If you’ve written ‘mind-blowing temples’ anywhere near the top of your Myanmar must-see list, you need to visit the ancient city of Bagan, sometimes known as Pagan. Catch it at the right time of day and you’ll witness thousands of delicate spires rising through tendrils of mist that hang low in the valley. Bagan (its formal name, rather splendidly, meaning '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. Pause, breathe deep, and take in the view: it really is something special.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Bagan is one of the most significant ancient religious cities in South-East Asia, perhaps only matched by Angkor Wat in Cambodia. 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. Some of its stupas and temples are many hundreds of years old, and in an attempt to prevent damage to these ancient structures, the Ministry of Culture has restricted the number of stupas that it’s possible to climb to five specific pagodas. However, it’s not necessary to hoist yourself to the top of a stupa to appreciate this unique site - head to one of the specially-allocated mounds or tower viewpoints and look out over Bagan’s singular landscape.
Wandering around Bagan’s temples at ground level, and hearing their history, is an absolute must, but it’s always worth seeing these extraordinary structures from alternative angles too, if you can. Sunrise is arguably the best time of day to see the temples, as miles of gleaming spires rise from the dawn mist, but it does require a very early start! Every guide has their own secret spot from which to experience the sunrise with, on occasion, no-one else but a friendly local farmer for company. For a completely different perspective, take to the skies in a hot air balloon. There’s no better way to fully comprehend the vastness of Bagan, and appreciate its extraordinary number of temples, than floating gently above it all.
It's worth taking time to prepare to experience many temples in quick succession. Do a little research and chat with your guide about which of Bagan’s temples you’d like to see most. They vary in accessibility, aesthetics and state of repair, so the best routes take in a selection that shows Bagan’s diversity without overdoing the journeys between. Wear comfortable walking footwear that’s easy to remove at the temple door, and clothing that covers elbows and knees, and take plenty of water with you as Bagan is one of the warmest spots in Myanmar. Lastly, be prepared for the reality to differ occasionally from the picture-perfect images - Bagan is a fragile archaeological site, and some of the temples are now supported by scaffolding.