Bagan is shutting down its temples, an ongoing process that began on January 2018 in order to protect them. 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 about places across the Bagan plains that have good views and are still accessible, mostly 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?
Basically, having tens of travellers climb old temples does them no good. Shutting them is the way to protect them and help their preservation.
Although many of the temples were restored in the 1990s, some others are centuries old.
Some temples have been recently rehabilitated to safely allow visitors on their terraces. Those are the places that travellers should go for ideally, instead of climbing temples illegally.
Also, climbing temples is dangerous. 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).
Another opinion shared by some locals 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.
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
Temples with rehabilitated terraces and other spots that are still accessible:
- Utrecht Temple and surrounding temples (21.149617,94.87082): very unique views from between the temples. A popular spot for youngsters.
- Near Utrecht, “Viewpoint” temple (21.14805, 94.871902) has stairs and is still accessible.
- 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 21.178849, 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.
- Thaung Guni Paya (21.158712, 94.871242).
- “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.
- Sulegone Group (name on Maps.me) or Soo Lay Gon (Google Maps): great spot for balloon-watching at sunrise. It’s a small group of stupas and the balloons fly over your head. As it’s not marked on the printed maps, there are very few people around (less than 10), as commented by Rafaela.
- “Temple 360 view” (21.145138, 94.882221), locked in December 2018, although some travellers have been spotted on it, so it might be reopened from time to time.
- Temple 860 (21.145909,94.883118): very good views on all sides. I loved this place for sunset and post-sunset colors and fog. Expect a big crowd on it, as the list of other open places is getting shorter and shorter. As of February 2019, the temple was temporarily locked again, but some travellers were spotted on it.
- 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.
- Temple at 21.159134, 94.860988: accessible as of March 2019. Came for sunset, but the view is not the best. Probably better for sunrises. Expect about 20 people.
- Temple at 21.183023, 94.876978: located in the northern side, largely unknown to many. Great views towards the south, with the temples in the picture.
- Temple marked as “great views Jan 19” (Maps.me) or “Sunset view Pagoda 669” (Google Maps): it has an open roof with safe inside stairs to get there. No temples in the sunrise direction, but great for viewing balloons.
- Thakyapone temple: a few meters away from Pagoda 669, similar good views. About a dozen travellers usually spotted on the terrace.
Some artificial mounds have been built around the plains, and some of them (e.g. 21.1524462, 94.8903215) offer pretty good views.
As of now, they tend to be packed with tour-package travellers who arrive in dozens, but it seems like a great alternative to further discourage travellers from climbing temples.
Alternatives: unofficial local guides and the Viewing Tower
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.
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.
- “Rooftop 360” (21.145187, 94.8817) was closed as of March 2019.
- 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.
- Temple opposite Law Ka Ou Shaung (21.162636,94.864083). As of June 2018, it’s locked.
- “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.
- Myauk Guni Phaya (21.159454, 94.87121) was locked and then unlocked. It is are guarded during sunset, but accessible during sunrise, expect 0-10 people. Locked again as of March 2019.
- Temple at 21.156784, 94.867959, as recommended by many 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. Crowds of 10-20 people. Confirmed to be closed as of March 2019.
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!