We love visiting ancient ruins, and the ancient temples of Bagan in Myanmar are incredible. I find that we are drawn to temples and ancient cities find out about the past and to explore how people lived centuries ago.
We already felt as if we had stepped back in time while traveling through Myanmar, but to enter the grounds of the magnificent ruins of Bagan, we definitely felt that nothing had changed here for centuries.
Bagan Temples – The History
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Built between 1000 and 1300 AD, Bagan has to be one of the least visited temple complexes in South East Asia. At the time there were 10,000 temples, but earthquakes destroyed many throughout the centuries. The most recent hit The Bagan Archeological Zone that houses the most prominent temples in 2016 and reconstruction is still ongoing.
For Centuries, the Burmese people had lived within the grounds of the Bagan temples and visiting Bagan feels like you are stepping back in time as people tend the fields and oxcarts pull loads along the dusty trails.
Where is Bagan
Located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, Bagan is a sight to behold. You can reach Bagan by an overnight bus from Yangon or Mandalay. Flights also operate daily to Bagan from Mandalay and Yangon.
But the best way to get to Bagan is by boat. We took a boat along the Irrawaddy River (officially Ayeyarwady River) from Mandalay and saw life along the river with gorgeous early morning views. We then booked a hotel in Old Bagan and spend three days touring the sites.
- Book an Irrawaddy River Cruise from Mandalay to Bagan ahead of your trip. (Easy cancellation within 24 hours for a full refund.)
Bagan – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Bagan was finally listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Its 3,500 stupas, temples, and monasteries were built between the 11th and 13th centuries have been restored to their liking after adopting a new heritage law to preserve the complete.
Bagan Archaeological Zone is the main tourist draw located around the old city of Bagan. Myanmar tried to make Bagan a world heritage site in 1995, but the Myanmar Military Junta didn’t follow UNESCO’s advice and restored the temples in a shoddy manner. They didn’t stay true to style or design but after Myanmar’s restrictions were lifted, it eventually made the list.
Why Visit Bagan?
The Temples of Bagan are magnificent to visit. Just for the the sheer volume of temples and scenery. With over 3000 Pagodas and Temples spanning across 40 miles of land, it is truly magical to stand atop Thatbyinnyu Pahto temple to look out over the countryside and the entire complex of Bagan.
How to See Bagan’s Temples
There are many ways to tour the Bagan Temples. You can even take an early morning hot air balloon flight over the grounds. You can hire a taxi or take a guided tour. We saw Bagan two different ways over the course of three days.
See Bagan By Bicycle and by Horse cart
Seeing Bagan by Horse cart was a very special experience. We got onto our horse and covered a lot of ground seeing the temple ruins in style.
I highly recommend taking a horse and buggy to see the temples. There is a lot of ground to cover, the guides are informative, and to travel from place to place listening to the clip-clop of your horse really puts you in a great mood.
Ways to Tour Bagan Temples
Book a hot air balloon over the temples to see the incredible ruins from the sky at sunrise. Enjoy a celebratory glass of champagne and take in the views of the Irrawaddy River as the sun slowly rises. E-biking has become a popular way to explore the ruins. Book a guided Bagan tour with lunch to make the most of your stay.
Both tours by Get Your Guide offer free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance and last minute bookings.
Temples of Bagan
We visited many temples of the Bagan archaeological zone our first day. When we travelled by horsecart we saw a lot. This was a great way to get an overview of the complex. And then we had two more days to explore on our own.
We suggest at least three days to visit Bagan to truly appreciate all its beauty.
The first stop was the Shwezigon Temple and it was magnificent. A huge golden temple that was so large, we had difficulty fitting into our photo. Many of Myanmar’s temples are fashioned after this temple and it is still used as a place of worship.
Our next stop was Ananda Pahto. It was the inside that was extraordinary with 4 giant Buddha Statues facing north, south, east, and west. We also saw Buddha’s footprint.
Thatbyinnyu Pahto is one of the highest temples in Bagan with its spire reaching 60 meters into the air. You can’t miss seeing it as you explore
The highlight was standing atop to actually see a panoramic view of all of the temples of Bagan. This was the view I had seen on so many travel shows in the past. The view that made me want to go there and the view that was definitely worth the trip.
Hot Tip for Seeing Bagan’s Temples: Make sure to see the temples early in the morning as the days are very hot.
As mentioned above, there are more than 3000 pagodas and temples, so you won’t be able to see them all in one visit. But in three days you can explore a lot.
Tips for Visiting Bagan
You can purchase tickets at Bagan and keep it on you at all times as you may be asked randomly to show it. Your hotel will also need to document your ticket number when you arrive. Pack water is it gets very hot in Bagan.
How to Dress for Bagan
Be sure to dress respectfully when visiting Bagan’s temples. Like all sacred places in Southeast Asia, cover your shoulders and knees. If you are in Myanmar, Dave bought a Longi and wore that everywhere. The locals loved it!
Flip flops are a good idea for going into temples as you have to take off yoru shoes.
Make sure to have sunscreen on hand and wear a hat. We suggest wearing lightweight long sleeves and pants or a skirt to protect form the sun. And if you are staying out for sunset (which you should!) Bring a headlamp, and sweater.
Difficult Life in Burma
Like everything in Burma, Bagan was not easy to visit. Children tried to make money by selling post cards or to give you a tour.
Everyone was struggling to make a living and it was difficult not to give something to everyone.Because of the history of how the junta treated its people, you can’t help but feel guilty entering the grounds.
The People of Burma
Visiting Myanmar was one of the most uplifting experiences of all our travels. The people were genuinely friendly and welcoming and it felt that every experience we took was going to help build a better life.
Where to Stay in Bagan
Bagan has come a long way in a short time with luxury resorts and a golf course at Bagan. You can book a luxury hotel just minutes from the airport or more affordable guesthouses and motels in the area.
- Bagan Arum Palace is located in the heart of The Bagan Archeology Zone on a private lake and five star amenities.
- Amazing Bagan Resort – Great location across from Bagan Nyaung Oo Golf Club, 10 minutes from Old Bagan and close to the archeology zone. This affordable mid-range hotel offers chic and modern accommodations
- Check out TripAdvisor for more hotels in Bagan.
I cannot believe that people would go to the grounds of an ancient and important spiritual place in history to play golf.