Bagan is shutting down its temples, an ongoing process that began on January 2018. Authorities are locking the ones with roofs and guarding with police the ones that were usually climbed from the outside.
For info on how to get there, accommodation and places to sleep, check out this quick travel guide to Bagan.
Finding the perfect sunrise/sunset spot has become trickier, and a lot of information on travel blogs and maps applications is suddenly obsolete.
I am periodically updating this article with information from travelers who provide updates from their trips (check their comments for some extra info!). Thank you so much for sharing your tips!
Why are the temples being shut?
Asking locals here and there, I received mixed opinions. However, since most sellers care about the quantity (not quality) of the travellers, they were not happy about it in general.
They provided different accounts on the reasoning behind the government shutting down temples. An opinion shared by many is that authorities want Bagan to be a destination for luxury travel only, and by preventing access to temples and castles they will keep backpackers away.
Others of course observed that having tens of travellers go up the (usually old) staircases of (usually old) buildings is dangerous for both the people and the building. This is specially true for temples that were usually climbed, such as the Buledi. I personally witnessed a young traveller trying to climb an old temple and falling down on his back when a big block of bricks gave in to the weight (and felt on him).
Finally, a seller told me that this was done to redistribute the flow of tourists; that the government plans to keep opening and closing different temples throughout the place every now and then. I am not sure about the logic behind this.
Good spots still accessible as of December 2018
First, here’s a list of temples still open to tourists, in order of my personal preference 🙂
- Utrecht Temple and surrounding temples (21.149617,94.87082): very unique views from between the temples, some of which can be safely climbed. Do not attempt to climb any of the old-looking or unrestored ones. One of the temples is marked in funny Spanglish “Beautiful vistas from within the trees. But have to climb”. Usually visited only by youngsters.
- Near Utrecht, “Viewpoint” temple (21.14805, 94.871902) has stairs and is still accessible.
- Temple opposite Law Ka Ou Shaung (21.162636,94.864083). As of June 2018, it’s locked, although the fence can be climbed over…
- Temple next to She Myet Hna (21.169197,94.857): on the northwest of Bagan, the views are interrupted by the road and town buildings. It is marked as “Sunset and sunrise temple” on Maps.me.
- Temple at 21.156784, 94.867959, as recommended by Elliot and Christina in the comments. It is marked as ‘Sunrise temple’ on maps.me. It is located right below the trajectory of the baloons, so it is a great spot for sunrises. Confirmed to be open as of January 2019. Expect crowds of 10-20 people.
- Temple at 21.178849, 94.872101, open according to Matt in the comments.
- Templa at 21.159125, 94.860988, marked as “Accessible roof” on Maps.me; confirmed to be open as of December 2018.
- Rooftop place labeled as ‘360 rooftop views’ on Maps.me (21.085301, 94.521889), a bit further from the previous ‘Sunrise temple’. Travelers have commented it is still accessible as of December 2018, expect to find 20+ other visitors on it, since it is one of the spots that local guides now recommend.
- Myauk Guni Phaya (21.159454, 94.87121) was closed but the lock was left unlocked. So up to you. It is are guarded during sunset, but accessible during sunrise, expect 0-10 people. It was locked again in December 2018, but people still manage to climb over the door inside.
- Thaung Guni Paya (21.158712, 94.871242), exact same situation as Myauk Guni Phaya.
- “Sunset and Sunrise Pagoda, 360 view” (21.16147, 94.867761) is still open, with a crowd of about 20 people. As Vincent commented below, the views are great for both sunrise and sunset. Still open as of January 2019.
- “Rooftop 360” (21.145187, 94.8817) is still open. It is more accessible, it has stairs and then you can climb a bit higher along the outside. Still open as of February 2019, albeit crowded.
- “Temple 360 view” (21.145138, 94.882221), locked in December 2018, but climbable from the outside, as some people have been spotted on top of the structure.s of December 2018. Again, climb at your own risk, and remember that local authorities strictly forbid it.
- Temple 860 (21.145909,94.883118): very good views on all sides. I loved this place for sunset and post-sunset colors and fog. It was closed, people used to climb the fence, and now it is finally open again. Expect a big crowd already on it, as the list of other open places is getting shorter and shorter. Secure a good spot by going earlier! UPDATE: There is now a fence around the stairs and thick branches with horns, making the climbing very difficult.
- Temple at 21.149915, 94.861589, recommended by Katha on January 2019. Views are better for sunrise than sunset, because there are trees in front of it on the west side. It’s a small one near a bigger one that used to be a good lookout but is now closed.
Alternatives: unofficial local guides, the Viewing Tower and the mounds
Previously, tourists did not pay any attention to locals who offer to take you to a good spot for some pocket money. Since pretty much everything was accessible, most travellers ignored them. Now, with the temples closing down, it might be a good idea to trust them; they are probably a more reliable source than travel blogs now that only a few places are left open.
Regarding the Bagan Viewing Tower, it’s still a very deserted place, rather far away from the rest of the temples, though it’s the highest point in the area. It is accessible for sunrise and sunsets (5AM to 7AM). It is inevitably becoming more and more popular due to tourists giving up on the temples that are being closed. As of February 2019, the entrance fee is 8000 MMK/5 USD. You can see the whole Bagan from the tower, and it’s safe for you and for the temples.
As for the viewing mounds, well, you can’t really see much from there as they’re very low. That’s also where many tour buses drop their (usually old) travelers, so it’s massively crowded.
It is 2018 and smartphones have been around for long, so don’t expect any temples you can find along the paths in Bagan to be out of the government’s radar. If you wish to find untouched temples and undiscovered sunrise views, you literally need to get off your bike and get away from the (beaten) tracks.
However, if you only wish to visit around temples from the outisde, most of those south of Anawratha Road are empty and quiet during the day. Outside of sunrise/sunrise hours, you will only pass by a few other foreign travellers on most dusty roads throughout.
Once popular spots that are now closed to the public
These were frequented by locals and travellers, and therefore appear on Maps.me as sunrise/sunset spots, but cannot be accessed anymore. Sometimes, they are temporarily reopened, as reported by some readers. These are:
- “Best view point of Bagan, gate is broken” (21.158819, 94.876733) is now locked shut as of January 2019 according to Kirstin and Stefan. They commented that it seems they are restoring the pagoda.
- Buledi (or Bhuleti)
- Law Ka Ou Shaung
- Lay Myet Hna Pagoda
- Meenyeingon Phaya
- “Roof climb” building (as marked on Maps.me): this temple’s roof is a flat platform. Lots of photographers used to come here as you can get a shot of the rising Sun and the balloons in between the temples.
- Shwe Gu Gyi Phaya (21.170806,94.86243): big temple with southern views. Inaccessible as of June 2018, according to Anna.
- Shwe Leik Too (21.180897,94.882382): close to the Irrawaddy River. It is far from trees and temples, which are south from it. The stairs were locked as of December 2018.
- Shwe Nan Yin Taw Monastic Complex
- Sulamani Pahto’s surrounding temples
- “Sunset sunrise view point” next to temple 2000
- Tayoke Pyay Temple
- Temple 446
- Temple 697
- Temple at 21.176409,94.8866252 (used to be very little frequented and off the radar, a shame that it’s been finally shut).
- Temple at 21.158799,94.871151: saved as “sunrise/sunset views very good one” on Maps.me, it is surrounded by trees. The first line of temples is a bit far, so those looking for the perfect Bagan picture might want to go elsewhere. Sadly, it’s been closed!
- Temple 843 (21.1547353, 94.8807665) is open, and very crowded during sunset and sunrise. There are reports of a guy with some kind of official ID card showing up, asking everyone for their zone ticket and leaving afterwards. He didn’t seem to care that some people climbed the temple’s roof, though. Locked on September 2018.
- “The Real Best View Point Ever” as marked on Maps.me (21.148057,94.871913): featuring a very narrow staircase, this place is usually visited by 20-30 people on sunrises and sunsets. Trees and temples on all sides, awesome views! Finally locked as of September 2018.
- Thit Sa Wadi (great sunrise views with balloons sometimes passing very close above the temples) has finally been locked.
If you want to know how to get to Bagan, and where to sleep and eat, check out this quick travel guide.
You can read here about my experience in Bagan, where I visited popular and lesser-known temples and monasteries for a few days, and witnessed incredibly beautiful sunsets and sunrises.
Want to share your experience in Bagan or recommend a spot? Write in the comments section below!