Climbing the temples of Bagan

Check at the end of the article for updates on where is still accessible today! 

A question that many people have asked me recently is are we still allowed to climb up the temples of Bagan to enjoy the sunrise and sunset?

 

Not only Myanmar is struggling in term of tourist arrival with about a 15% decrease from the previous year (source) due partly to the violence happening in the Rakhine state, this temple situation is surely not helping visitors feeling convinced they should come to visit Bagan. Mostly that Bagan is the main contributor to the arrival of tourists today, being the most popular attraction of Myanmar.

So what is the actual situation today?

First, the question of should we or should we not climb the temples? Well if you think about it, most of them have been built with stairs, meaning the original idea was to be able to climb them. The problem is when unwise tourists decide to destroy parts of the temples by climbing in the wrong spots or trying to bring a souvenir back home.

Apparently, as of today, it is completely forbidden to climb any temples, but there seem to have ways around it. The situation isn’t very clear as there are not many official statements available. There are a few other options like a man-made dirt mount of a high rise hotel, but I still believe that getting on the hot air balloon will give you the best view. Worth the investment!

 

Panorama of the temples of Bagan from a hot air balloon in Myanmar during a photography tour by Pics of Asia

 

 

From my own experience a few years ago on my photography tour, I know that climbing a temple for sunset was a disastrous moment. As we missed the sunrise opportunity because of the rain we came back a little earlier from our jeep countryside trip to try and catch the sunset from a temple. The only temple which was open to the public was already packed with people, and everyone was elbowing each other, yelling at each other for taking their spots and almost being to the point of punching themselves. Surely an experience I never want to live again, mostly due to the fact that we are more used to visit out of the beaten track locations.

 

In a recent article in the Myanmar Times, I read that the ban may be lifted by the local government after they received a lot of requests from the local community to reopen some of the strongest temples to the public. The ban on climbing the structures made a lot of local shopkeepers and art sellers out of job, as most of their clientele were the people climbing the temples. You must be familiar with the painters coming up to the temples to introduce you to their work if you have been there.

Also, I am sure a lot of travel agents are complaining about the ban. It deprives visitors of the iconic view from the top of the temples that Bagan can potentially offer and is well known for.

 

 

If you are still heading to Bagan, do not worry! The countryside has a lot to offer, and Bagan isn’t only about its temples. So get some wheels and get lost, you will find some great things all around.

Black and white photography of farmers on Pics of Asia Myanmar tour

 

Updates: 

We received the following information today:

As of mid-December 2017, the following temples could still be climbed

1. Shwe Leik Too – This is not far off the Old Bagan – Nyang U road, to the northeast of Hti Lo Min Lo. Nice sunset views from here. I would suggest you stay on after dusk to capture brilliant views of a lit up Hti Lo Min Lo

2. Taung (South) Guni – Both Shwe San Daw and North Guni are now indefinitely closed. So South Guni, albeit a bit shorter than its northern sibling, attracts huge crowds at sunset.

3. Bulethi ( and the temple immediately to the east of Bulethi) – Popular for sunrises as well as sunsets, gets pretty crowded. Be sure to reach early. Hti Lo Min Lo looks stunning from here (all lit up) before sunrise.

4. Pagoda 446 – A real gem, I owe this to a kindhearted trinket seller (bless her!). It is not listed on any map but is perhaps the best place to watch the hot air balloons go up. She insisted I go there for sunrise and even led me up to it. The path is a bit difficult to find, especially in the pre-dawn darkness, and the stairs are really quite narrow. But once I managed to reach the top, it was hands down the most beautiful sunrise spot I’ve been to in Bagan.

In addition to these, the authorities have built three elevated ramps which are marked on the map. The one northeast of Thbeik Hmauk temple does offer pretty decent sunset views.

 

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Etienne

Founder of Pics of Asia, Etienne is a teacher with a photography habit.

2 Comments

  1. Paul Tucker on July 7, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    Hi Etienne,
    I enjoy reading your posts.
    We visited Bagan Feb 17 when they were talking about the closures.
    The haze in that season meant no actual sunset but the golden hour gave wonderful colours to the temples and cattle making their way home.
    If you have to fight to get on a temple the magic will be lost. Deserted venues had more magic.
    They are a lovely people and need tourism.
    Best wishes
    Paul

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