One of the most remarkable sights in South East Asia, the magic of Bagan has inspired visitors to Myanmar for nearly 1,000 years. The kingdom of Bagan has existed since the 8th century, but it only rose to glory as capital of the First Kingdom of Myanmar in the early 11th century. Ancient chronicles state that there were once 4,446 temples over its wide plains but today only 2,230 remain, as recorded by UNESCO in 1998.
King Anawrahta, who ruled from 1044 to 1077, initiated the building of the temples on this vast plain. His kingdom lasted until the late 13th century when during the rule of a weak king, Bagan fell to Kublai Khan’s armies, in a battle that was described at length in Marco Polo’s travels. Many of the temples were architectural wonders of their time. There is hardly a trace of cement in the fine masonry work. The massive roofs were held up by clever use of Voussoired arches and barrel vaults. The windows were arranged so as they throw rays of the sun directly onto the faces of massive Buddha images withing the vaulted chambers.
Over the sandy lanes, visitors can experience locals’ ox carts carrying stacks of hay as the tranquil solitude scene of Bagan. Thousand of pagodas can be reached from these lanes by using bike, scooter and even the traditional horse cart.
Nowadays, Bagan offers luxurious riverside accommodations where visitors can relax after a full day of temple sightseeing. For a more intimate taste of local life, there are clean family-run inns and guest houses. For an unrivaled view of Bagan, hot air balloons take a lucky view over this ancient kingdom in the soft light at dawn and dusk. For the more energetic, a round of golf is possible with the temples providing a magnificent backdrop.
The most powerful in Bagan, the pagoda was first build by King Anawrahta and completed by King Kyansittha in 1087. With the development of Theravada Buddhism, it is the first monument gold covered as per Myanmar style, which became the prototype for later pagodas. The images of so called Nat (spirit) can be found within its precincts. The pagoda festival is held annually in mid October – beginning of November.
Cruciform structure with several terraces leading to small pagoda at the top, this magnificent temple is one of the most surviving masterpieces of Mon architecture. Allowing natural sunlight inside the pagoda, there are four standing Buddha statues interpreting the eighty reliefs depicting the life of Buddha from his birth to his enlightenment. The pagoda’s festival, which is a big event drawing many pilgrims from all over the country, is held annually in February depending on the solar calendar.
Being the tallest structure of Bagan, this white stucco temple stands over 66 meter. It was built by King Alaungsithu in mid 12th century. Thatbyinyu was named from the Omniscence of the Buddha, and the landscape around it is a classic of central Myanmar, growing hardy vegetation including tamarind, acacia and neem.
Famously haunted, this massive temple was built by King Narathu in AD 1167. Although the temple isn’t fully completed, its finest brickwork displays are worth a visit.
BAGAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
Opened in 1904, the museum is located in the old region of Bagan. The museum displays extremely rare and fragile artifacts excavated from ruined Bagan monuments, and visual arts from the Bagan era such as terracotta, stucco works, wood carving, stone sculptures, metal works, lacquer works and 55 different hairstyles. Visitors can also observe originals, replicas and ink copies of Bagan stone inscriptions and other forms of epigraphy. The gallery displays paintings from famous Myanmar artists of today depicting the social and military life, which might be copies of frescoes on walls and ceiling of the ancient temples. From the rooftop, visitors can enjoy the panoramic view of Bagan and its pagodas.
A well known pilgrimage site, this extinct volcano covered in forest and rising 1,500 meter high above sea level is a short drive from Bagan (50 km). Being the legendary home of the “nats” or spirits who dwell in various part of the mountain, several Nat Shrines can be seen. A total 37 nats called this region their home after given permissions from ancient kings, and at the base of the outcrop there are 37 small shrines specially built for them. The belief in Nats worship is even older that Myanmar Buddhism, and the prayers unconditionally believe that the Nats can promote to success in their business, married life and sound health.
On a clear day, Mt. Popa can be seen from Ayeyarwaddy River. South west part of Mt. Popa is called Taung Kalat, a sheer-sided volcanic plug which rises 737 meter above the sea level. It is considered to have appeared after a huge eruption happened in 442 BC as an outcrop on the lower flank of the mountain. Along the stairways to the top of Taung Kalat, friendly and cheerful monkeys can be seen.
This area has been designated National Park, as it has tons of natural habitats with an array of trees and plants flourishing in the verdant volcanic soil. It offers a number of bird-watching and hiking experiences, being the perfect place for ecotourism seekers.
This colorful old religious center is located 15 km south of Bagan. In between visiting the numerous ancient monasteries decorated with beautiful wood carvings, this compact town also offers colonial buildings. As for art lovers, the museum of famous writer U Pone Nya, formerly the Yoke-Sone Monastery, exhibits antique lacquer ware, wooden reliefs and a large standing gilded Buddha image. Tha-ta-na Kyaung (Keythar Monastery), where Tipitaka texts are placed in a red lacquered cabinet, is also worth a visit.
This quiet and traditional country town is located on the bank of Ayeyarwaddy river, 25 km north of Bagan. Reportedly being known for tobacco trading, this thriving market town is popular for handmade traditional slippers. Other nearby interesting places are the archaeological museum, Phkhangyi and its old city wall, and one of the oldest surviving monasteries in the region.