Visiting Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

Bagan is one of the world’s greatest Buddhist sites, comparable in size only with Angkor Wat.

Even though Myanmar already nominated Bagan for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, it still remains only on the “tentative list”.

After years of unrest, the government is slowly but steadily working towards UNESCO’s suggested plans for conservation and preservation of Bagan’s more than 3000 temples, stupas and monasteries.

The Bagan Archaelogical Zone stretches across an area of 42 km2.

Visiting Bagan
Balloons over Bagan via Flickr by Paul Arps :

When discussing the historical kingdom, Bagan is commonly spelled “Pagan”: the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan from the 9th to the 13th century and covered a large part of present-day Burma. Often considered as the glory days, much of the Burmese culture and known traditions were established during that time.

By the end of the 13th century, the kingdom was invaded by the Mongols under Kublai Khan and lost much of its power and prestige in short time. But even after its fall, Bagan remained an important pilgrim site for Buddhists.

Bagan Temples under Palm Trees
Bagan Temples under Palm Trees via Flickr by KX Studio :

Over the last centuries, the city got also hit by a number of earthquakes; the last major one recorded was in 1975, resulting in serious damages of dozens of temples and pagodas.

Bagan is divided into three main areas:

– Nyaung U is a spot popular for local entertainment, markets and nice local restaurants.

– Old Bagan is the core of the Bagan Archeological Zone and is centred inside and around the Old City’s wall.

– New Bagan is a lesser visited area and visitors mostly choose to stay around the two above mentioned areas.

Monks at Shwezigon
Monks at Shwezigon via Flickr by Stefan Munder :

A popular way to get around is on the back of a horse cart. Though a bit uncomfortable at some times, it gives you a good view of the surroundings and you gain great information through the knowledge of your driver. Alternatively, you can rent a bicycle and head off on you own.

The admission to Bagan is US$15. Below is a list of recommendable highlights for a temple safari of Bagan:

Shwesandaw Pagoda

Shwesandaw Pagoda (or Shwesandaw Paya) was built by King Anawratha in 1057 and enshines sacred hairs of Buddha within. Climbing up its terraces gives you a stunning 360 degree view of the surrounding and is frequently visited for sunset photos, and at the end of the day you are likely to have the area much to yourself as the day trip groups will have left.

sunset no.2
Sunset at Myanmar: Bagan via Flickr by Patrik M. Loeff :

Shwezigon Pagoda

Located in Nyaung-U, the Shwezigon pagoda [not to be confused with the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon] is the main religious site in Bagan as it is believed that a bone and tooth of Buddha are enshrined here. The temple was completed in 1102 during the Pagan Dynasty.

Golden Shwezigon
Golden Pagoda via Flickr by Bambi Corro III


Ananda (named for Venerable Ananda, Buddha’s first cousin) is considered the finest, largest and best preserved temple in Bagan; it contains a large, 9m high golden Buddha statue. The temple was also built during the Pagan dynasty and it is said that Indians helped building it, as it reflects plenty of typical Indian architectural features.

Ananda pagoda
Ananda Pagoda via Flickr by Patrik M. Loeff :


Sulamani Pahto,  located in the village of Minnanthu (southwest of the main area of Bagan) contains a number of well-preserved Buddhist paintings, which date back to the 12th century.

Bagan, Sulamani Pahto
Sulamani Pahto via Flickr by Arian Zwegers


The temple is an architectural imitation of the famous Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, where Buddha attained enlightenment. It was built in the beginning of the 13th century by King Nadaungmya and features a large number of exterior Buddha images.

Mahabodhi Pagoda
Mahabodhi Pagoda via Flickr by Hella Delicious :

Buphaya terrace

A popular relaxing and gathering spot among locals is the Buphaya terrace with its golden stupa, overlooking the Ayeyarwady River (Irrawaddy). It is located just 200m down from the Mahabodhi temple.

Buphaya via Flickr by Stephen_khine :

Balloons over Bagan

Only currently possible from October to March, taking a hot air balloon is an exclusive way of seeing Bagan from above, and surely a breath-taking experience for anyone lucky to get up there.

Balloon over Bagan
Balloons over Bagan via Flickr by Paul Arps