Every landscape and travel photographer has Bagan on their ever growing list of locations to shoot. And for good reason, Bagan is a truly magical place and there is no where in the world like it. Bagan showcases some of the most amazing sunrises and sunsets and millions of different compositions due to the 2,200 temples located in this complex. December is the best time to visit this ancient site as it hosts the best sunrises and also can capture the hot air balloons above the temples. Myanmar has just began to allow tourism so it is best to get to this amazing place before everyone finds out how great it is. Check out this guide to help you plan your shoot of Bagan:
Arriving in Bagan, Myanmar:
If you are entering Myanmar a visa is required before you can arrive. The best option is to obtain an E-Visa online through http://www.evisa.moip.gov.mm/ . In my experience I entered my information and paid $50 USD and my visa was approved in less than 24 hours. Make sure to print out the visa and have it available when you enter customs in Myanmar
Things you need for arrival:
Copy of E-Visa Approval
You can only enter Myanmar through the air, it is very difficult and alot of times not permitted to enter by land.
Nyaung U Airport - This is the closest airport to Bagan but it is not an international airport so flights could be expensive. Once you arrive you can take a taxi to New Bagan (30-40 minutes) or Stay in Nyaung U.
Yangon Airport - Located in the South of Myanmar this is 1 of the 2 international airports. To get from Yangon to Bagan you can take a 14 hour night bus for about $15 USD
Mandalay Airport - North of Bagan and the 2nd international airport. To get to Bagan from Mandalay will be a 5 hour bus ride for about $6 USD.
Where to stay:
There are not many options for accommodations in Bagan, you either have pricey hostels (by SE Asia standards) or even more expensive hotels. Since tourism in Myanmar has really only began in 2010 the infrastructure is still trying to catch up. The main places to stay are New Bagan and Nyaung U. Both locations are just outside of Old Bagan and very easy to access by motorbike, car, or horse drawn carriage
Ostello Bello : New Bagan - $18 USD a night for dorm - Italian run and possibly the best accommodations in Bagan. It hosts very friendly staff and a great social atmosphere. Rooms are comfortable, all-day air conditioning, and hot showers. They also provide free breakfast, tea and coffee all day, and complimentary Myanmar cigars. The prices for accommodations are higher than most of SE Asia but you really get your moneys worth here.
Telephoto Lens - Since the temples are so spread out it is very hard to capture Bagan with a wide angle lens. You really need to get high and shoot tight.
Tripod - Shooting at Bagan can be very frustrating because there are millions of options of things to shoot. But your best bet is to learn where the sun rises and sets, find a composition that you enjoy, and wait for that perfect light. Having the tripod ensures that you are ready for that perfect moment.
Planning your shoot:
To get out and shoot Bagan it is very simple, there are not many logistics need to get to your location. But the hardest part is trying to find out where to shoot as there are so many options. Knowing the sun rise and set directions and day scouting will be your best friend. Scouting is probably the most important aspect of this shoot. You need to find the best vantage point, with a great composition, and a direction that will have great light.
1. Buy your ticket to the Archeological Site:
$25 USD - Most accommodations are located within the Archeological Site, when taking the taxi into New Bagan or Old Bagan there will be offices on the way to purchase these tickets. This ticket is required to be able to explore the temple complex. The ticket is valid for 5 days and it gives you free rein to explore as many temples as you want with no restrictions ( all 2,200 of them).
2. Get transportation
The best way to explore Bagan is by motorbike or Electronic Bike which is very popular. Near your accommodations you will see people offering e-bikes everywhere. They are not built for speed but they are cheap and very convenient to have. You can rent a bike for close to $3 USD a day.
Another option is to rent a horse and carriage for the day. I am not sure of the price but it shouldn't be more than $10 USD for the whole day. You get your own driver and you can explore anywhere you wish.
3. Scout, Scout, Scout
Once you get your transportation now it is time to scout during the day and shoot during the early mornings or sunset. Try to find the highest temples, climb up to the top and look for good compositions, and be aware of the suns direction. This is the most important part of your planning because it can be very overwhelming at first due to the scale of this complex.
Now that you have scouted out your locations now it's time to wake up early for sunrise or get setup early for sunset. If you want to capture the hot air balloons then sunrise is your only time to see them. And note this is only in December. Best of luck and I hope you enjoy this amazing place as much as I did. Happy Shooting!