Myanmar - Getting to know Bagan
If you’ve written ‘mind-blowing temples’ anywhere near the top of your Myanmar ‘to see’ list, you need to visit the ancient city of Bagan, sometimes known as Pagan. Catch it at the right time of day & you’ll witness thousands of delicate spires rising through the tendrils of mist that hang low in the valley & turn the view utterly mystical.
There are areas where the junta’s city planning has been haphazard; their 'restoration' attempts scuppered the city’s bid for UNESCO Heritage status. Nonetheless, Bagan (its formal name, rather splendidly, means 'City of the Enemy Crusher') has been important in one way or another for two millennia, and was Myanmar’s capital during the 9th century. Some of its stupas and temples are many hundreds of years old, and in an attempt to prevent un-necessary damage to these ancient structures, the Ministry of Culture have restricted the number of stupas that it is possible to climb to five specific pagodas.
Bagan is one of the most significant ancient religious cities in South-East Asia, matched only really by Angkor Wat in Cambodia. And whereas Angkor has that delightful 'buried in the jungle' adventure quality to it, the view across Bagan's 2500 + temples and pagodas is completely unobstructed.
** In 2019, 25 years after it was first nominated, Bagan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site **
What to do in Bagan
- Witness sunrise. Arguably the best time of day to view the temples, as miles of gleaming spires rise from the dawn mist. Every guide has their own secret spot; every day you get to experience a unique sunrise with, on occasion, no-one but a friendly local farmer for company.
- Take a balloon ride. There is no better way to fully comprehend the vastness of Bagan, and truly appreciate the number of temples, than from a hot air balloon, soaring hundreds of feet up in the air.
- Journey out to the ancient town of Salin, an important trading site for hundreds of years. The area is dotted with pagodas, and home to an interesting monastery where monks trained as resistance fighters during WW2, as well as a large central market.
- Make a pilgrimage to Popa. An hour from Bagan, Mount Popa has been a sacred site since long before Buddhist monks established their monastery near the peak. Legend holds that the mountain is home to 37 ‘nats’ (traditional spirits), making it a popular pilgrimage site. Climb the 800 steps to reach the peak – it’s well worth the effort.
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Temple touring tips
- Wear footwear that’s easy to remove at the temples
- Women should wear clothing that covers their elbows & knees
- It’s important to behave respectfully
- Take plenty of water with you - Bagan is one of the warmest spots in Myanmar
...of Bagan's temples & pagodas survive to the present day. Many of them date back to the 12th century.