Bagan – formerly called Pagan – is an ancient city sitting on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. The city is noted for its amazing Buddhist temples – all 2500 of them! Most people around the world are familiar with the Temples of Angkor near Siem Reap in Cambodia, but the amazing archaeological zone of Bagan in central Myanmar is not nearly as well-known. As such, these temples and monuments in Bagan are highly revered by the Burmese people, especially during religious festivals when people flock here from all over the country to partake in Buddhist ceremonies.
The town of Bagan is like a sleepy village, especially the part where I was staying in an area known as Nyaung-U. I had arrived on an overnight bus journey from the former Myanmar capital Yangon. The journey was not as bad as you might expect, but the prices for internal flights within Myanmar are very expensive, so I went for the budget option!When I had arrived in Bagan, it was time to get to my hotel. I decided to treat myself to a luxury hotel for once – Aureum Palace – and it certainly was luxurious! Shame I didn’t spend long inside to appreciate it, though! To check out other hotel options for Bagan, see my post on the top 5.
Many people now consider the Bagan Archaeological Zone to be the equal of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The temples of Angkor certainly get more visitors of all ages, not to mention Cambodia is certainly much cheaper than Myanmar! However, now the military dictatorship has ended in Myanmar, tourism is increasing rapidly. In fact, in peak times, hotels in Bagan, Mandalay, and the former capital Yangon, can run at 100% occupancy rates, which implies that there is not enough accommodation nowadays to meet the newfound demand in tourism. Despite this increase in tourism, however, you will never been far away from solitude when wandering the vast expanse in which Bagan’s temples sit. You may see a few farmers and preaching monks, not to mention a few child “guides” who will offer to show you around the area (for a fee, of course), but generally there is a lack of tourists even to this day in Bagan, which is certainly not the case when you consider the multitude of wats in nearby Thailand or those Angkor temples in Cambodia.
The temples were amazing, especially at dawn. I woke up early on my first full morning in Bagan and went to nearby Nyaung-U to see the fabled Shwezigon Pagoda, which I consider to be the most impressive of the temples here. It reminds me of the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Shwezigon is perhaps not quite as resplendent as Shwedagon but very similar in its marked golden appearance all the same. Check out my guide for information on what other temples to check out in Bagan.
Wherever I travel, it is always a joy to experience first hand the local culture and lifestyles of the citizens. In Bagan, I found it fascinating to be around the local Burmese people and try to communicate with them using the little Burmese that I know. I saw lots of monks, and young lads who were practicing to be monks. I also saw many Burmese women go about their business and carrying water and supplies on their heads as they walked, and this was especially common in the rural villages surrounding the temples and pagodas. There are lots of other things to do in Bagan, if you ever get bored of the temples, and these were my favourite non-temple-y things to do!
For further reading, I would like to point you in the direction of the following four blog pages:
A very detailed review of the Bagan Archaeological Zone over at Escapology
An amazing photobook of the Bagan temples from Kyle Hammons
Up-to-date information and advice on travelling to Bagan from Myanmar Insider
A concise guide to the best 10 temples to visit in Bagan from Travel Moments