Bagan is a national landmark and a highlight of any tour through Southeast Asia
Only Angkor Wat in Cambodia can compare to the magnificent pagodas of Bagan, Myanmar. Bagan is truly one of the highlights of the country formerly-known as Burma and is a must-see when traveling through Southeast Asia.
To read about my visit to Bagan, visit the blog here:
For all my high-resolution pictures from Bagan: Click Here
Entrance Fee: Entrance to the Bagan Archaeological Zone is 25,000 kyat (about $25 USD) and includes the city of Old Bagan, New Bagan and all the surrounding villages and all pagoda sites.
Visiting Hours: Most pagodas are accessible 24 hours a day as travelers and locals visit early in the morning and late at night to capture picturesque sunrises and sunsets over the incredible Bagan landscape of pagodas
Location: Bagan is located on the banks of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River in the central Mandalay Region of Myanmar. The 26 square-mile area is 118 miles southwest of the city of Mandalay and 429 miles north of Yangon.
By Air: The closest airport to Bagan is Nyaung U and serves all major airlines (KBZ, Asian Wings, Golden Myanmar, Mann Yadanarpon and Myanmar National). Flying from Mandalay and Yangon are fairly quick affairs around one hour flight time. Tickets run around $100 USD.
By Bus: A new bus station has been built in the Nyaung U area and is about 7km from the airport. Transfer to Bagan should cost about 2,000 kyat but smart travelers know to negotiate with smiles on their faces for fair rates and not the price-gauging 7,000 or 10,000 kyat fees (only about $5-$8 USD).
There is no nightlife in the Bagan area save one small local pub and a delicious Indian restaurant called Aroma 2. This shouldn’t be a hindrance to a would-be traveler as there is so much to do, see and experience at the incredible Bagan Archaeological Zone. An absolute must is waking up early at (depending on the time of year) 4:00am to witness the sunrise over the pagoda-filled landscape. There is nothing quite like feeling a brisk cool while walking up the awkwardly-vertical steps of the Shwesandaw Pagoda and seeing the pitch black of Bagan set before you. As the sun begins to rise, you can see a gentle misty fog surrounding little shapes across the landscape and large mountainous ridges circling the view. The more the sun shows its subtle light the figures start to take shape and as the sun peaks its head over the horizon, a mix of beautiful reddish pagodas, haze and mountains assault your senses showing a breath-taking view unique not only to the Golden Land but to the world. As incredible as the sunrise is, don’t forget to thoroughly explore the Shwesandaw Pyay as it offers a brilliant 360-degree view of the ancient Bagan area.
I’d suggest grabbing a bite to eat for breakfast and a nap if needed after taking in the sunrise. The full day can be spent hopping from Pagoda to Pagoda as Bagan has thousands to see in the area. Transportation around Bagan can be found in either an air-conditioned car, minibus for larger groups, small Vespa-like E-Bike or bicycle. Horse carts are also available for rental and the driver will take you around in a more ‘authentic’ style. Depending on the time of year, the plains can become quite hot so it’s best to drink copious amounts of water, bathe yourself in sunscreen and plan your day according to the sites you want to see. You’ll see and learn much more with a guide and private car or, if you’re so inclined, can go off-road on an E-Bike and really feel part of the landscape and explore with more freedom on the dirt and dusty roads that circle to area. I recommend the E-Bike for sure.
The Sidepiece Diplomat Average Price List for Bagan Transport
Bicycle – 1,000-2,000 kyat per day
E-Bike – 5,000-12,000 kyat per day/1,000-2,500 kyar per hour (Recommended)
Horse Carriage – 2,000 kyat per day; additional fees for sunrise/sunset
Car – 20,000-60,000 kyat per day
And as always, negotiate with a smile on your face. You’ll enjoy it more, the locals will appreciate it more and you’re more likely to receive a better deal.
Small villages such as Myinkaba offer travelers trinkets to buy, shops to savor, restaurants to nosh and workshops to partake in. Though they are marketed and built for tourists, basic amenities and comforts are at a premium so head back to your hotel if you’re in need of a proper toilet or air-conditioning. The sunset is also quite a sight to behold and you can check that out from the North Guni Temple, Lawkaoshaung Temple or the Buledi Pagoda.
Hot-air Ballooning is a major attraction in Bagan however it will run over $300 USD a person. Rides generally last between 45 minutes to 1 hour and show an unbelievable landscape and view from the basket. They are known to be pretty safe and allow travelers ages 8 and up. That is, if you have the budget.
Bagan is located in the “dry zone” of Myanmar and is protected by heavy rains thanks to the Rakhine Yoma mountains due west. This allows great travel opportunities year-round.
Bagan (formerly Pagan) is an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar (Burma). From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2,200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day. This is due to a mix of natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes along with human and environmental destruction.
Known today as the Bagan Archaeological Zone, it measures about 13x8km and is a main draw for the country’s nascent tourism industry. It is seen by many as an equal or greater attraction to the more famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
According to the Burmese chronicles, Bagan was founded in the second century CE and fortified in 849 CE by King Pyinbya, the 34th successor of the founder of early Bagan. Mainstream scholarship however holds that Bagan was founded in the mid-to-late 9th century by the Mranma (Burmans), who had recently entered the Irrawaddy valley from the Nanzhao Kingdom. It was among several competing Pyu city-states until the late 10th century when the Burman settlement grew in authority and grandeur.
From 1044 to 1287, Bagan was the capital as well as the political, economic and cultural nerve center of the Pagan Empire. Over the course of 250 years, Bagan’s rulers and their wealthy subjects constructed over 10,000 religious monuments (approximately 1,000 stupas, 10,000 small temples and 3,000 monasteries) in an area of 104 square kilometers (40 square miles) in the Bagan plains. The prosperous city grew in size and grandeur and became a cosmopolitan center for religious and secular studies, specializing in Pali scholarship in grammar and philosophical-psychological (abhidhamma) studies as well as works in a variety of languages on prosody, phonology, grammar, astrology, alchemy, medicine, and legal studies. The city attracted monks and students from as far as India, Ceylon as well as the Khmer Empire.
The culture of Bagan was dominated by religion. The religion of Bagan was fluid, syncretic and by later standards, unorthodox. It was largely a continuation of religious trends in the Pyu era where Theravada Buddhism co-existed with Mahayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, various Hindu (Saivite, and Vaishana) schools as well as native animist (nat) traditions. While the royal patronage of Theravada Buddhism since the mid-11th century had enabled the Buddhist school to gradually gain primacy, other traditions continued to thrive throughout the Pagan period to degrees later unseen.
The Pagan Empire collapsed in 1287 due to repeated Mongol invasions (1277–1301). Recent research shows that Mongol armies may not have reached Bagan itself, and that even if they did, the damage they inflicted was probably minimal. The Mongols were known to destroy every major work in areas they conquered furthering the claim they never truly reached Bagan.
The damage had already been done to the empire, however, and the city once home to some 50,000 to 200,000 people had been reduced to a small town which never regained its prominence. The city formally ceased to be the capital of Burma in December 1297 when the Myinsaing Kingdom became the new power in Upper Burma.
Bagan survived into the 15th century as a human settlement and as a pilgrimage destination throughout the imperial period. A smaller number of “new and impressive” religious monuments still went up to the mid-15th century however new temple constructions slowed to a trickle with fewer than 200 temples built between the 15th and 20th centuries. The old capital remained a pilgrimage destination but pilgrimage was focused only on “a score or so” most prominent temples out of the thousands such as the Ananda, the Shwezigon, the Sulamani, the Htilominlo, the Dhammayazika, and a few other temples along an ancient road. The rest—thousands of less famous, out-of-the-way temples—fell into disrepair, and most did not survive the test of time.
For the few dozen temples that were regularly patronized this meant regular upkeep as well as architectural additions donated by the devotees. Many temples were repainted with new frescoes on top of their original Pagan era ones or fitted with new Buddha statutes. A series of state-sponsored “systematic” renovations in the Konbaung period (1752–1885) which were not true to the original designs—some of which were finished with “a rude plastered surface, scratched without taste, art or result.” The interiors of some temples were also whitewashed, such as the Thatbyinnyu and the Ananda. Many painted inscriptions and even murals were added in this period.
Bagan, located in an active earthquake zone, had suffered from many earthquakes over the ages, with over 400 recorded earthquakes between 1904 and 1975. The last major earthquake came on 8 July 1975, reaching 8 MM in Bagan and Myinkaba, and 7 MM in Nyaung-U. The quake damaged many temples and in many cases, like the Bupaya, severely and irreparably. Today, 2229 temples and pagodas remain.
Many of these damaged pagodas underwent restorations in the 1990s by the military government which sought to make Bagan an international tourist destination. The restoration efforts instead drew widespread condemnation from art historians and preservationists worldwide. Critics were aghast that the restorations paid little attention to original architectural styles and used modern materials. The government had also established a golf course, a paved highway and built a 61-meter (200-foot) watchtower. Although the government believed that the ancient capital’s hundreds of (unrestored) temples and large corpus of stone inscriptions were more than sufficient to win the designation of UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city has not been so designated allegedly mainly on account of the restorations. UNESCO has done some restoration work in the region in the past and their contribution can still be seen today.
Currently Bagan is a main tourist destination in the country’s nascent tourism industry which has long been the target of various boycott campaigns. The majority of over 300,000 international tourists to the country in 2011 are believed to have also visited Bagan. Several Burmese publications note that the city’s small tourism infrastructure will have to expand rapidly even to meet a modest pickup in tourism in the following years.
There is a well-known saying of Myanmar people : “If you are a real Myanmar, you must have been to Bagan.” Bagan is spirit of history of Myanmar.
For all my high-resolution pictures from Bagan: Click Here