Many visitors set aside just two days in Bagan, even though it's easy to spend four or five days here and still leave much unexplored. Consider renting a bike and heading off to view thousands of other random sights – the real pleasure of Bagan comes from a leisurely soaking up of its scale and time-slip atmosphere.
Stick to the Old Bagan area, starting at the Tharabar Gate then heading south to Bagan’s most popular temple, Ananda Pahto, and west to Thatbyinnyu Pahto; near the latter it's possible to climb up the old city wall.
Just west is where King Anawrahta stored all the non-Buddhist images at Nathlaung Kyaung. Back on the main road, backtrack towards Tharabar Gate and detour on the gravel road for a river view from Bupaya.
In the afternoon visit lacquerware shops in Myinkaba, climb up the hidden stairs in modern Manuha Paya and see the bas-relief figures in Nan Paya. Finish up at one of the choice sunset spots, like well-known Shwesandaw Paya, near Old Bagan. Unfortunately, less-trafficked viewing platforms like that of Pyathada Paya remain closed following the 2016 earthquake.
Having followed the one-day plan, now tick off other highlights, starting with Dhammayangyi Pahto, Bagan’s largest temple. Take the paths east to the gorgeous Sulamani Pahto and escape the crowds at its neighbouring ‘mini-me’ version, Thabeik Hmauk, which is also a good (and generally less crowded) place for sunset viewing.
In the South Plain area east of Myinkaba, grand Dhammayazika Paya is one not to miss. While out this way, visit Leimyethna Pahto for its well-preserved frescoes and Payathonzu, which also houses 13th-century murals.
On day three many itineraries will see you heading out of the immediate Bagan area to Salay, another area sprinkled with old temples and monasteries, and/or Mt Popa, famous for its picturesque, nat- (spirit-)infested hilltop temple. Both places are interesting, but if you’d rather stay closer to Bagan, schedule visits to Abeyadana Pahto and Nagayon in Myinkaba and the frescoes in Lawkahteikpan Pahto. Adventurous half-day boat trips can be made down or across the Ayeyarwady to more remote temples, with the chance to sail back into town at sunset.