Bagan, Myanmar : Travelling to the Past

Most of the stunning places on earth are either the handy work of nature, modern architecture, or isolated pockets of early architecture where one can get a small glimpse of how life was centuries ago. However, there is one place where you’ll not only get a glimpse of that life, since you’ll be looking at a whole city. Bagan in Burma is the largest concentrations of Buddhist temples known to exist and is now one of the world’s greatest archeological sites.

Soure: flickr/KX Studio

Visiting Bagan is like taking a time capsule to an era centuries in the past. In fact, many of its temples are estimated to have been built between 1057 and 1287. Although historians believe there were around 13,000 temples in Bagan, only 2,230 exist today with many of them having undergone some renovation. Nevertheless, being in an area the size of a city with thousands of structures built centuries ago, will surely bring respect and admiration for the architectural prowess of what we would call “architects” of that time.


Bagan, as described by Marco Polo, is a city of gold with tinkling bells and the sound of robes. The city was once the center of Theravada Buddhism in Burma. Unfortunately, in 1287, Bagan was attacked by the Mongols. The majority of the temples were ruined and the population was brought down to the size of a village.

Although Bagan plays a major part in the history of Burma, and to a sense, the Buddhist world, the site was never listed as world heritage by UNESCO, citing that many of the temples and other structures were restored in an “un-historic” manner.

Places to See

There are many different temples to see in Bagan, but there is one important thing to remember. Keep in mind that all of the places are considered sacred. Buddhism is still the major religion and the locals, although used to the ways of tourists, expect their religion to be respected at all times.

There are over a dozen major temples in Bagan that you’ll need to visit. The Ananda Temple is considered to be the holiest temple is a definite must see. You’ll also need to visit the Shwesandaw Temple, otherwise known as the “sunset temple”. A lot of your fellow tourists and some of the locals will be there during the late afternoon to witness the famous Burma sunset. Most, if not all, of the temples will have its own history, which is why having a local tour guide does have its advantages. The structures are amazing, but what makes them more special is the story behind them.

How to Get There

Travelling to Bagan, and even Burma as a whole, can be a bit complicated, especially if you like travelling alone. Bagan, and much of Burma, lacks the amenities and services that tourists are used to. If you plan on visiting Bagan, don’t expect too much on modern amenities. Instead, prepare yourself to be dazzled by the richness of one of the greatest archeological sites in the world. You’ll be able to fly to Bagan airport from Yangon and there are a number of local carriers servicing that route. There are also trains, buses, and boats that travel to Bagan on a regular schedule. Once there, you’re provided with several different options to travel around the area. You can hire a taxi, a hot air balloon, an electric bicycle, or if you’d like a more traditional form of transportation, a horse and cart.

Many tourists prefer renting a horse and cart; some because it brings a more authentic feel to the tour, but mostly because of the other benefits, it brings. For instance, the local driver will be able to act as your guide and take you to the places where you’ll be able to experience the local culture. You’ll also be protected against the burning sun of Burma, although you might not be able to do anything about the humidity.

Travel Tips

While in Bagan, you can expect to be going in and out of more than a dozen temples. It’s best if you ware slippers or anything you can easily put on and remove. Footwear is not allowed inside the temples and you’ll need to remember this, lest you need to be reminded by the monks.

Always be alert while moving in or around the temples. You can expect to encounter a variety of insects and getting stung or bitten by some may not be an exciting experience. You can easily be taken in with the beauty of the temples, but never forget about safety. Remember that you’re visiting structures hundreds of years old.

Photos of Bagan

Soure: flickr/llee wu
Soure: flickr/Justin Vidamo
Soure: flickr/Shaun Dunphy
Soure: flickr/Paul Arps