Where to stay and eat in Bagan
Read on to discover where to stay and eat in Bagan, the land of a thousand pagodas.
Bagan is probably Myanmar’s most famous destination and one of those places that one has to see for themselves to appreciate its beauty. After a week spent in the chaotic and rough cities of Yangon and Mandalay, we headed to Bagan and were immediately relieved to find peace among the pagoda dotted plains. Deciding where to stay in Bagan can be quite confusing based on what we found online, therefore we wanted to help you decide which is best by sharing our tips.
Also known as the land of thousand pagodas, Bagan is outstandingly unique. The plains, where a bushy but not dense vegetation grows undisturbed, are dotted with more than 2000 pagodas. These are the only remaining ones from the original 10,000 that were built during the 11th and 13th century.
During the 9th and 13th century, Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, the first kingdom that unified the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the Kingdom’s height, it became a cosmopolitan centre for religious and secular studies, thus explaining the constructions of the unusual number of pagodas and temples.
Today Bagan is a dream destination for many travellers who want to experience the magic of seeing the sunrise over the pagoda dotted fields or appreciating its beauty from one of the famous hot balloon rides.
Given its popularity and to protect the ancient remains, Bagan is tightly managed by the government and upon arrival, an entrance fee of 25,000 Kyats needs to be paid, roughly 16$ (if you pay directly in dollars they will charge you more). Another measure that has been recently put into place in order to protect the pagodas, is to close the entrance to almost all pagodas so that visitors cannot climb on top of them. At the time of our visit (November 2018), there were only four or five pagodas still open. As you can imagine, few of these remain a secret to tourists, making them quite crowded at the key times of sunrise and sunset, but nonetheless an unmissable experience.
During our four days in Bagan we were determined to watch sunrises and sunsets on top of the accessible pagodas and we missioned every day with our electric scooters to try find yet another one. We were lucky enough to visit 3 of the 4 (or 5?) open pagodas, which were all quite different and gave us different views over the valley. The best way to find the pagodas would be to ask around to the locals, which will either help you for free or might try to sell you one of their paintings (which is just a way to get a tip for sharing their knowledge!).
BURSTS OF GOLD & LAVENDER MELTING INTO SAFFRON.
Where to stay in Bagan
Today Bagan has three main centres: Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung U. Even though you can definitely stay at any of the three and be close enough to drive with a scooter to the pagodas, each location offers a different setting. After several hours of research we decided to stay in Nyaung U, and once there we realized that we made the correct choice.
Nyaung U is conveniently located a ten minutes scooter ride from the Bagan fields and has the biggest number of restaurants and bars, making it the best place to stay if you are keen to explore some of the local life too.
We stayed at a lovely, recently built hotel called the Bagan Vertex Hotel. The rooms were nicely decorated and with all comforts, breakfast included and the hotel had a nice rooftop from where to watch the sunset over the surrounding fields. We rented our e-bike (scooters running off electricity and not fuel) directly from the hotel. The price is 1000 Kyats per hour and please make sure your battery is charged before you leave the hotel, to not risk needing to push the scooter down the road!
Old Bagan is closer to the plains and the pagodas but offers very few options in terms of entertainment and restaurants. In Old Bagan, you will mainly find upmarket hotels and resorts, and if choosing one of those you will most likely spend your evening within the property.
Some of the most beautiful properties which we recommend are:
Created around 1990 to relocate the local population of Old Bagan, New Bagan is close to some of the nicest temples, but definitely not as bustling or as pleasant as Nyaung U.
If you decide to stay in New Bagan, have a look at these hotels and backpackers:
Asja in a field
Where to eat in Bagan
The best restaurants in Bagan are in Nyaung U along the main road. We were pleasantly surprised to find such a wide selection of restaurants in such a little town. In the four days we spent in Bagan we were able to try several of them, and this is our final selection of the best restaurants and cafes.
This beautiful restaurant, run by a French lady married to a local man has the best setting in Bagan. Perfect for a romantic dinner in the garden adorned with fairy lights. Make sure to taste their home-made gelato.
This Italian restaurant offers truly authentic Italian food (Italian approved by myself!). The pizza is genuinely delicious as well as the bruschetta.
The busiest spot in Nyaung U is without a doubt this English restaurant and bar which offers a varied menu, from burgers to local cuisine, with most dishes surprisingly delicious.
This simple restaurant is the perfect spot for a casual lunch. The menu offers mainly local dishes, nicely presented and tasty.