready to find the perfect Pagoda, Yeehaw!

Locating the Perfect Pagoda Itself!

I like to think it was a mission success. With having not slept that night, I had come in on an overnight cross country bus from the Inle Lake area in Myanmar and with arriving around 4am in the middle of the damn night it gave me the advantage of finding an E-bike and getting right out to my quest to find the most photogenic pagoda.

Word on the street before I showed up was mostly of the Shwesandaw Pagoda views, people had deemed it a great place to view the sunrise and to check out the balloons. But I knew that if that many people had told me about it, there would be hundreds up on top that pagoda that morning, as word travels quickly of course especially in a place like Old Bagan. This held absolutely true as our Pagoda was in the distance from the Shwesandaw, we could see the tops of it being filled with onlookers. We decided not to choose this one, I had to find my own, I had to make a game out of it and make it a unique experience naturally.

myanmar ancient temples

During daylight hours take advantage of exploring the INSIDE of these pagodas!

So with the area of the Shwesandaw in mind we headed out for it, whipping our heads back and forth in the pitch black darkness to try and find a pagoda that was 1) not crowded with people, 2) offers a sweeping view of the horizon, and 3) easy to climb up on top of.

We E-biked side street after side street and ended up coming up to a rather small pagoda just off of the main road, we quickly figured it wouldn’t offer a good enough view of the landscape, so on we went. It should also be noted very importantly that the main road off of Old Bagan city centre itself is called Anawrahta Rd, it’ll take you along the “pagoda alley” of side streets to take freely.

Next we kept going along the main road once more, eventually I spotted 2 pagodas that looked a little too good to be true. There were no people there, they looked climbable, and as previously mentioned they were in the same general area as the famous Shwesandaw interlinked off that main road but still more than far away enough to escape the crowds and be able to enjoy the sunrise.

Old Bagan temple map

Take the side roads by Shwesandaw, go south on the branched road you see, you’ll find a matching medium sized pair of Pagodas, climb these for the perfect sunrise shots.

Once we reached the base of the temples, we performed the usual drill; shoes off (you MUST remove your shoes and socks in respect for the pagodas and the local culture, it is rude and destructive to wear your shoes on these temples, they are thousands of years old!!), and began climbing to the top of the pagoda. The view was too good to be true, and again there was no crowd to beat back with a bat to enjoy the views, it was everything I could’ve asked for. We waited for about an hour, taking in the scenery and chatting about this and that, as I had only met this makeshift biker gang not 2 hours ago in a hostel lobby randomly.

With every passing minute the sky lit up, the fog rolled in more and more and I could understand what all the hype was about this place, once again to beat the hell out of this dead horse, it. is. magical. This is some straight out of Disney stuff here I’m telling ya’. The balloons released perfectly at sunrise, the dense fog that rolls in over the landscape, the ancient temples everywhere you look,  and to top it all off you’re sitting ontop of a Pagoda with thousands of years of history, that my friends is pretty darn cool if  you ask me.

Old Bagan balloons

average views am I right!?

Everything came together perfectly on that morning, the people, the place, the chills you get from taking it all in, life was good. I spent the rest of that day E-biking from place to place around the greater Old Bagan area checking out all the rich history and the Pagodas, many of which can be entered (no fees, just remove your damn shoes).

pagoda sunset

Sunset exploring the pagodas, almost as magical as sunrise!

Have you been to Myanmar and have your own story to add? Let me hear it! Do you dream of exploring Myanmar or Old Bagan? Comment with any and all questions that you have I love to help out everyone that I can no matter the question!

**As always please remember to comment, like, share, pin, tweet, and everything in between to get the word around if you like this article!

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