The Temples of Bagan: A lifetime highlight!

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.

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On the road to the temples
A morning market in Nyaung-U
A morning market in Nyaung-U sets the scene for the start of your expedition

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.

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The temples and pagodas of Bagan seemingly go on forever
The temples and pagodas of Bagan seemingly go on forever

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 Shwezigon Pagoda
The Shwezigon Pagoda
Htilo Minlo Temple
Htilo Minlo Temple

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.

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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

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26 thoughts on “The Temples of Bagan: A lifetime highlight!

    1. I plan to post more from my time in Bagan soon, including more from Mount Popa and watching the sunset over the Irrawaddy. I did not try the dried rat, it looked disgusting, but apparently many Burmese people love it!

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  1. Bagan is in my bucket list! I have heard that tourism is catching up and prices of some things have gone up. I am going to travel there hopefully before end of this year.

    So, the train is safe yeah? Read somewhere that it is better to take the bus than the train, but I am always a train guy more than a bus guy. Haha

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      1. I took the 3rd class train from Hat Yai to Bangkok in 2011 and survived an 18 hours train ride without air conditioning. I hope it is the same in Myanmar! Haha

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    1. Hi Karen! Thanks for the update on the price. I think in reality they could charge much more, as like you said, it is one of the most amazing places on the planet. I like the laid-back feel which differentiates it from the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia. I must get back to Bagan later this year! 🙂

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  2. Love your post! 😀

    May I ask how long did you stay in Bagan? I am still planning mine but I am going to Yangon on March 24th! 🙂

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    1. Hi Goldie! 🙂

      I stayed in Bagan for 4 nights initially, then went back the next year for another 5 nights. 😀 But I think 3 nights would suffice most people.

      How are you getting from Yangon to Bagan? The VIP overnight bus is the best option.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. amazing photos!

    I’m visiting soon and I also want to try to immerse myself in the culture and locals. Is it relatively easy to do so or do you have to trek outside the temples/pagodas?
    Thanks!

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    1. Hi Jenny. I found Bagan perfectly safe, and the area is now full of tourists so the locals will not be too curious like they could be otherwise. I am sure you will have a great and safe time checking out the culture in Bagan – and don’t forget the food while you’re there! 😉

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  4. Hi Lee, very nice article on Bagan. I will be there from 22 to 25 November and just plan to hire a bike, wander around and chill. Can’t wait.
    Is there a way to get to Inle Lake from Bagan.

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    1. Hi Saurav, yes there are buses from Bagan to Shwenyaung (Inle Lake area). I would recommend the VIP Bus that departs Bagan at 08.30hrs, and arrives at 17.00hrs (8 hour journey).

      The price is a very reasonable 23USD per person. Ordinary buses are a few dollars cheaper, but comfort levels are much, much lower.

      http://www.go-myanmar.com/getting-to-nyaung-shwe

      I really hope you enjoy your time in Bagan – but remember the earthquake damage means that some temples and pagodas are currently half-crumbled. 🙂

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  5. Hi, Lee! Is the entrance fee to the temples a multiple entry valid for one day or just a single one? I book JJ bus from Yangon at 8 PM and when I reach Bagan Shwe Pyi Highway Bus station in the next day I will immediately go to the temples to catch the sunrise where I can enjoy the air balloon view. Is it possible if I get outside the temple after that to find a rental bike and get inside again on the same day?

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