The Bagan sunrise is a must-see in Southeast Asia
Thousands of temples dotting the landscape make the Bagan sunrise one of the best in the world.
Most travelers know that any wakeup after 3:30am is just an arbitrary number. You know you’re going to be shredded and zombiefied so the only thing to do is to keep on doing. A 4:30am call beckoned for what we heard was a must-see in Bagan – the incredible sunrise over the immense plains of the ancient city. With just enough time to boil water, throw on some clothes and quickly down a couple instant coffees, we were out the door from our room at the wonderful Bagan Hotel River View and on the road in Old Bagan to the Shwesandaw Pagoda (Shwe Sandaw Pyay).
Our pickup was a minivan flush with air-conditioning already at full tilt which was absolutely unnecessary at 4:30am but appreciated it nonetheless. Our guide and driver were eager to get going as sunrise was expected at about 5:00am on the dot. The 10-minute ride was fairly mundane as Bagan is pitch black at night. Pitch black as in hardly any electricity in the area and only a few lamps around the sides of the roads. Once we arrived to the pagoda we hopped out, kicked our sandals off at the foot of some incredibly steep steps and made our way to the top. The only indication that there was anyone else on the pagoda were quiet voices up ahead on the walk up. In reality, it was packed but you’d never known until you reached the terrace they were standing at. A great spot and a few minutes to relax in the cold morning air gave way to a glimpse of the Bagan plain and mist ascending from the jungle as the sun made its way up to the horizon. Some more light, some more pagodas, some more light, mist, some more light, ‘wow there’s a lot of people around me,’ and then… this:
Yep, for the Bagan sunrise, totally worth it. The moment passes so suddenly and as everyone fell silent to take in the incredible sight I couldn’t help but notice a female traveler, probably in her mid-40s-50s in tears. Turns out she wasn’t crying at the beauty of the sunrise but at the shame of having her camera fog up. Apparently she had been looking forward to this moment for years, taking in the sunrise over Bagan and waiting for the perfect picture… and her camera had fogged up. I got her email address and she had these photos the next morning. Karma must have worked in my favor as the view from Shwesandaw was immense in all directions. The sun, now just settling over the horizon, made for some amazing shots of the misty plains laid out before a backdrop of mountains against a purple-red sky.
The Shwesandaw Pagoda was built with five terraces and is topped with a cylindrical stupa with a bejeweled umbrella (hti). The pagoda was built by King Anawrahta in 1057. The pagoda once contained terracotta tiles depicting scenes form the Jataka Tales (a voluminous body of literature native to India concerning the previous births of Gautama Buddha) and supposedly still houses sacred hairs of the Gautama Buddha obtained from Thaton (a town in Mon State, southern Myanmar).
In true traveler spirit, the Bagan sunrise was over and everyone started moving on for a day out and about in Bagan. Breakfast was beckoning but we stuck back for a bit to take in the incredible sights and to talk to some of the locals. The famous Hot Air Balloons take off around sunrise, however it you want some photos of that or to hitch a ride (an expensive $300+ ride per person!) the Shwesandaw is not the place for that. But for incredible landscapes of Pagodas and an excellent view of the entire area, look no further. Check out some pics below, for High-Res photos of my trip to Bagan CLICK HERE. Stay tuned for more posts from Bagan, coming soon!