Old Bagan, Myanmar Photography Guide: Temples, Irrawaddy River, and More Beautiful Spots

Old Bagan, Myanmar Photography Guide: Temples, Irrawaddy River, and More Beautiful Spots

Planning a trip to Old Bagan, Myanmar? You’ll be struck by how absolutely beautiful the Bagan temples are! Here are some of Old Bagan’s Instagram hot spots and top Buddhist temple photography tips for your vacation! 


In 2019 Old Bagan, Myanmar, was officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many felt this important distinction was late in coming, however. Old Bagan (the designated architectural zone within the greater city of Bagan, Myanmar) is, after all, home to 3,822 remaining Buddhist temples constructed from the 9th to 13th centuries.

Old Bagan is known as an architectural zone due to the current efforts of international preservation agencies to unearth and restore as many of these ancient temples as possible. The many temples are under various levels of reconstruction. You’ll stumble on some which seem as good as new and other which feel as though they’ll crumble under your feet. This variety leads to the incredible experience of being able to learn about the rich Buddhist history of the area through tours in well-preserved, important temples, as well as have the freedom to explore many on your own which have been forgotten and left for dead in the Bagan countryside.

What first startled us on our visit to Old Bagan was the plethora of these ancient Buddhist temples. We traveled extensively through Asia before our trip to Myanmar (formally Burma) and were no strangers to Buddhist temples and traditions. We had never seen quite so many gorgeous religious buildings in one place, however.

We were almost desensitized to the many beautiful places after riding around the few paved and many dirt roads of Old Bagan on a rented scooter. Temples are seen in such vast amounts on either side of you that you simply get used to it. 

One of the best parts of visiting Bagan Myanmar? Almost no one else does. After traveling around the world full-time for the last two years, I can truly say this was the most beautiful place we’ve been to and had to ourselves. After drowning in crowds of other tourists in New Zealand, Bali, Thailand, and more, having such a magical place to ourselves felt completely unreal.

It was good for soul!

All our followers on Instagram loved seeing our trip to Old Bagan. Most people haven’t heard of this gorgeous place, still confused about the state of affairs of Burma/ Myanmar and too scared to travel there. Taking a vacation to Myanmar and showcasing it on Instagram is a great way to show your friends and family how adventurous you are, and expose them to one of the most beautiful historic cities on Earth.

Looking for Instagram photography inspiration in Old Bagan, Myanmar? Keep reading!

The best Old Bagan Photography Tours:

The best way to see everything in Old Bagan and hit the best photography spots is with the following tours. I personally did these tours, and was thrilled to be exposed to hidden spots in Bagan! Not only will you be exposed to gorgeous spots in town, your tour guide is also always happy to serve as a built-in photographer!

  • Sunset Irrawaddy River cruise: This cruise takes you around Old Bagan on the famous Irrawaddy River during sunset, when you’ll get the best light around ancient temples
  • Sunrise hot air balloon ride over Bagan: This tour with Golden Eagle hot air balloons is a great way to get the most unique view of Old Bagan and the Irrawaddy River.
  • Old Bagan temple tour: A guided tour by a local to the most important and beautiful Buddhist temples in Old Bagan. By taking this tour you can see the best and have a built-in photographer!


Old Bagan, Myanmar Photography Tips

It’s easy to get great Instagram photos in Old Bagan simply by walking around with your camera. Follow these tips to get the very best photos of your Myanmar vacation, though! 


Old Bagan Myanmar Photography Instagram Guide


1. Avoid the crowds at popular Buddhist temples

Some of the most well-preserved temples are wildly popular tourist sites for their gorgeous Buddhist statues, ancient architecture, and wall murals. You must visit these important sites, but when it comes to photography you’ll have to work hard to avoid the crowds.

  • Go early in the morning to avoid mid-day tourist buses
  • Find hidden spots for up-close details
  • Have your camera on the right settings and be patient for your moment. When there is a break in the foot traffic, shoot as quickly as possible

2. Settle for Second Best

Some of the most beautiful views are well-known to other tourists. Settle for the second best view in order to avoid the crowds. You may have to face away from a sunset or sunrise, or face a more dilapidated temple in your background, or settle for a different angle. You’ll most likely have the entire spot to yourself, however, for a perfect photography moment you can cherish forever!


3. Don’t be afraid to climb the temples

While some of the ancient temples in the Old Bagan architectural zone have signs warning visitors not to climb them, others are a free-for-all. Look for hidden stairs in the inside of a temple leading to the roof. The stairs may be dark, narrow, and dirty, but you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view once you make it to the top!

Some of the best Old Bagan Instagram pictures are from the roof of temples, as the higher view leads to great backgrounds!

You should also be willing to walk across or sit on top of walls. It may be uncomfortable for a moment, but poses from these unnatural spots will lead to unique, beautiful photos.

*Remember to BE RESPECTFUL. Do not climb on temples which ask tourists not to, use caution and be safe, and do not do anything which would cause harm to these ancient structures!


4. Wear something flowy

This is no Instagram secret. Many travel Instagrammers pack along lightweight, flowy skirts, dresses, and blouses because they look gorgeous catching the breeze in travel photos! Old Bagan is the perfect place to employ this fashion trend, as the juxtaposition between soft fabric and bright colors contasts beautifully against the orange-red-brown brick of the temples and wild landscape their set in.

It may be hard to ride a scooter or climb the stairs to the top of a temple in a dress, but it will be worth it for the Instagram photos!


5. Have a loose schedule and prepare to stop for photos

If you care about Instagram photos you’ll need to have a loose schedule in Old Bagan. You’re bound to pass many beautiful temples, and when the lighting, landscape, and lack of other visitors is right you want to jump on the opportunity to take photos.

Ultimately, I recommend renting a scooter (Around $5/ day) to tour the area at your leisure. This way you can access more obscure places and explore as much as you want!


6. Pose with your whole body

Here are a few posing tips to help with your travel photography:

  • Don’t look directly at the camera. Photos from behind the subject or with the subject’s face turned are interesting and take off the pressure of having a beautiful smile and perfect makeup
  • Be in action. Have your photographer take a picture of you mid-step or mid-twirl (with a dress or skirt) 
  • Be aware of your arms, hands, legs, and feet. All extremities should be held with purpose! Slack arms won’t look as good!


7. Take photos as sunrise and sunset

Myanmar sees harsh sun during the day, so the best time to take photos in Old Bagan is when the sun is rising or setting. Not only will you get the best light at these times of day, you’ll also add a flair of magic to the ancient temples. Capture sunbursts, early morning fog, and beautiful colors by going out exploring early in the morning or late at night.

Not only will you have dreamy light and a magical flair in your photographs, you’ll also be left almost completely alone. It takes dedication to wake up early, and most tourists simply aren’t willing to do it.


8. Use a tripod to get the perfect selfie

If you’re solo traveling through Myanmar you’ll want to bring your handy camera or iPhone tripod along! Old Bagan is filled with such beautiful scenery that you’ll definitely want to be pictured with it. Set up your camera on a timer and quickly step into the shot. Save time by searching Instagram for posing inspiration. Many DSLRs have a remote shutter or mobile app to help you take photos, which also saves time and energy to get the perfect photo!




Old Bagan Myanmar hot air balloon ride


Instagram Guide to Old Bagan, Myanmar

The ancient Buddhist temples around Old Bagan, Myanmar, are an Instagrammer’s dream. Here are our top photography tips and locations to get the best photos from your time in Old Bagan. 

In this section we’ll cover the top 4 different spots for Old Bagan photography:


1. Old Bagan Temples Photography Inspiration:

You’ll find gorgeous Old Bagan temples all over. Simply stop over and get your camera ready!



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In this photo the photographer held the camera at the plain as the subject from one end of the outer temple ridge. It takes balance to hold the photography pose, but it captures the subject and the edge of the temple beautifully while still maintaining a straight shot of the temple in the background.



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In this photo the photographer uses the available light as a point of focus. To capture the beauty of the inner doorway and light stream, the subject is placed in front of the light to capture their silhouette against the beautiful architecture.



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This is another example of the photographer using available light as an asset to the photo. The subject is sitting on a low wall and the photographer is placed directly in front. The doorway is centered in the photograph, and emphasis is placed on the temples in the background while the subject is only partially lit by natural light in the foreground.



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This photo was taking during sunrise in Old Bagan. While other tourists are crowded around the viewing temple’s Eastern wall, our subject sits along the Southern wall to pose. She poses with her whole body, making clean lines for the photographer.



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Set your camera or iPhone on a tripod and arrange the self-timer for photos. The beauty of Old Bagan is that it’s easy to find a secluded spot where your camera will be out of danger of potential thieves!


2. Old Bagan Irrawaddy River Photography Inspiration:

A trip up the famed Irrawaddy River is one of the top Old Bagan things to do. An Irrawaddy River boat tour will most likely stop on the riverbanks for a short walk to beautiful old temples and river view points. 



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This photo was captured by drone of one of the popular Irrawaddy River cruise boats traveling from Mandalay to Old Bagan. It captures the modern tourist industry against temples from the historic Buddhist community. Head to the Irrawaddy River boat launch in Old Bagan to capture similar pictures of cruise boats against ancient temples.


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This photo highlights the Irrawaddy River sunset cruise. It captures the sunset along the water in a way that highlights a beautiful woman and shows the state of the tour boat she’s cruising on. To add an interesting element, wear a traditional scarf or clothing as this woman.



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This Old Bagan Instagram photo showcases both the ancient Buddhist temples along the riverbank as well as the Irrawaddy River. Get this photo by going on a short walk to the temple area while on your sunset Irrawaddy River cruise. This view is found by climbing to the top of a temple on a hill, with the other temples and river in view downhill.


3. Old Bagan Photography from a hot air balloon

Another wildly famous thing to do in Old Bagan Myanmar is to take a hot air balloon ride at sunrise. Why is a sunrise hot air balloon ride so popular? Because it leads to some of the most jaw-dropping gorgeous views in the entire world. 



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This photo was captured from a passenger on one hot air balloon of others as they cross the famous Irrawaddy River. The beauty of this photo is that it shows so many beautiful elements of Old Bagan at one time: ancient Buddhist temples, hot air balloons, and the Irrawaddy River. The different elements keep this Instagram photo interesting.



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This photo was taking by a passenger on one hot air balloon of the others ascending through the trees at the same time. The trick to getting gorgeous photos of the Old Bagan hot air balloons is timing. Be prepared for upcoming moments, and keep your photo on “burst” or “action” mode to capture multiple images/ second. This way you can get one as the balloons are in the perfect position framed around one another or the landscape.



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Capture beautiful photos of the Old Bagan landscape +  balloons from above. Taking a hot air balloon ride gives you the unique opportunity to get beautiful views!


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The hoard of hot air balloons flying over Old Bagan make for great photos whether you’re in a basket or not! Consider waking up early (around 5:30) and head to a clear view point to take pictures while the balloons are floating from the ground.


4. Photos with Monks in Old Bagan

Be respectful of the many Buddhist monks in Old Bagan when taking photos. Ask permission first, even if it’s just through gesturing, and offer money afterwards. They will usually be just as pleased to take a picture of or with a foreigner in return, as long as you don’t take too much time!



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You’ll see monks of all ages in Old Bagan. Young monks are especially eager to take photos with foreigners! Ask permission, take a quick shot, and offer some money or candy afterwards in appreciation.



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The photographer for this shot stood away from the subject. This angle allowed for view of the novice monk, Buddhist statue, and monk’s umbrella. The photo was taken during high sun, but edited afterward to increase the shadows and strength of the sunbeam.


Planning a trip to Old Bagan, Myanmar? Pin this article on the best photography tips and Instagram spots for later!


Old Bagan Myanmar PHotography Guide


Old Bagan Myanmar Photography Instagram Guide