If you want to see a breathtaking sunset in Bagan, Myanmar, you need to check out Shwesandaw Pagoda or the Sunset Temple.
It would definitely be on my “Best of Myanmar” list for any photographer, since the view is a stunning 360 degrees of plains of temples.
Update 2019: Due to earthquake damage and continued tourist damage, this temple no longer allows tourists to climb it for sunset views, so a recommended alternative is the Utrecht Temple, which is still open as of March 2019.
A lot of people are jumping fences and climbing temples, and really people – don’t do that! The government is opening and closing locations to distribute the number of tourists and preserve these temples. Please follow their recommendations, or even better, find a tall mound from which to shoot.
If you notice, I don’t really have a picture of Shwesandaw Pagoda itself, the one above is Myauk Guni. It’s because it doesn’t matter what you stand on, you will get great shots from a hill, a viewing tower or whatever else is a legal safe place to shoot. Don’t damage these beautiful ancient buildings unnecessarily.
I’ll leave this post up because the general shooting tips work from any high point, but please don’t climb Shwesandaw (or other locked temples) until the government allows it.
The Nitty Gritty
|Best time of day||Sunset for sure! But do know that it will be busy. |
Read on for tips on how to get great shots anyway.
|Specialty gear||The scenes are breathtaking and expansive so an ultrawide could get you more in one shot.|
Canon Pick: Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
Nikon Pick: Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 HSM Lens for Nikon:
Micro Four Thirds Pick: Olympus M.Zuiko 9-18mm f/4-5.6
|Useful Accessories||If you plan to stay late and get some intense colors, a travel tripod is a must have. |
Dolica LX600B502DS Ultra Premium Professional 60-Inch Lightweight Aluminum Alloy Tripod (Black)
A polarizer will bring out the most detail and color out of the lush foliage and radiant sky.
Hoya HD circular polarizer
The Shwesandaw pagoda is a pyramid with multiple levels. To get between the levels, you have to climb some steep, but well-maintained stairs with a railing.
You should definitely have a moderate level of fitness to climb these stairs. It’s also probably pretty important that you don’t have a fear of heights!
If you can be patient, the angle of the stairs and the perspective might get you some great shots.
For an eye-catching focal point, watch for the beautiful red of the monks’ robes against the sky or the green of the forest.
A Sense of Scale at Shwesandaw Pagoda
As you shoot the pagodas in the surrounding area, it’s easy to lose a sense of scale.
I mean there are huge temples in Myanmar, and then there are tiny ones. Hard to tell which is which in your photographs.
So you know how ebay sellers put a penny in the photo? You should put the landscape equivalent – a human being!
Here I waited for some people on horse-driven carts to come around the corner. Once you see them, you really get a feel for the size of this temple.
In this one, there is just one tiny person in the photograph, but the moment your eye catches him, you can almost feel the image grow in scale and depth.
I’d recommend you use a polarizer to bring out the greens in the lush vegetation. Check the nitty gritty table for my recommendation.
To get a wide image like the one above, it really helps to have a good ultra-wide lens.
I recommend the Canon EF-S 10-18mm which is the lens I used above.
The first thing I noticed was that the views don’t differ that much from one level to the next. But the top level is very popular.
So my suggestion would be to enjoy the peace on a lower level and find a good spot to capture the sunset.
There’s not much of an advantage throwing elbows on the top level, photographically speaking.
Another thing to note is that the best lighting is either looking north or east, because those areas will be lit by the setting sun. So if you are looking for a different viewpoint, make sure to pick one that isn’t too far north or east or you will only get silhouette images.
Although, those make great images too.
Here’s one with more silhouetting.
As the sun gets lower, the colors in the sky get more and more interesting. Walk around your level to enjoy the views from all directions.
This is one of those situations where just when you think the colors couldn’t get any better, they do.
You’ll take a hundred pictures and only want the last five.
I was so sad when we had to leave because I knew that the colors were just going to keep getting more incredible, but I was with a group and had to go.
Check out another amazing experience in Myanmar:
I had an amazing experience at this ethical elephant camp in Myanmar.