Sunrises in Bagan
If there is anything you have to see in Bagan, it’s a hot-air balloon filled sunrise. Seriously. Skip sunset if you must, but make sure your butt is set firmly on the outside of a temple before the morning sun begins to shadow the stars. You can watch as the colors begin to change, illuminating the fields before you. Like exhaling into cold air, the low-lying fog is briefly visible. Shadows move slowly behind each temple, as if awakening with the day. Roosters stir and begin to do what they do best: annoy everything else around. More birds start to sing, including the ravens, which sound almost like a monkey’s caw. Soon, the rays warm the air and your face, transforming the fog into fresh dew, glimmering everywhere. This is when the best part begins:
Balloons! They began inconspicuously rising in the distance, filling and lifting off before the first ray. Now, dozens of them begin to drift up and west, towards the mountains. Some are so close, you might think they are touching. They float gracefully over the temples, reaching their peak just as golden-hour is complete.
What a morning, right?
The Best Places to Watch Sunrise
If you are anything like me, you certainly won’t enjoy being farmed up the side of a temple with hundreds of other tourists, packed in to get the same photos. (Side Note: I have a deep distaste for the type of tourist that takes 900 photos in rapid succession from the same angle.You probably don’t know who you are, or else you would realize that you just took the same 900 photos, you moron.)
#3: a.k.a. The Tourist Trap, Shwesandaw Temple
I had the experience of watching sunrise among many other people, and just with my boyfriend. The latter was much more desirable. If you choose to head to the tallest climbable temple, Shwesandaw, you will be squished like sardines, waiting for first light. For a more relaxed location, with fewer people, go to Pa Tha da Temple or Law Ka Ou Shaung Temple.
#2: Pa Tha da Temple / Law Ka Ou Shaung Temple
Brandon and I left our hotel at exactly 5am, and were the first to settle atop Pa Tha da, snacking on oranges we bought at the local market and watching the tourists’ flashlights as they ascended Shwesandaw. We sat and watched like spies, talking smack about all the people packed in at that spot. Soon, a few other couples came to our temple, but none alone- they all were guided by a local that was attempting to sell them their sand-paintings as well. Pa Tha da is about 3 stories, with a gentle graded slope, perfect for those averse to heights, and comfortable enough to relax for a few hours.
#1: Sinbyushin Monastic Complex
If you are into a bit of rugged dirt-road riding, there is a place where you can watch all by yourself! There is a monastery tucked back in between 2 of the roads in Bagan, far enough away from a viable road that the tourist buses can’t reach, and a little too far to just walk, so you are certain to have the structure all to yourself.The Sinbyushin Monastic Complex is made up of multiple buildings. The first on the left was damaged in the August 2016 earthquake and was still being reconstructed at the time of this writing, but the second one in on your left has a access point to the roof, and a beautiful view of the sunrise. Although it will surely take you at least 20-30 minutes of driving on the dirt roads in the dark, I highly recommend visiting this particular temple either as the sun rises or sets. Its intimate, quiet, and the perfect location to get away from other tourists and souvenir hawkers.
I hope you find the sunrise as iconic as I did. If there is any other location that is as innocuous or off-the-path as these, please let me know so I can add to this list!