After a lot of research and exploration to find the best viewing and photo spots here’s what I found. Hopefully you’ll find this useful and save yourself some time.
Myauk (North) Guni
The best all-round spot for both sunrise and sunset plus manageable gatherings of spectators without the massive tour buses.
At sunset you may need to squish in, but everyone should fit. You’ll get a clear view of the sun setting above the mountains and the Ayeyarwady River (just be aware that the haze may mean the sun literally sets above the mountains). For me though it was nice to look back at Damayangyi and Sularmani during golden hour.
For sunrise there will be even less people and the closer perspective to Damayangyi and the hot air balloons looks great too. Just don’t forget there is a 4th level hidden away inside what feels like the top floor.
The quiet sunrise alternative to Shwesandaw (see below). A peaceful spot away from the hoards to appreciate one of the best sunrise views.
Being west of Shwesandaw means that you can see it, Damayangyi and Sularmani all together. You can also see across the plains north to Thatbyinyu. Nothing left to do but enjoy and contemplate.
Another all-rounder for sunrise and sunset like a mini Myauk Guni which even comes with miniaturised visitor numbers too.
Enter on the east side of the temple and climb on up and enjoy. I believe the hot air balloons even fly over the top as they fly between Damayangyi and Sularmani, but unfortunately they didn’t fly at all on the sunrise I attended here.
I am going to list Shwesandaw Paya as the photographer’s choice for sunrise. It’s a good first perspective and one of the best to line up Damayangyi and Sularmani with the sunrise. The hot air balloons should also drift through the shot.
Whilst it may be swarming with package tourists you can seclude yourself from them by climbing above the top level where they wouldn’t dare to get their hands dirty.
A fairly quiet spot for sunrise close to the main road and easily accessible. The other reason I list this one is that the hot air balloons take off from a field nearby, but it is very far from the bigger temples that you may want in your shot.
Cyclists and small vehicles will bring some people, but there is plenty of room on all the tiers. At sunset you may have to fight with tourists and shop vendors for space.
Hire an e-scooter or e-bicycle to get around on your own schedule. For 5,000-10,000 kyats per day it will make your life much easier, enable you to go where you want when you want and make the whole thing feel more like adventure.
Adopt a siesta lifestyle. See as many sunrises and sunsets from as many different perspectives as you can and explore temples in the early morning before the seering heat. When it’s hot you can catch up on the zzz’s.
Arrive early, but if too early, find the key holder’s hut. Some temples are locked overnight. If it’s not open when you arrive then find the key holder who stays nearby. They can also show you the way.
Respect the temples. You’re fortunate enough to be able to explore someone else’s religious monument. They are old and so some edges and towers are fragile. In future they may be closed off to tourists as they fall into disrepair.
There is another medium sized temple east of Sularmani which would be a great vantage point if you could go up it. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anyone with the key and the people I asked said it was lost. Maybe you’ll have more luck.