Temples of Bagan + Mandalay, Myanmar

temples of bagan + mandalay myanmar.png

When planning to travel to Myanmar, we had a lot of unanswered questions that the internet couldn’t answer for us, such as:

  1. Are drones illegal in Myanmar? Or only illegal to FLY in myanmar? (We had heard stories about both but couldn’t find a definitive answer)
  2. Are you required to get an e-visa to enter Myanmar or can you get one on arrival? (Again, we heard both)
  3. Is it actually as dangerous in Myanmar as people say?

Luckily, we quickly found the answers to all of these questions, so in case you’re wondering:

1. It IS illegal to bring drones into the country of Myanmar, so *if* they are paying close attention when they scan your bag through customs and see a drone inside, they will confiscate it until you come back to the airport to leave the country. This comes with a few caviets though: we have a DJI phantom 4 pro drone which is HUGE in comparison to most drones (not a smart travel decision), so it is pretty hard to miss. If you tried to bring in a smaller drone, they might not notice and you could bring it in without having customs confiscate it. However even if you do get your drone past customs, it is still illegal to fly it in the country of Myanmar, so I definitely wouldn’t risk it unless you have a letter of permission to fly it for your job, etc. 

(Obviously if you have the option to leave your drone at home and bypass any of these issues, i’d recommend doing that. We didn’t have that option unfortunately.)

2. You can either get an e-visa online for about 50 USD per person before entering Myanmar (they take anywhere from a few hours to 3 days to be approved) OR get a visa on arrival at the Mandalay airport. Not sure about Yangon, though, as we didn’t go there. 

3. Depends where you’re going, but the more touristy areas of Bagan, Yangon, and Mandalay are completely safe. (Obviously, do your own research beforehand). The religious genocide is still happening in Myanmar, but it is near the bordering countries. All in all, I felt totally safe everywhere we went in Bagan and Mandalay, and I even went for a jog (alone) near our hotel in Bagan one day. All I encountered was a few children saying "hello" to me and a local man who gave me recommendations for a park nearby to check out! Despite getting some weird looks (running is a very Western thing i've realized) the Burmese people are truly some of the kindest and friendliest I have ever encountered. 

Tips for traveling in Bagan, Myanmar

To get to our hotel in Bagan, we pre-booked a private taxi from the Mandalay airport using viator.com (it was about 70 USD for the 3 hour trip). The car was nice enough and had AC, but unfortunately our driver spoke zero english and didn’t understand our requests to stop for food or a bathroom, so plan ahead! (Other options to get from Mandalay to Bagan include a 12 hour boat ride, but I didn't want to sit for that long, ha!)

The car ride to Bagan was about 3 hours on a dirt road which was a little bit sketchy to be honest but I also felt like it gave us a real look at the way many Burmese people live, outside of the comfort of the main city where we were. There were lots of people working on the side of the road, carrying large loads by hand, and living in huts.

We stayed at hotel Zfreeti in Bagan, and I totally recommend this hotel enough if you plan to visit. The hotel runs about $45/night and has super cold AC, E-bikes for rent, a pool, free breakfast buffet, and is in a great location (about 15 minutes by bike from all of the temples). It is also less than a 5 minute walk from a few of our favorite restaurants including Weather Spoon, Bagan Zay, and Aroma 2 Indian food. 

The best part of being in Bagan is having such close access to all of the incredible temples (my FAVORITE yet of anywhere we’ve traveled in Southeast Asia). To get to them, all you have to do is head into old Bagan and there are literally hundreds of them everywhere you turn. 

Unfortunately, these days there are only a few temples that are open to climb to the top of, and they aren’t super easy to find on your own. And oddly, the ones that ARE climbable aren’t listed on any maps, other than one:

She Leik Too, Bagan

She Leik Too, Bagan.jpg

The easiest way to find which temples are climbable are to head towards Old Bagan, a few hours before sunrise or sunset and wait to be approached by a local on a motorbike. I know that sounds really random, but I promise you they are EVERYWHERE (by the third day I was on the verge of yelling NO I DON’T WANT TO SEE THE SUNSET because we’d been asked so many times 🤣). 

Be warned, the locals do offer to take you to the open temples and then sell you various forms of their artwork for money, but we were glad to give them a few bucks for showing us where to go. This is just good to know ahead of time if you want to decide on a price before they take you. 

The other climbable temple we found was a few steps west of the Alodawpyi Pagoda if you want to try and find it on your own (just put it into google maps).

temples of bagan.jpg

Honestly though, don’t stress too much about finding specific temples, there are incredible ones EVERYWHERE. You will see what I mean when you get to Bagan. I do recommend finding your spot at least an hour or so before sunrise or sunset if you want to secure a good spot to take photos. 

Food in Bagan:

I was pleasantly surprised by the food options in Bagan! Here are my recommendations:

Weather Spoon (V, DF, GF) - Serves Thai, Burmese, and American cuisine. We chose to eat here the first night based on the fact that it was the only restaurant that was full (always a good sign) and loved it so much we came back almost daily. They also spoke very good english and were happy to make modifications for us! Try the vegetarian green curry. 

Bagan Zay (V, DF, GF) - This restaurant is a cute little hideaway with modern Burmese food. The food here was decent but what we really loved about this place was the fact that you could sit on the ground inside!

Aroma 2 Indian (V, DF, GF) - The smell coming from this restaurant alone was enough to bring us in! It is operated by an Indian family that makes everything to order, so it takes a bit longer, but it is totally worth it. They also close everyday at 2PM to have a family meal, which I thought was pretty cool. Be sure to try the garlic naan bread!

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Things to note about Bagan, Myanmar:

  • The WiFi doesn’t work pretty much anywhere 🤣 so if you care about that, make sure to get a SIM card at the airport. They are SUPER cheap here and they will put it in and set it up for you within a few minutes. 
  • Bagan is actually broken up into 3 different sections: Old Bagan, New Bagan, and Nyuangu. Our hotel was technically in Nyuangu, close to many of the restaurants which was super convenient. Old Bagan is where most of the temples are (although they truly are everywhere) and I can’t really speak to new Bagan as we didn’t go there. 
  • As with all temples, be sure to cover up your shoulders and legs. Even the men here do not show their legs, and instead where long skirts called a "longyi"
  • Even when you aren’t visiting temples, Myanmar is very conservative country and I rarely saw anyone who wasn’t a tourist with their shoulders and/or knees exposed. 
  • Be sure to not drink any of the tap water in Myanmar and be sure to only eat at restaurants that use clean ice and ensure that they use filtered water to prepare your food. I have *heard* that the hygiene standards here are pretty much non existent which leads to westerners often getting really sick, so I was very careful with what I ate, avoided all street food, and also avoided getting sick. Woo!
  • The people in Myanmar are truly some of the kindest, friendliest, and funniest I have ever met. We loved the staff at the Weather Spoon restaurant so much we went back nearly every night, and they would just come stand by our table and talk to us. A lot of locals also wanted to take pictures with Erik which was pretty hilarious.
  • Everyone in Myanmar wears a natural sunblock called "thanaka", made from tree bark. One of my favorite experiences during our time in the country was having a local woman rub it on my face and tell me about what it was used for. 

Mandalay, Myanmar

The city of Mandalay, where we flew into is one of the main cities in Myanmar, and we only stayed there for about 24 hours which was the perfect amount of time, in my opinion. It is a much busier city than Bagan, but without any of the charm of other Southeast Asian countries like Bangkok or Siem Reap

We specifically went to Mandalay to visit the Hsinbyume Pagoda, about an hour and a half drive of the hotel we stayed at in the city. 

Hsinbyume Pagoda

Hsinbyume Pagoda

If you plan to visit the Hsinbyume Pagoda (it's TOTALLY worth going if you're in Mandalay) be sure to plan a bit ahead if you want to arrive by boat, because they boat to get there only departs once a day at 9am. 

Since we were short on time, we hired a private taxi to take us there which took a bit longer (about an hour and a half one-way) and cost 20 USD roundtrip.

Since we only stayed in Mandalay for about a day, I can't really speak to the food situation, although I was pretty impressed with Mingalabar Restaurant. It is local Burmese style food, and they give you a TON of it, so make sure you bring your appetite.  

All in all, I would absolutely recommend coming to visit Myanmar (specifically Bagan) if you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia. The temples here are truly magical and unlike any others i’ve ever seen (yet).

Have you been to Myanmar? What did you think?!