What to see and do in Bagan

Bagan is the most famous archaeological site of Myanmar and one of the most visited. Located on the east bank of Irrawaddy river, during the 12th century when the city was the capital of the first kingdom of Burma, it contained well over 10,000 Buddhist temples, stupas, and pagodas. Eventually, the city was brought to ruin by natural disasters and hordes of  Mongols who sacked the town around 1300 DC. Down the centuries thousands of the temples and pagodas crumbled under their own weight or were destroyed, leaving only a little over 2,000 of the structures today.

Myanmar, temples scattered on the Bagan plain
Myanmar, temples scattered over the Bagan plain

Visiting the main spots of Bagan in a day

After renting an E-bike from a shop just next to our hotel, we start the visit climbing up a temple close to New Bagan. It’s early morning, and at the moment, in this area, we are the only tourists, very very rare considering that Bagan is the most visited site of Myanmar. After taking some pics from the top with the beautiful background of the valley dotted with its charming temples, we head to Nyaung U and Old Bagan area to visit the Shwezigon pagoda. 

Bagan, temples view in New-bagan
Bagan, temples view in New-Bagan

1. Shwezigon pagoda

Known as one of the most significant religious architecture in Myanmar, it served as a prototype for later stupas built throughout the country and marked a significant development in the relationship between traditional Burmese religion and Theravada Buddhism. King Anawrahta built the pagoda to enshrine several Buddha relics, including a copy of the sacred tooth relic of Kandy in Sri Lanka. According to the legend, the spot where the pagoda was built it was chosen by a white elephant carrying the relic on his back.

Bagan, the Shwezigon Pagoda
Bagan, the Shwezigon Pagoda

2. Buledi Temple

We continue to Buledi Temple, where we climb up to witness the breathtaking panoramic views of various surrounding monuments. Buledi was one of many temples in Bagan badly damaged in the 2016 earthquake, but it’s now open again. The narrow terrace circles the body completely, allowing 360-degree views of the Bagan countryside. Therefore, the hilltop location of Bulethi makes it a perfect vantage point for landscape viewing, especially during the sunset or the sunrise.

3. Gubyaukgyi Myinkaba temple and Mya Zedi Pagoda

Close to Buledi, there is Gubyaukgyi temple with its interior walls and ceilings decorated with fragments of ancient mural paintings that depict scenes from the Jataka tales, the stories that tell about the previous lives of the Buddha. Outside the temple, we meet a group of Women Pa-O, with their typical dark suit and colourful towel on the head, here on pilgrimage. Next to the temple, stands the Mya Zedi Pagoda, built by Prince Raja Kumar, son of King Kyansitthar, in the memory of his queen mother. 

 

4. Htilominlo Temple

Jumped on the E-bike, we reach Htilominlo Temple, a large majestic structure towering 46 meters high. The temple is set on a low platform and has a symmetrical floor plan, but for the Eastern entrance porch that extends further out than the other three. The massive lower cube is topped with three receding terraces. The much smaller second cube has another three terraces. All of them contain small stupas on each of its corners.

Bagan, Htilominlo Temple
Bagan, Htilominlo Temple

5. Ananda Temple

After stopping for lunch at ‘’the Moon” restaurant, we go on visiting  Ananda Temple. Said to be built around 1105 by King Kyanzittha, it’s a masterpiece in the incorporation of Myanmar and India architectural styles, that boasts four standing Buddhas, each faces a distinct direction. 

Bagan, Ananda Temple
Bagan, Ananda Temple

6. Dhammayangyi Temple

The next stop is Dhammayangyi, the most massive and the biggest temple in plain of Bagan. The enormous structure that was never completed consists of a massive square base topped by six receding terraces. It was built around 1170 by King Narathu, who was also known as Kalagya Min, the “king killed by Indians”.

Bagan, Dhammayangyi Temple
Bagan, Dhammayangyi Temple

7. Sulamani Temple

Our last stop is Sulamani Temple, a two-storey structure with a square layout. The large first floor is topped with three receding terraces. The upper level, which is much smaller, is topped with another four receding terraces. The corners of both lower and upper terraces contain smaller spires.

Bagan, Sulamani Temple
Bagan, Sulamani Temple

8. Shwesandaw Pagoda

Now it’s the time to see the sunset colouring the plain of Bagan. There are many temples where we can climb up, but we choose Shwesandaw Pagoda. It is one of the tallest pagodas in Bagan, an imposing structure visible from far away rising from the plains of Bagan with its height of almost 100 meters. It was built in 1057 by King Anawrahta, founder of the Bagan Kingdom. Many tourists with us make a rush at this temple to get the best place and enjoy the view. Pushing and pushing, we climb up the steep stairs to get to the top of the temple and admire the sun slowly descending behind the immense Bagan valley lighting everything with its warm rays.

Bagan, sunset from the Shwesandaw Pagoda
Bagan, sunset from the Shwesandaw Pagoda

Our “day two” through the Bagan plain

The second day around Bagan is even exciting because, after breakfast, we hire the E-bike again heading out to explore the Nyaung U market and the “less touristic temples”, letting ourselves be guided by instinct. After 45 minutes we reach the big market of Nyaung U, the only one in this area. Like all the markets around the country, strolling through the many colourful and crowded stalls selling fruit, vegetable, fish, meat and any kind of items, allow us to enjoy the Burmese culture through the locals’ daily life.

 

Left the market, we start driving through gravel roads, where we do not find anyone, except some farmers with their cattle.  The vegetation is dense and lush, and the temples scattered throughout the valley create a fantastic frame: stopping our E-bike in front of a temple outside of the touristic paths, entering inside and then climbing the staircase staring at the landscape dotted of dozens of temples is a priceless thing! The most attractive spots of our morning trip are the Manuha temple, one of the oldest temples of Bagan (built around 1067) that enshrines four large gold-painted images of the Buddha, each contained within a separate room, barely large enough to accommodate the images, and the Seinnyet “sister” temples, located on a small hill a few kilometers South of old Bagan in a single complex, surrounded by a low brick wall.

Bagan, ready to explore the countryside
Bagan, ready to explore the countryside

Really interesting is also to explore village life and the fascinating countryside. In the early afternoon, we haggle the price for a cart drawn by horse to move around the countryside, enjoying the daily life of its charming people. The road leads through beautiful scenery where peanuts, sesame, soya beans and other crops are planted. Once in the village we visit the different people’s houses and see how they live in harmony with their animals. Also interesting is to observe how the villager makes wooden slippers and the noodles with soya paste. Back to Bagan, we end up our day watching the sunset from the top of Bulethi temple. This temple is very crowded, and we have to push the people to take place on the terrace facing the sun. But this is Bagan, the most famous site of Myanmar and you’ll always find people ready to discover the history of this charming valley and its thousands of temples!


Need to Know

If you want to know all the information about how to reach Bagan, where to sleep and eat and much more, read our post clicking here.

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