Bagan

Bagan Travel Guide

Photo by judithscharnowski on Pixabay // CC0

Photo by judithscharnowski on Pixabay // CC0

Introduction

Home to the densest collection of Buddhist temples on Earth, Bagan is a bucket list destination for cultural travellers. With most slowly decaying as the years go by, they have taken on an appearance that has made them famous in travel circles. Don’t come to Burma without seeing Bagan, as it is a central part of this country’s identity.

Cultural Attractions

Let’s just say it: Bagan is a culture vulture’s paradise. With temples literally for days, it can be hard to put together a sightseeing itinerary if you are pressed for time. If this is your situation, leave the planning to us – start your time in Bagan by visiting Ananda Temple.

Unlike most of the structures in the ancient city, it is one of four that remains standing in one piece to this day. Within its grounds, you will find no less than four Standing Buddhas, each staring off in each cardinal direction (North, East, South, and West).

Given its magnificent Indian architecture, some have dubbed this over 700-year-old temple as the Westminister Abbey of Burma, so don’t miss this place.

Next, make your way over to the Sulamani Guphaya Temple. Erected for King Narapatisithu in the late 12th century, it was later seen by the Burmese as one of their crowning achievements when it came to the temples of Bagan.

While it was heavily damaged in an earthquake in 1975, it was rebuilt fully by 1994. This spot is one of the most visited in Bagan, so be sure to visit early in the morning if crowds bother you.

Head over to the Shwesandaw Pagoda next, as it is said to contain strands of hair from the Buddha. Apart from these relics, the sizable stupa, terraces, and terracotta tiles of this nearly 1,000-year-old temple are also big reasons why you should include this sacred place in your sightseeing journey.

Many favour this place for photos both at sunrise and sunset, as climbing its tall, steep steps will allow you to capture timeless photos of the sea of temples below, and a sky full of hot air balloons above.

If you find the throngs of people at Shwesandaw Pagoda bothersome, opt instead to head to Bulethi Temple for dawn or dusk. The view of hot air balloons as the day lights up is just as stunning here, and climb you’ll have to make will ensure you earn your view just the same.

Don’t arrive too late, though – while the crowds here aren’t as bad at the other spots, quite a few still make it out to Bulethi. If you don’t like being around people, stop by during midday – just be sure to lather up with sunscreen, or the Burmese sun will scorch you within a half hour.

Other Attractions

Get a good overview of the artifacts recovered from the ruins of the temples of Bagan at the Bagan Archaeological Museum. Here, you’ll find preserved stone reliefs, reclining Buddhas, and models of the temples when they were maintained, among other attractions.

Even if you aren’t that into museums, the ice cold air-con makes this place a refuge from the often relentless heat that bakes the Bagan area outside cool season. If you are into museums, set aside at least two hours to explore – this place is massive.

There is more to Bagan than just temples – you can also explore traditional communities in the area as well. Start with Yandabo Village, as it is well-known for its pottery.

While things have been done traditionally in this community for many years, you’ll be interested to note how modern technology has found its way even into such a remote place, as you’ll find solar panels charging chainsaws used to cut wood to stoke their fire pits.

Situated along the Irrawaddy River, you can visit it while on a river trip between Bagan and Mandalay, so remember this spot when plotting out your travels along this lazy body of water.

Minnanthu Village is another community you’ll want to include in your travel plans. This village is known in the area as a major agricultural producer, as it harvests sesame seeds and peanuts, and creates oil from said products.

You’ll also get to see residents in traditional dress, how they hand roll the local variety of cigarette, weaving textiles, crafting jewellery, and other pursuits they have engaged in over the generations to make a living.

Some are turned off by this place due to touristy aspects creeping into the background, but if you don’t mind touts, don’t miss visiting this place.

It is one of the most expensive parts of a visit to Bagan, but if you have the change to spare, pay to go on a hot air balloon ride with your travel companion(s). Taking off just as the light of dawn rims the horizon, you’ll soon be privy to one of the most stunning views you’ll see in your life, as countless temples are revealed to you below as the sun lights up the Earth.