Bagan is one of Myanmar's most mystical destinations. Whether you're clambering to the top of one of its 2,000 or so temples, or gazing at them from a hot air balloon, a visit to this town is all about getting high in the sky for memorable panoramas. The temples are spread across several distinct neighbourhoods along the green banks of the Ayeyarwady River, so you'll have plenty of opportunity to explore the scenery in this peaceful corner of Myanmar.
Hostels in Bagan are ideal for adopting the city's slower pace of life. You'll find places where you can lounge by the pool under a traditional red parasol or relax on the rooftop terrace. A hostel with its own spa means you can bookend temple-hopping with massages. There are budget-friendly options where Wi-Fi, breakfast and tea are free. If you want to give back to the community, choose a Bagan hostel that doubles as a vocational training school, where the young staff learn the skills they need to work in the travel industry.
Old Bagan is both upmarket and atmospheric – it's where the crumbling city walls and high-end hostels are. With its lacquerware production and basket-weaving heritage, Myinkaba is the spot for authentic souvenirs. Nyaung-U is the main backpacker area in Bagan; if you're craving the taste of home, head to the row of international restaurants on Thiripyitsaya 4 Street. New Bagan is the most up-to-date neighbourhood and has bars and cafés lining the riverbanks.
For most travellers in Bagan, one of the key sights is watching the sunrise or sunset from one of the temples. Some of the best include Lawkaoushaung, Thitsa Wadi, South Guni and Pyathatgyi. At sundown, you can take a boat tour along the Ayeyarwady River. You could also stop by Kyat Khayon Cave Monastery in Old Bagan to see how Buddhist monks live or visit the market in Nyaung-U to feast on spicy curries from the street food stalls.
E-bikes are an affordable and eco-friendly way to get around Bagan. You can also rent a normal bike or hire a taxi and driver. Buses from elsewhere in Myanmar arrive outside the city at Bagan Shwe Pyi Highway Bus Terminal, and your bus company will arrange a free transfer for the last roughly 8km to New Bagan or Nyaung-U. If you're coming from Mandalay in northern Myanmar, your boat will arrive at the Nyaung-U jetty.