Bagan is an ancient city located on the banks of the Irrawaddy river in the Mandalay region of Myanmar. Once a capital of the Burmese kingdom of Pagan, it is home to the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas and stupas in the world, many dating to the 11th and 12th centuries AD.
Bagan was founded in the 2nd Century AD and developed into a fortified city by the middle of the 8th Century AD. It became a center of power under the King Anawratha, who unified the whole of Burma under Theravada Buddhism. For 300 years from the 10th century AD, Bagan remained the political, cultural center of the Pagan kingdom with religion playing an important role. During this period, around 10,000 temples, 1,000 stupas and 3,000 were built, many of which have survived the ravages of time and are standing today.
The fall of Bagan came in 1287 AD by the invasion of a Mongol army led by Kublai Khan. The city was sacked and the population was reduced to a village which clung around the temples during the coming centuries, never regaining its preeminence. The village was relocated by the government of Myanmar in 1989 to a new location which is known as New Bagan.
Guides usually recommend the tour of the archaeological sites of Bagan in five parts:
- Along the Bagan-Nyaung Oo Rd. (North of Old Bagan): Bulethi Pagoda, Shwezigon Pagoda, Gubuakgyi Temple @ Wetkyi-In Village, Thagyarhit Temple, Upalithein Ordination Hall, Htilominlo Temple, & Ananda Temple.
- Inside Old Bagan: Tharaba Gate, Maha-Bodi Pagoda, Pitakattaik Library, Thantawkyar, Shwegugyi, Thatbyinnyu Temple, Gawdaw Palin Temple, Mimalaung Kyaung Group
- Along Bagan-Chauk Rd (South of Old Bagan): Gubyaukgyi @ Myinkaba Village Temple, Manuhar Temple, Nonpayer Temple, Abeyadana Temple.
- East Off Southern Anawratha Rd.: Dhamma Yangyi Temple, Sulamani Temple, Meenyeingone Temple, Lawkahteikpan Temple, Shinbinthalyaung Temple, Shwesandaw Pagoda.
- North and Around Minan Thu Village: Nandamannya Temple, Phayathonezu Temple Group, Tayokepyay Temple, Dhamayazaka Temple, East & West Petleik Temple, Lawkananda Pagoda.
Of the 2000+ temples in Bagan, here are some important ones recommended by all tourist maps:
- Ananda Temple ( Bagan’s holiest temple) was built by the third king, Kyan-zit-tha in 1091. Ananda comes from the Pali word “anantapannya”, which means “boundless wisdom”. The temple has four Buddhas facing the cardinal directions, representing the four Buddhas who have attained Nirvana. The fifth, Maitreya, is yet to appear.
- Shwesandaw Temple is the “sunset temple”, where foreign and Burmese tourists gather every evening to view the spectacular Bagan sunset. Reach early to get good top seats. The climb up is a reasonably easy 5 minute walk up a flight of stairs, but the steps get narrower and steeper near the top. The temple and landscape look extremely beautiful in the golden sunrays.
- Shwe Zigon Temple is a gourd-stupaed golden pagoda is the first and prototype monument (including for the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon) built in Myanmar style in 1087. Be careful of the stall vendors trying to sell their articles.
- Thatbyinnyu Temple is the tallest pagoda measuring 66 meters built in the 12th century.
- Shwegugyi Temple was commissioned by King Alaunsithu in 1131. It is one of the most intact temples in the site. Nearby the Shwe-San-Daw pagoda is a great alternative watching sunset and has an astounding view and far less crowded.
- Manuhar Pagoda was built by King Manuhar from the nearby kingdom of Thaton, a POW of King Anawratha. He sold his jewellery and poured out all his inner emotions to constructing this temple
- Dhamma Yangyi Temple was commissioned by King Narathu to compensate for his sins of assassinating his father, brother, and wife. The eccentricity of this king is reflected in the building’s finely set brickwork (it was noted that he executed a bricklayer for his not too perfect masonry work – gaps are too wide) and its unfinished construction
- Su-la-ma-ni Pahto, near Dhamma Yangyi, has an impressive architectural style and is better preserved.
- Gubyaukgyi Temple @ Wetkyi-Inn Village is a durian-shaped stupaed temple which was modeled after Bodh Gaya in India. It has murals depicting scenes from the Jataka tales. The best feature in this temple is the rooftop view of the surrounding..
- Gawdaw Palin Temple is built in a fusion of Myanmarese and Indian styles. This temple has a beautiful courtyard with a medium-sized stupa and interesting bell hangers.
- Bupaya Stupa is a lone golden gourd-shaped structure on a complex temple by the river.
- Shwezigon Pagoda on the North bank of Nyaung U is one of the most important pagodas in all of Myanmar that was built 11th century and served as the original model for the pagoda of the same name in Yangon.
Best Time for site seeing
|Ideal time of the day to visit to avoid tour groups||6:00 AM to 8:00 AM|
|1:00 PM to 3:00 PM|
|Visit popular sunset watching temples||5:00 PM to 6:00 PM|
|Carriers||Air Mandalay, Air Bagan, Asian Wings, Myanmar Airways|
|Cost||~ US $ 93|
|Time to reach Airport||15-20 min. by car|
|Fare to reach Airport||~ 7000 to 10000 kyats|
|Hotels may provide free pick-up and drop to airport|
|Time||Departure – 4:00 PMArrival (at Bagan) – 9:00 AM (next day)|
|Fare||~some dollars for second classUS $ 50 for luxury sleeper|
|Time||Departure from Bagan in afternoon and arrive at Yangon next morning|
|Fare||15000 kyats (can go as high as 18000 kyats)|
|Fare||~ US $ 6 one way~ US $ 10 first class|
|Journey Time||~ 7 hours|
|Trains on this route are usually over crowded|
|Frequency||Daily 2 coachesDaily 3 mini buses|
|Mini buses||16000 kyats|
|Journey time||6 to 7 hours|
|Journey Time||Express Ferry||9 hours|
|Slow Ferry||14 to 17 hours|
|Fare||Express Ferry||~ US $ 40 + $ 3 (commission)|
|Slow Ferry||~ US $ 10|
|Slow ferry leaves at 5:00 AM and evenings. Plastic chairs available on rent else get something of your own. Also do get something to protect from the cold.|
From Inle Lake
|Time||7 :00 AM|
- Bagan cultural authority has introduced a single 5-day pass to the Cultural Zone which can be purchased at all significant sites across the Bagan region. Fee – US$ 15 or EUR 15 or 16,000 kyat .
- No longer are required to purchase an entry ticket prior to arriving at your accommodation within the Cultural Zone (covering Old Bagan and south-western Nyaung-U)
- Pirated copies of George Orwell’s Burmese Days are sold for US $ 5 at the ticket booths which can be bargained down to US $ 2.
- Maps can be bought for 1000 kyats or rather availed free from hotels.
- Palace site consisting of excavations has an entrance fee of US$ 5.
Cover Photo: wexas.com