Bagan was one of the first capitals of an ancient Burmese empire and today, it is one of the world’s major heritage sites. With thousands of pagodas and temples dating back more than 1,500 years scattered across the Bagan plain, ancient Bagan rivals the temples of Angkor and is one of Southeast Asia’s most memorable sights.
Top Sites in Bagan
Located on the eastern bank of a deep bend in the Ayeyarwady River, Old Bagan represents the core of the archaeological zone. It contains several of the main temple sites, city walls and museum. Bagan’s prime began with the Burman King Anawrahta’s ascent to the throne and his great building program almost one thousand years ago. It was continued by his successors but the greatest edifices date from Anawrahta’s reign. After the invasion of Kublai Khan in 1287, the city was abandoned. Houses and palaces constructed from wood rotted away; only the brick temples and pagodas survived. Marco Polo, who arrived with Kublai Khan’s raiders, was probably the first Westerner to set eyes on Bagan.
Crowned with a golden stupa, the Shwezigon is one of the most prominent of all the pagodas in Bagan and the main center of pilgrimage. In addition to the fantastic Shwezigon, there will be several other pagodas to see and photograph.
One of the finest, largest and best preserved of the Bagan temples, the Ananda suffered considerable damage in the earthquake and in 1979 reconstruction took place. Built in 1091 by Kyanzittha, the temple is said to represent the endless wisdom of the Buddha. The central square has sides of 53 meters (175 feet) and rises in terraces to 51 meters (168 feet) above the ground.
Nyaung-U Morning Market
The colorful Nyaung-U Market is one of the highlights of the visit in Bagan. The market also offers a greater chance to explore local residents pursuing a colorful array of fruits, vegetables, rice, handmade furnishings, and clothing. It is also an opportunity to learn about the local ways of life in Bagan. Have your camera ready as this is a photographer’s delight.
Gubyaukgyi Temple (Wetkyi-in Temple)
A 13th century temple with an inspiration resembling the Mahabodhi Temple at Buddha Gaya in India: the Gubyaukgyi is noted for its wall paintings, depicting scenes from the previous lives of the Buddha. The ceiling of this temple is full of wall paintings and the halls have enough lights to view these clearly. There is a Buddha Image in the first hallway and with the marvelous paintings of the Man-Nat at the back of the image.
It is one of the four most significant monuments of Bagan. The massive structure is similar in architecture to the Ananda Temple. It was built by King Narathu (1167-70) who was also known as Kalagya Min, the ‘king killed by Indians’.
Bagan Museum (Archeological museum)
The Archaeological Museum was inaugurated in 1904 near Gawdawpalin Temple in Old Bagan and reconstructed and reopened in 1997. The ground floor houses a display room where tourists can see objects of visual arts of the Bagan period such as terra cotta, stucco works, wood carvings, stone sculptures, metal works and lacquer work. Statues of Buddha and images of various makes, postures and styles are hosted on the second floor.
Minanthu village is one of the local villages in Bagan and offers an excellent insight into the traditional daily life of local people. This traditional village is the perfect way to discover the agriculture of Bagan and interact with friendly locals. A very tranquil and isolated village where the visitors will have great opportunities to see the diversity of Bagan’s handicrafts and lacquer ware is produced. There will be time to watch craftsmen employing ancient methods and admire the finished product.
Lacquer ware Home Industry
Bagan is famous for its lacquer ware and artists proudly demonstrate their skills. The lacquer takes its roots in China over three thousand years ago and then developed in all over the Southeast Asia countries. In Myanmar, one takes resin from the tree called Thit-si known as Burmese lacquer for the coating and decoration. These trees grow naturally in low altitude forests of Myanmar. One takes the resin, a little like one does with latex, by notches at the base of the trunk on which one fixes small bowls in bamboo. The sap of the lacquer tree has a very strong adhesive quality and a splendid brilliance. It has many qualities as to make impermeable the objects which it covers. It adheres on many surfaces, bamboo, woods, and sheets of palm tree, metal and leather. It resists the insects and guards on all occasions its flexibility.
Bagan at Sunset
Not to be missed is the much-touted sunset from sunset hill lock. This great vantage point allows also a panoramic view over a wide range of ruined temples and stupas.
Balloon Over Bagan
There is no better way than from a hot air balloon to see Bagan waking up, view countless temples in the distance and get a spectacular aerial view of Bagan. Travelling with a light wind, exact sightings cannot be guaranteed. However, this is to be considered an exciting part of the adventure.