One of the most popular things to do as a tourist in Bagan is to enjoy a sunset on top of one of the pagoda’s and temples, or a sunrise for that matter, but because of the timing the sunset seems far more popular. And like every self respecting tourist you should at least have seen one sunset over Bagan. And to get a good overview over the plain with all the temples, you have to see it from high up, on top of one of the temples. Sunset gives you all these spectacular colors, from yellow over orange to blue and purple all matching the ochre and deep red colours of the stone temples and the gold of the stupas.
By far the most popular choice for a sunset is the Shwe-San-daw temple, very close and just outside the walls of old Bagan. The temple is not too impressive to visit otherwise (if you compare it with many other temples in Bagan). But it can be climbed and boasts a large platform for people to stand on. But we, like many other tourists, would of course like to watch the sunset all alone if possible, or otherwise with as little others as possible. At our hotel they recommended the She-San-Daw or the Phy-Tha-da pagoda’s. Lonely planet on the other hand pointed towards the Tha-beik-hmauk temple (close to Su-la-ma-ni pagoda) or Buledi pagoda a little more north. Looking at hte map the Phy-Tha-da seemed quite far from our hotel in Nyaung U, so we decided to try the Tha-beik-hmauk on our first day. It was our first time out of Nyaung U on our bike, so we had a little trouble finding our way around, since the (free) map we received in the hotel was not very detailed. Buledi pagoda was not even marked on the map. We had joined the Southern main road after passing Hti-lo-min-lo, and were trying to find the way to the pagoda, when I saw a sign pointing the way to Su-la-ma-ni, when a Burmese on a motorbike asked if he could help. I asked his advice, and he confirmed we could see the sunset on Tha-beik-hmauk , (it was not allowed to climb Sulamani though), but pointed out it might be more difficult to return after sunset because the temple lay further away from the main road. We thought he made sense, and decided to follow his advice and go to Buledi that lay very close to the main road. We later noticed he was in fact a vendor on Buledi…. But having just arrived that morning I did not feel experienced enough to contradict.
When we arrived, quite early, it was only half past five, we were indeed almost alone. We climbed the temple and walked around a bit and took in the view which is indeed impressive, especially if you see it for the first time. We chose a place to install ourselves on the temple facing west. I went a few steps down to get away from the quite heavy wind on top. Slowly more and more tourists trickled in, and took their place on the west facing side of the pagoda. After a while you started to wonder if people were actually coming to enjoy the sunset because some were chattering away so heavily or constantly reading the lonely planet restaurant reviews out loud from their mobile phone or I pad , that I am sure some people actually missed the sunset! It is a pity that this takes away the beautiful serene experience the sunset in this place could be, but I did not feel comfortable to ask them to please shut up for just a little while. Also many left once the sun hit the horizon, actually missing the part where the sun gives his glow just after disappearing. As darkness set in, the lights on the temples in the distance were illuminated, turning the scene in a kind of fairy tale experience, almost Disney like!! ( yep guys, you missed that alright!). Some temples are really beautiful seen from up high with the lights on. We saw the Hti-lo-min-lo with lighted up just on our right, heavenly!
Realizing, it is not pitch dark yet just after the sun sets, we were thinking of trying the Tha-beik-hmauk or even Sulamani the next day to see the sunset. So the next day we headed out to Tha-beik-hmauk to see the sunset. It is a bit further away from the main road than Buledi. You take the same dirt road leading to Buledi, but pass it and continue straight into the plain towards the Sulamani pagoda you can see before you. Sulamani pagoda is a very impressive temple, with a beautiful construction and frescoes. We then moved to the smaller temple Tha-beik-hmauk east of Sulamani. The temple was deserted except from a Burmese family living there. We went inside but the stairways leading up were locked of with fences and padlocks. We asked the Burmese woman if she could unlock, but she did not have a key. So clearly this place cannot be used for sunset viewing anymore. We slowly returned, and eventually climbed the smaller pagoda east of Buledi ( Buledi looked crowded again). This pagoda can be climbed, but there is only a small ridge to sit on. The sunset itself was clouded but gave beautiful colours after the sun disappeared.
We decided to try a third option on our last evening in Bagan. The following day we exchanged our bikes for electric motorbikes to get around. So on the third evening we headed out to Phy-Tha-da. Although it was further from the hotel and quite far from the main road, we guessed that with our electric motorbikes we would get out more quickly plus we would have a headlight to guide us. We took the same road to go to Buledi and Sulamani, but passed Sulamani on the right side, and continued on the road behind the temple to the left. On the next intersection you take the road to the right where the temple is indicated. Arriving there was sobering with large tour busses standing outside and the platform of the temple filled with people. This would not be a serene sunset…. We climbed up, and from above saw more busses arriving. Not many Western tourists, mainly Asians. Being touristy in an Asian way, quite loud, taking pictures continuously, no not from the view or the sunset, from each other! Unfortunately the sunset was the least impressive of all three, it rained in the distance and it was getting very cloudy. I did see an eagle circling above Bagan’s plain though. But what this temple offers is the view. I am sure it is one of the best views over Bagan. You are high up, you are quite to the east so you overview most temples with the sunset in the background. It is certainly the best high up view we had here in Bagan! Since the weather was not too good we headed out quite early to get back to the hotel. Just after passing Sulamani temple one of the batteries of our motorbikes died, so we had to walk back to the main road!
I am afraid there is not really a good or best place to see the sunset, they are all crowded so just choose one that is easy for you to reach and enjoy the view! Getting there is also half the fun!