Sunset chasing in Bagan isn’t restricted to the tops of temples. An interesting alternative is a dusk boat trip (US$10 to US$15 per boat) on the Ayeyarwady. The hour-long tours offered by folk at the Old Bagan jetty tend to cater to package tourists, but you can drop by to organise your own cruise. Alternatively, you can head to Fantasia Jetty & Garden, which offers regular sunset boat tours.
You can also arrange an interesting boat and taxi side trip to mountaintop Tan Kyi Paya, one of four stupas that marked the original edges of the city. Another possible boat trip is to three temples north of Nyaung U.
The best way to truly appreciate Bagan’s size and sprawl is from the basket of a hot-air balloon belonging to Balloons over Bagan. These magical 45-minute rides over one of the world’s best ballooning spots operate from October to March. Sometimes sunrise flights are booked a month or more in advance, but if there’s space, any hotel or guesthouse should be able to arrange a ticket.
The well-run company, owned by an Australian-Burmese couple and employing about 100 locals, has 10 balloons that usually fit up to 10 passengers and a pilot. The experience begins with a pick-up from your hotel in a lovingly restored, pre-WWII Chevrolet CMP bus, partly made of teak. You can have coffee and snacks while watching the UK-made balloons fill with hot air, and then enjoy sparkling wine and snacks after you land, while you watch the balloons get packed up again.
Although sunset flights are offered (depending on weather conditions), the sunrise ones are preferable – the cooler dawn air allows pilots to fly the balloons at lower altitude for a closer view of the temples.