The sight of the sun rising and setting in Bagan is a true beauty to behold. Check out our top 5 spots to watch the sunset and sunrise in Bagan.
Though for our trip to Bagan, we made it our mission to become morning people just so we could see the Bagan sunrise. For those of you who might be thinking, “What’s so good about the Bagan sunrise? Isn’t it the same as anywhere else in the world?” You couldn’t be more wrong my friend! Bagan is an ancient city that is oozing with history and cultural significance. It has over 2,000 temples built across its plains that date back as far as the 11th century!
Between the towering Buddhist temples and tiered pagodas, the sight of the sun rising and setting is a true beauty to behold. Watching the stony landscape become bathed in the muted sun oranges is utterly breathing.
Depending on which temple you are visiting, things can get a bit crowded. So, we've made a list of the 5 best spots to watch the sunset and sunrise in Bagan, including advice on how to avoid the crowns and the best times to arrive.
What time is the sunrise in Bagan?
The sun starts to rise in Bagan between 5:30-6:15 am, depending on the time of year you go. Between May to July, it rises as early as 5:30 am, whereas from December to March, it can rise from 5:55 am to 6:05 am. We used this website to help determine the exact times for both sunrise and sunset.
Guess which one of us is not a morning person? Trick question. It’s neither of us!
If you want to catch a good viewing spot, you’re going to have to set your alarm for much earlier. We’d say you need to be getting to the temple/pagoda at least an hour before the actual sunrise – depending on how popular the temple/pagoda is. Factor in how long it will take you to wake up, get ready, and make your way to the location, and well, you could be looking at getting up at 4:00 am in the morning…
We promise it’s totally worth it though!
What time is the sunset in Bagan?
Once again, the sun sets at different times throughout the year. The website we mentioned above in the sunrise section also provides estimates for sun setting times.
Depending on whether you’re visiting during summer or winter, you can expect the sun to set at around 5:40-6:15 pm. We recommend getting to your location at least an hour before that and spend the time exploring the grounds.
How to find the best sunset spot in Bagan
The best advice we can offer from our experience is to head to a pagoda that still offers a view but is away from the crowds. The main pagodas that the coach load of tourists will be taken to are usually Shwesandaw and Dammayangi.
We suggest heading to one of the remote pagodas we describe below. Some of these are so remote they have almost nobody else there except for a few monks.
Other practical tips, check out the pagodas next to the famous crowded ones – these are likely to be less crowded. Also, plan ahead and come early to get your spot. Pagoda sunset hunting became a daily ritual for us during our trip in Bagan – we spent a good 2-3 hours each evening researching which would be that evening's ‘spot'!
Finally, consider heading to Bagan outside of the December/January peak season and instead come during the shoulder season (March-May) when it's still popular but there are far fewer crowds.
1. Bulethi Pagoda (sunrise and sunset)
This was our first stop on our three-day trip across Bagan. The view from the top was sensational, and we even got to do some monk-spotting as we made our way up – something we began to make a game out of as we visited each place on this list.
This is a great place to watch both the sunrise and sunset – especially as it offers a panoramic view of Bagan. We marvelled at how dark the silhouettes of the surrounding towers became against the backdrop of the most vibrant red and yellow sky. The pagoda’s history is unknown, which enshrines the place in complete mystery.
The only drawback was how crowded it got during the sunrise and sunset hours. We hate to say it took away from the experience at all, but it did feel a bit claustrophobic at times. So, bearing that in mind, you should get here as early as possible to ensure you have a good, comfortable place to observe.
To get there, you can board an e-bike from the city centre and cycle up. The pagoda is located in the centre of Nyang-U. Tourists must pay MMK 25,000 (USD 15) as an entrance fee.
2. North Guni Pagoda (best for sunset)
Lots of tourists tend to overlook this pagoda as it is hidden from the more popular routes.
It is difficult to overlook as not much is known about its history. Though it is well worth finding. To get to the top, you’ll need to find the narrow passageway that will take you up to the seventh-floor terrace. It’s a tough climb and we were most certainly winded by the time we reached the roof.
It was much quieter than any other place we visited. We went during the sunset hours one evening and were delighted at how much space we had to marvel at the wonderful sights – we even spotted the Shwesandaw and Dhammayangyi pagodas close by.
This spot is only a five-minute walk from Dhammayangyi Phato in the New Bagan area. We recommend either walking or cycling over as there are no public transport options to reach it.
3. Gubyaukgyi Temple (best for sunset)
Gubyaukgyi is a cave temple located in Myinkaba Village. It was constructed in 1113 by Prince Yazakumar, in honour of his late father, King Kyansittha of the Pagan Kingdom.
It offers a quiet spot to watch the city bask in the warm sunset colours. It isn’t as popular with tourists, so you don’t need to arrive too early before sunset to get a good spot. But you should still make time to get there beforehand, just to explore your surroundings.
Inside, you’ll find that the walls and ceiling are covered in paintings that depict 28 of Buddha’s previous lives as mentioned in the ancient scriptures of Tripitaka. There are also inscriptions of an ancient language from Myanmar! A tour guide will take you to each one and take you through the fascinating history behind each story.
Note that no photographs are allowed inside – you’ll have to leave these in a locker as you enter. But we felt this helped us appreciate the architecture and experience that much more. It all got to be experienced in the moment and people weren’t distracted by trying to get the perfect snap for the ‘gram…
The temple can be found in the New Bagan area, close to Dhammayangyi Pahto.
4. Dhammayangyi Pahto (sunrise and sunset)
Dhammayangyi Pahto has arguably one of the most fascinating histories of all the structures in Bagan. In 1170, King Narathu built the temple to fend off his own bad karma after he mυɾdered his father and older brother just so he could become King – talk about a power trip!
Well, as we all know, karma never loses anyone’s address and King Narathu was later mυɾdered by group of mercenaries sent by the King of Pateikkaya. Some believe it was revenge for him murdering one of his wives.
The temple is one of the largest in Bagan – even though construction was never completed. It’s a fascinating place to walk around, mainly to discover all the debris scattered around the temple – thought to have been left by builders to prevent the ghost of Narathu from leaving the building!
It’s a fabulous spot to watch both the sunrise and sunset. To get there, you can cycle or walk from the Old Bagan area.
5. Shwesandaw Pagoda (sunrise and sunset)
As the tallest pagoda in all of Bagan, stretching up 328 feet (100m), Shwesandaw is a massively popular attraction. It is known to get super crowded approaching the sunset hours – so to get a good spot, we say arrive before 4:30 pm. Though to avoid all crowds entirely, visit it during the middle of the day and be treated to the breath-taking landscape of Bagan. Take a walk around the temple and observe the ancient city from high above, as well as spotting hot air balloons which ascend across the sky.
Shwesandaw has an incredible history, full of royal bickery that would put the English royal family to shame! It was built in 1057 to help spread the word of Buddha across the lands. Upon completion, King Anawrahta demanded Manuha, King of the Mon Kingdom of Thaton, receive the Buddhist book of teachings, Tripitaka. When Manuha refuted this offer, King Anawratha invaded Thaton, stole Buddha hair relics, and decorated the pagoda with them. Talk about a clap back!
The pagoda is based in central Bagan. There are no public transport routes that bring you up to the temple, so you can get there by either walking, cycling, or even a horse carriage ride. The Ruby True Hotel and Ostello Bello Bagan Hostel we discuss below are roughly 50 minutes walk away.
Where to stay in Bagan
Ok, so we’ve told you all about the best vantage spots around Bagan to see those much-hyped-up sunrises and sunsets. But you’re probably wondering where the best place to stay during your trip is. What’s the point in us banging on about getting plenty of rest before seeing those incredible sunsets if we don’t tell you where you can get that rest? These are the best hotels in Bagan we found during our big trip here, each one catering to a specific kind of traveler and budget.
In a nutshell
- Deluxe suites
- On-site bar and restaurant
- Wonderful spa
- Lovely swimming pool
Situated in Ancient Bagan City, the Ananta Bagan boutique is a super luxurious and extravagant hotel.
Each of the rooms are lavishly decorated with warm reds and sunset oranges – quite fitting considering most guests are there for the famous Bagan sunsets! They also have massive walk-in showers, free minibar usage, and a coffeemaker in each room.
The word ‘ananta’ translates to the word ‘infinite’ – which is quite fitting, as the dedication of their staff toward their guests is, indeed, unlimited. One example is the restaurant, which serves up a wide array of delicious specialty dishes, from traditional Asian to classic European.
For relaxation, swing by the spa for some exquisite treatments that help to rejuvenate your mind and body. They also have an outdoor swimming pool that you can dip in and out of between sips of a fruity cocktail from the bar.
Prices at Ananta Bagan start from $104 per night:
What to do in Bagan?
There are some great tours to see the best of Bagan, including via horse-cart! Check out these and other things to do in Bagan or in the near surrounds…
Ruby True Hotel
In a nutshell
- Private villas to sleep in
- On-site restaurant and bar
- Resort-style swimming pool
- Nestled in gorgeous gardens
Ruby True is quiet and quaint, made up of private villas built from teak wood and modern furnishings.
When you’re not out exploring, the hotel has a lovely swimming pool to relax or do some laps. They also have a bar to pick up a tasty cocktail in the evening before hitting the hay.
It’s 20-minutes away from the Bagan Archaeological zone, so you’ll need to make sure you’re setting that alarm clock a bit earlier if you’re going to get a spot for a sunset view.
They serve up some wonderful international cuisine in their on-site restaurant. Or if you feel like eating out, there are several restaurants within a 6-minute drive. The 7 Sisters Restaurant is one of the best, serving up authentic Burmese dishes, with friendly waiting staff and a hearty ambiance.
Prices at Ruby True start from $44 per night:
STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL
Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, voiding any nasty surprises when you check in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off our first booking.
Ostello Bello Bagan
In a nutshell
- Excellent budget option
- Super close to Bagan Archaeological zone
- Free meals during certain hours and free cigars
- Private rooms or dorms with bunkbeds
The Ostello Bello Bagan hostel is one of the first hostels in Myanmar. It’s located in the New Bagan area – minutes away from the Bagan Archaeological Zone (a zone with over 2,200 ancient pagodas!)
Guests stay here from all over the world, immersing themselves within the spiritual atmosphere of Bagan. The hostel offers sunrise and sunset tours of Bagan with a local guide – meaning you get all the great tips on the best spots to stand in for optimal viewing.
It’s an affordable place to stay considering how close you are to the pagodas. Shared rooms are a tad cramped, but you won’t be spending much time in them anyway. Though if you want a private room, they have some lovely ones on offer.
They serve up a free breakfast each morning from 6-10 am, free tea and coffee, and pasta at the hours of 1 pm, 7 pm, and 9 pm. Smokers will be delighted to know that they also offer free Burmese cigars – to help guests relax and take the edge off after a day of sightseeing!
Prices at Ostello Bello Bagan start from $23 per night:
For more inspiration:
- Read our interview with local boy Aung Zuy about gay life in Myanmar
- These are the most gay friendly countries in Asia to visit
- After Myanmar, make sure you head to Thailand, the land of smiles
- If you love island-hopping, these are the best gay islands in Thailand
- Check out our gay travel guide to Vietnam
- As well as our gay guide to Nepal
- And our gay travel guide to the incredible country of India