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 the 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. Thousands of the temples and pagodas crumbled under their own weight or were destroyed over the centuries, leaving only a little over 2000 of the structures.
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 by climbing up a temple close to New Bagan. It’s early morning, and at the moment, in this area, we are the only tourists. It is not usual, considering that Bagan is the most visited site in 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.
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 was chosen by a white elephant carrying the relic on his back.
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.
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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 the Eastern entrance porch 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 their corners.
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 incorporating Myanmar and Indian architectural styles that boast four standing Buddhas, each faces a distinct direction.
6. Dhammayangyi Temple
The next stop is Dhammayangyi, the most massive temple in the 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, also known as Kalagya Min, the “king killed by Indians”.
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.
8. Shwesandaw Pagoda
Now it’s 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 rush to 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.
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, vegetables, fish, meat, and any items allows us to enjoy the Burmese culture through the locals’ daily lives.
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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 with 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 kilometres South of old Bagan in a single complex, surrounded by a low brick wall.
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 about Bagan
|If you want to know all the information about how to reach Bagan, where to sleep and eat and much more, read our guide by clicking here.|