Bagan is to Myanmar what Angkor Wat is to Cambodia, or Giza to Egypt – a testament to a time when their cultures were THE cultures, and others looked on in awe. Bagan is home to over 2,000 ancient temples dating from the 11th – 13th Centuries. The unequivocal and absolute faith of the Burmese to Buddhism is most apparent in Bagan.
Those who visit cannot help being awed by the holistic experience, due in part to the sheer number of temples in such a small area and to the intoxicating inner peace that seems to embody all who live here.
The true beauty of Bagan cannot be realized until a panoramic view of the countless Pagodas is seen, most appropriately at sunset. Words cannot do justice to such an experience…
“All is at peace with the world, and even the hardened cynics among us experience a moment of serendipity and wonderment. Slowly the sun sinks, making the shadows cast by the stupas longer and longer. And when the sunset comes, it seems rudely abrupt. Suddenly the shadows are gone, and within minutes the light begins to fade. Nobody speaks as we climb down from the pagoda. It is a true hour of magic”.
Where to go in Bagan?
Famous for its architectural beauty, the Ananda Temple is one of the most spectacular in Bagan. Visitors should not miss the Ananda Pagoda Festival that sees many devotees amid a carnival-like setting every January. Not paling in comparison, the Thatbyinnyu Temple overshadows its peers with magnificent panoramic views of the Bagan plains. To view glorious sunsets on the Irrawaddy River, we recommend the upper terraces of Gawdawpalin Temple or the Bupaya Pagoda. The Gubyaukgyi Temple is noted for its spire and wall paintings that depict scenes from Buddha’s previous lives. The Tharaba Gate is the only one remaining of the twelve gates of King Pyinbya’s walled city in 839 A.D. During the pagoda festival from late October to early November, the Shwezigon Pagoda and its three pagoda terraces constitute a lively scene. Nearby Ananda Temple, the Archaeological Museum is a must-visit with its wide collection of items excavated through the times in Bagan. To find out more about lacquer ware, a fine tradition of Bagan, opt for a lacquer ware workshop.
Lying 67km southeast of Bagan, the Mt. Popais known as the Oasis of the Dry Zone for its lush environs and also famous as the abode of Mahagiri nats (spirit gods). By the bank of Irrawaddy River, Salay is an ancient town rich most renowned as the birth place of Salay U Ponny, the Shakespere of Myanmar. Found primarily in arid regions, the toddy palms are ubiquitous in Bagan. Travelers should make a stop at one of the roadside stalls for a taste of toddy juice and wine. A visit to a toddy climber’s hut makes a unique way to learn about the culture and traditions of a group that lives closely with nature.
Enjoy horse-back riding along one of Bagan’s historical trails. Trek to Mt. Popa (an extinct volcano) together with forest ranger and be rewarded with a picnic lunch and superb views at the peak. Learn the interesting process of creating “Poneyay” (pea powder paste) and see how local plum jam is made and packed. In addition, visit workshops of two of the region’s best known products: handmade lacquerware and wooden handicrafts.
Where to stay in Bagan?
The stylish Aureum Palace Resort is a good choice for guests seeking luxury and relaxation. The riverside Thiripyitsaya Sakura Hotel is another favorite for its traditional Burmese architecture of teak, stones and bricks. Located right in front of the legendary gate of Bagan, the Hotel @ Tharabar Gate Hotel is within walking distance to the spectacular Ananda Temple.
Where to dine in Bagan?
For Burmese cuisine, head to the Nandar Restaurant, River View Restaurant and Sunset Garden Restaurant. For European specialties, the Eden BBB Restaurant is a top choice. The Aroma Restaurant gets our nod for Indian food.
Bagan – Attractions
Is an extinct volcano and with 1,500 meters the highest point within the bago Yoma range.
The main attraction of this region however is the smaller, 730-meter high conic rock Popa Taungkalat, also known as the “ Olympus of the Nats” because it is the home of Myanmar’s legendary 37 ‘Nats”(or spirits). To reach the top of the volcanic plug with its many shrines and a monastery, one has to climb up 700 steep steps accompanied by a crowd of monkeys. This effort will be rewarded many times by the extraordinary panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. Around the area of the Popa Yoma Mountain, there is the Popa National Park with dense sandalwood forests and rare species of birds and butterflies worth a walk or a trek. Other attractions include two important “ Nat Pwes” ( or festivals) held each year (one in May-June and one in November-December) when people from all parts of Myanmar come to appease and worship the spirits. These spirits are evoked by so-called “Nat Gadaws” (or mediums) and offer their bodies to get possessed. The nats still play an important part in many Myanmar people’s lives in spite of the dominance of Buddhism.
A peaceful excursion by boat along the Ayeyarwaddy River from Bagan, Pakokku and its surroundings offer travellers a unique glimpse into the typical village life in the area. The nearby 19th century town of Pakhangyi has one of the oldest wooden monasteries in Upper Myanmar with 254 teak pillars. Locals produce tobacco, jaggery palm sugar candy and the famous checkered blankets and woven fabric typical of this region.
Today Salay is known as an important centre of Buddhism with many working monasteries.
But throughout its past, Salay created its own unique style of Bagan era architecture which still exists today. Highlights include Payathonzu, Hkinkyiza Kyaung, and Yougson Kyaung. Sites of the British colonial past can still be found and a day’s excursion from Bagan can be combined with a visit to Mt. Popa.