Here are a few pointers I gathered from the last visit. Hopefully it could help your first visit to Bagan more pleasurable.
(1) Leave your hiking boot at home, travel to Myanmar on your slipper
one could bare feet in Myanmar 70% to 80% of the time (including your sleeping hours). Every temple prohibits visitors entering with shoe or sock. So it is more convenient to wear comfortable sport slipper or trekking footwear like Keen.
If you are visiting larger temple where you may enter and exit via difference entrances, then it could be practical to bring a recycle bag to keep your shoe in your bag (or hand carry). Some temples still enforce that you could not bring your shoes in plastic bag. In more popular site like Shwedagon Pagoda, many street kids will pass you the transparent plastic bag and demand tips from you.
(2) Shield yourself from the hot sun
We visited Bagan in winter season and yet the temperature soared above 37 Celsius. The weather gets hotter in the summer time (near 40C).
Since Bagan is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the archaeological zone cannot build any modern infrastructure such as tar/asphalt road. So the roads are primarily dirt road, and prepare yourself for the dust.
Sun screen lotion, wide brim hat, light colour breathable (cotton is the best) clothing are essential. Avoid cycling or walking during high noon. Most tourists would spend long lunch or swimming in the hotel pool to cool down. I find a large bottle of Myanmar Beer goes well with my afternoon rest.
I don’t wear sunglasses because of taking photos, but it is a good choice for sight seeing.
(3) Drink plenty of water but not from the tap
Most of the water sources in Bagan are from underground wells, and the water is very salty. Only a few wells or rivers have fresh water supply. Trucks pumped water from less salty sources and sell water to the locals.
One interesting and admirable practice in Myanmar is to provide free drinking water to the public. You can see water vessels by the roadside (in front of the donor house) or in the middle of no where. Anyone who are thirsty can consume the water. Some tourists also sampling the water just for fun but it is mineral water could be safer for those with weak stomachs.
(4) bring a torch light
I love those tiny LED torch light or head lamp, there are indispensable kit when travelling in countries with rampant power outage. In Bagan, besides using it when walking on the dark street, or in your hotel room, another interesting usage is inside many temples and meditation caves.
If you are traveling to remote caves or temples, do watch out for snakes which like to rest in cooler temperature and dim hideout places.
(5) choose your local transportation wisely
You know your body well, so think twice before you opt for rented bikes. The best time to ride on bicycle on the flat Bagan plain is 7am to 10am. Late evening is actually dangerous as most remote sites have no light and sign board if you are riding solo. Furthermore, you have to compete with large vehicle on narrow tar road too.
I would recommend bicycle on morning ride if you are not experience biker or traveller. Going with the horse cart or hired car could be a good choice for the first day orientation.
Horse cart can bring through small dirt road where car cannot travel, but the ride could be bumpy and slow. If you have limited time in Bagan, hired a air-conditioning car would be good (of course, slight more expansive than the horse cart).
With booming tourism in Bagan, the horses have to over work under the hot weather just to satisfy the demand of tourists (since they paid for the whole day, some tourists did not let the horse to rest on mid-day). Here was a view that a horse just collapsed in front of my eyes.
(6) Responsible travel
May travellers are very conscious of where their money end ups to. In some countries, the authority may get the biggest pie from tourism money, so responsible travellers try to spread their spending where the money actually goes to the ordinary folks who provide genuine services.
New Bagan is currently undergoing infrastructure upgrade, there the narrow asphalt road is widened to accommodate more tourists. So we could see many women carrying rocks and stones paving the road. I don’t know what to say when I discovered their daily wage is only USD1.50.
If the tourism incomes only goes to few who are in power, the country will take a longer time to fight poverty.