Bagan Sunset Photo

Cycling Around the Temples of Bagan

Julie Myanmar 19 Comments

Bagan, Myanmar is one of Myanmar’s most famous destinations for tourism.  There are many ways to explore Bagan’s many temples, either by bike, by taxi, by scooter, or by big tourist bus.  In our opinion, Bagan is the perfect place to explore by bicycle.  The streets are relatively quiet, there are great sandy roads that take you to villages and smaller temples, and cycling Bagan is tons of fun for kids and their triathlete parents (us!).

Cycling Bagan

Choosing our bikes

We rented our bicycles through our hotel, Kyaw Hotel.

My mother, Kathy Younkin, flew in from the US to join us in Myanmar. She chose an electric bike, which is really just a smaller, slower version of a moped, while the four of us rented three bicycles. Kara was not big enough to ride her own bicycle and we did not see any bicycles that were “child sized” during our entire three day stay in Bagan. She rode on the extra seat on the back of my bicycle or Tim’s bicycle.

Family Cycling Bagan

Motorized Bike Bagan

What is Bagan?

Bagan is home to 2200 Buddhist and Hindu temples. At one point Bagan was home to over 10,000 temples, all dating back to the 11th to 13th centuries. Over the years the temples have been destroyed by earthquakes and other natural causes.  

Tyler and Kara Bagan

The area known as “Bagan” is a small area in rural Myanmar that consists of two towns…Old Bagan and New Bagan and acres and acres of temples.

Tourism is really just taking off here. There is a mix of older, no frills hotels with several newer, higher class hotels as well. Most restaurants feature outdoor seating under corrugated tin roofs with basic tables and plastic chairs. There are nicer restaurants as well. There are absolutely no western restaurants…no Starbucks, no McDonald’s, no KFC, and no Subway. It was great to see this place before the chain stores of the western world move in, not necessarily changing this place for the better.

Tim Rivenbark

We would usually start our day with breakfast at our hotel followed by a morning ride around the temples. This was tons of fun for all us, but especially for Tyler and Kara, who loved riding on the dusty, rural roads and fishtailing in the thick sand that covered many of the back roads.

Amazing Gate

Peanut Farming in Myanmar

One thing we learned is that peanut farming is one of Bagan’s biggest industries. One morning we wandered off road onto a newly plowed field. It did not take Tyler long to notice that we were riding through a peanut field. Tyler has a severe allergy to peanuts so it is obvious to say that riding his bike through fields of peanuts was very alarming to him.

What I was more concerned about was what he was actually eating while in Bagan. Peanuts are added to a lot of the dishes here so Tyler lived on grilled and fried meats, bananas, and bread while we were here. This is something we were expecting and prepared for, as peanuts are used in a lot of dishes all throughout Southeast Asia.

Tyler made a Friend

Shwe-san-daw Pagoda

We spent hours and hours wandering among the temples, stopping for photos along the way. Most temples are only viewed from the outside but several we were allowed to enter. Our favorite was the Shwe-san-daw Pagoda. This one could be climbed (on a very steep staircase!), the reward being amazing views over Bagan and all of its temples. The view was spectacular.

Steep Steps Bagan

View from the Temple

Kara in Bagan

We all really liked it here. We loved the tropical scenery, the very friendly people, and seeing temples everywhere we turned. It really felt like we were in Southeast Asia, with palm trees, hot weather, and friendly, smiling faces.

Tyler and Kara Bagan

Earth Trekkers Bagan

More Views of Bagan

And here are some more views of the temples…

Temples in the field

Exploring the Bagan Temples

Tim in Bagan

The people here get around by bicycle, also.

Girl in Bagan

Meeting the People of Bagan

At one point I got a flat tire. A woman took us to her home in a small local village. While her husband repaired my tire, the lady demonstrated cotton spinning and weaving. The matriarch of the family joined us, a ninety-two year old woman, puffing away on a giant cigar.

Old Lady Smoking Cigar

Watching the Sunset in Bagan

One of the best things to do in Bagan is to watch the sunset from a temple with a great viewpoint. For this we returned to Shwe-san-daw Pagoda, joining way too many other people wanting to watch this amazing sunset. It was crowded but worth it…what an amazing view.

Sunset in Bagan Myanmar

And a little while later…

Bagan Sunset

All of us, including my mother, Kathy, really enjoyed being in Bagan.  I really liked the laid back attitude here. We had no set itinerary, just got on our bicycles, wandering out into the countryside, exploring temples and villages. This was a great place for kids as well, as Tyler and Kara loved getting around by bicycle. What kid would not like exploring 1000 year old temples? We were able to find restaurants with good, cheap food that was also safe for Tyler to eat. And our sunrise balloon flight was the icing on the cake. Bagan is such a fun place to visit.

Where We Stayed

Kyaw HotelWe stayed at Kyaw Hotel in New Bagan.  This is a midrange hotel located just off the main road.  We had three bungalow rooms for the five of us, each with twin beds and a small, basic bathroom. The furnishings and buildings were a bit dated and worn, but the place was well located and relatively clean. The best part of the hotel was its lush grounds and landscaping.

About Our Visit

We visited Bagan, Myanmar in December 2014 during our trip around the world.


More Information for Your Trip to Myanmar:

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Bagan Myanmar Cycling the Temples

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Comments 19

  1. Hi Julie,
    Thanks for sharing. Really appreciated.
    When you rented the bikes do you recall if you had an option to wear a helmet or did you feel the roads were so quite it was not necessary?
    We are soon visiting with my 11 year old daughter and 7 year old son and wondering if we should take helmets along on our adventure.
    Kylie

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      Author

      Helmets are a rare thing in Southeast Asia, especially on bikes. We didn’t have any with us, and they weren’t even an option, with our bike rental. We felt safe but it’s not a bad idea to bring helmets with you, if you have room in your luggage. We did cycle on busy roads with car and motorbike traffic so it’s good to be prepared. Have fun! Cheers, Julie

  2. We are doing a medical mission trip to Yangon in January 2019. I have a severe peanut allergy then we will have an apartment And cook in that city.

    We plan to visit Bagan and I read your blog. Was the Kyaw Hotel peanut-free?

    Do you recall specific restaurants where you felt particularly safe with Tyler?

    Did you have a guide who assisted you with peanuts?

    We may also visit Mandalay. Do you have a blog about peanut issues there?

    Thank you for your kind assistance

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      Author

      Most of the local-style restaurants in Myanmar have the potential of using peanuts. To be honest, eating in Myanmar was a little stressful with Tyler. Your best bet is to visit the touristy restaurants where the staff speak English. The only thing we ate at the Kyaw hotel was breakfast and from what I recall that was peanut free (and very mediocre). Our favorite restaurant in Bagan was Sabadalg Restaurant. I can’t recall if it was peanut free but Tyler did eat here without any issues. Yangon is the easiest city because it has lots of western style restaurants to choose from.

      When it comes to eating safely with Tyler’s peanut allergy, we’ve always had good luck with Italian restaurants (look on Trip Advisor for recommendations). In Myanmar, don’t expect awesome Italian cuisine, just basic, edible food you can eat without a reaction. But you can find Italian restaurants in Yangon, Bagan, and Mandalay.

      Cheers, Julie

      1. Thanks Julie,
        Your kind reply had excellent information. I have found your suggestion about Italian food being generally peanut-free true about everywhere.
        However I still ask about the oil since one Italian restaurant in Washington DC had peanut oil in the fryer that got me sick, when I assumed it would be okay.

        Thanks for your excellent blog about peanut issues and travel

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          Author
  3. Julie
    We are going to SE Asia in two weeks and this will be the start of our ATW trip. Everything I have read says it is best for women to cover their shoulders and wear capris or pants or skirts (to the knee). I noticed you were wearing shorts in some of your Myanmar pics. Do you recommend any advice for this region. Many thanks

    1. Post
      Author

      In many parts of the world (and especially Asia), it is best for women to cover their shoulders. As far as wearing shorts, in many places shorts are acceptable. Just make sure they are “longer” shorts; mine went down almost to my knee. In Yangon and Bagan, I did wear shorts several times. In Bagan, I couldn’t wear a skirt and ride a bike and it was too hot for long pants, even in December. But for women, you must cover your legs to go into the temples. You can either carry a sarong and wear this when you get to the temples, and some places will rent or sell you a cover up so you don’t have to carry one with you. I would recommend buying a sarong before your trip or purchasing one once you get to Southeast Asia (it will be so much cheaper in Asia). Have a great trip!! Cheers, Julie

  4. It’s wonderful to hear you had such a great time in Bagan! It looks so beautiful.

    A friend and I are thinking of going when we visit Myanmar. Would you recommend cycling around the temples, and was it tiring in the heat? I was also wondering where you put your bikes when visiting some of the temples.

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      Author

      Hello Amber. Yes, I would recommend cycling around the temples. We were there in early December. We did work up a sweat cycling, but would cool off when we took breaks at the temples. It is a lot of fun cycling between the temples, you get to see Bagan at a slower pace. If I remember correctly, I think we may have locked our bikes together when we visited a temple, but I can’t accurately remember that detail. Whomever you rent your bikes from will let you know what to do. Have a great time! Cheers, Julie

  5. Your blog and stories are great. My husband and I are in Bagan now. I tell my friends on Facebook to see your website to see what we are encountering. We are older and traveling with Road Scholar. We will go To Mandalay, Chiang Rai, then down the Mekong river on a boat and then Ankor Wat. Then home and rest for the next trip.
    You mentioned going to Morocco. My best time in Morocco was in the desert near Erfoud when we were taken to a field of fossils. Some children will come to help you chip away the rocks, and you can take some excellent fossils home with you. Or you can buy them in shops.

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      Author

      Hello Penelope. Oh, how we miss Bagan. It sounds like you have some exciting days ahead of you. Thank you for the tips about Morocco. Sounds like a great experience! Happy traveling, Julie

  6. Thanks for the post, great tips and pics.
    We are planning a trip with our kids and I would love to hear your thoughts about staying in New Bagan as opposed to Nuang U.

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      Author

      Hello John,

      We stayed in New Bagan, a quiet area with lots of small restaurants and hotels. From here it was a short bike ride to the temples. The main group of temples is located between Old and New Bagan, closer to Old Bagan. If you are flying into Bagan, staying in Nuang U may have an advantage. While doing our research, we ruled out staying in Nuang U, wanting to be closer to everything. Our favorite restaurants were in Old Bagan and most of our time was spent in the temples right around here. I liked where we stayed because it was easy on our budget but if I went back I would look into staying closer to Old Bagan.

  7. Hey!
    Looks like you had a great time cycling around Bagan!
    I am heading there this October and have a few questions.

    1)where did you rent the bicycles? Are they from the guesthouse/hotel or can you get them from the temple area?
    2) Is the hot air balloon ride worth it? Its quite pricey so I am hesitating to book.

    Thanks!

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello!

      We rented the bicycles through our hotel. We told them what we wanted and they were delivered to us. It was very easy and I would assume most hotels provide this service. If not, there are bike rental shops located around the main hotels.

      About the balloon flight…

      We had the same concern. It is very pricey. Is it worth it? It depends. If you have never done a hot air balloon ride before, then yes, I would say it is worth it. It is very cool looking down on the temples. But, we have done better. We loved the hot air balloon ride in Cappadoccia, Turkey…phenomenal. If you are going with a group and you are concerned about the price, why doesn’t one person go up, take the photos, and share them with everyone else. Honestly, we thought the balloon ride was a bit boring but I LOVE having the photos now. It all comes down to if you think you will regret not going later in life. We had to do it because we heard great things about it. Yes it is expensive, but I am glad we did it. But, if I knew what I knew now, I would go up and take the photos and leave Tim and the kids on the ground. Hope this helps!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful photos and stories. Myanmar looks like it was well worth the stop and a place that I’ve now added to my ever-growing bucket list. I’m so grateful that you have taken the time to let us all be travel partners (if from afar) in your incredible journey!

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