Bagan, or the Bagan Archeological Zone, is located in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar (Burma). It is a temple town that is surrounded by small towns and villages, such as Nyang U (which has a domestic airport), Old Bagan and New Bagan. The quickest way to arrive in Bagan is to take a flight from Mandalay city to Nyang U.
Bagan is a massive ancient temple complex like Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Machu Picchu in Peru. There are tons of beautiful temples that you will have a chance to visit and explore during your 3 days there. As it is a massive site, make sure to rent a scooter or bike before you begin your journey.
Bear in mind that Bagan doesn’t really have any party streets like Luang Prabang (Laos) and Siem Reap (Cambodia) do, so make sure to be respectful and dress appropriately when visiting the temples there. In August 2016, Bagan actually experienced a heavy earthquake, so be prepared for potential construction in different areas of the temple complex still. Of most importance though, make sure to follow the rule of not climbing the stairs or stones to the top of any temple and shrine.
If you arrive in Bagan the evening/night before, you should try to rent a scooter or a bike from a local shop or your hotel/hostel at that time as it will allow you to begin your exploration of the Bagan Archeological Zone nice and early the next morning. As Bagan is famous for its sunrise, try to get up as early as possible and head straight to the first temple on this itinerary to catch what might be one of the most beautiful sunrises that you will ever witness in your life. You will also have an opportunity to watch the sunrise on your final day in Bagan as well.
Once you enter Bagan though, you will have to buy an entrance ticket to the temple complex which is valid for 3 days. This will be more than enough time to explore the main temples, pagodas and shrines there. On this day, you will visit four beautiful temples and learn more about their history. Take your time exploring the temples and finish off your day by watching the sunset at the last stop.
Shwesandaw Pagoda is a good place to watch the sunrise in Bagan. The pagoda has 5 terraces and was built in 1057. It was built from terra cotta tiles, which makes the pagoda even more impressive. Shwesandaw Pagoda is a sacred pagoda that still hosts some very important Buddhist ceremonies.
The next temple is located an 11-minute drive from the first one. It is called Htilominlo Temple and was named after king Htilominlo. It has three stories and is 46 m above the ground level. The temple is famous for its Buddha statues that are located on the ground floor and face different directions. It was destroyed in the 1975 earthquake, but has since been repaired.
Upali Thein (Ordination Hall) is a lovely temple that was built in the 13th century by a monk named Upali. Most of the wooden parts that used to make up this monastery no longer exist and only the Ordination Hall is still left standing. This temple also contains various attractive colourful paintings that often attract viewers’ eyes.
Thatbyinnyu Phaya is one of the finest temples in the Bagan area. It is believed that it was built in 1144. The temple’s highest tower is about 61 m above ground. It has paintings all over tits walls that are copied and sold as souvenirs to the tourists. Head to this temple to watch a magnificent sunset and participate in a Buddhist ceremony.
On your second day, you won’t need to wake up early for the sunrise. However, make sure you still start your day quite early as you are going to explore the most famous and biggest temples located in the southern part of Bagan (Nyang U and the Old Bagan areas). These four temples are considered to be the main Buddhist buildings in this region and are very important to Bagan and Myanmar's history.
You will also have a chance to see monks praying and will be able to sit down with the monks for lunch. Make sure you have your ticket on you. Finally, please remember to be respectful by not wearing shorts, short skirts or showing your shoulders.
Shwezigon Pagoda was built in 1090, which makes it one of the oldest pagodas in the Bagan area. It is a one-story pagoda with a gold-plated roof that can be seen from far away. Shwezigon Pagoda is home to various Buddhist relics and is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Every year in October or November, this pagoda holds its own festival that attracts lots of visitors.
Ananda Temple can’t be missed as it is a massive white stone temple with yet another gold-plated roof. The main attraction of the Ananda Temple is that inside you will have a chance to see four 9,5 m tall Buddha statues that are very detailed and represent four Buddhas that have reached nirvana.
Dhammayangyi Temple is the largest temple in Bagan and was built in 1170. Although this temple was never completed, it has lots of important Buddhist statues and paintings in it that have been very well preserved. From afar, this temple resembles an Egyptian pyramid, which is quite unusual for temples. If you wish to learn more about the temple, you can pay a small fee to get a guide to show you around on the inside and explain more about its history.
Pyathetgyi Pagoda is your last stop of the day and is well-known for being a perfect spot to watch the sunset once again. This pagoda gets very crowded, so try to come early to get yourself a good spot. This pagoda was closed for renovation a couple of years ago, so be prepared for potential construction in the area.
If you missed the sunrise on your first day in Bagan, not to worry as you can try to catch it again on your last day, except this time you will watch the sunrise from Thitsarwadi Pagoda (which is the only pagoda that allows climbing to the top to watch a sunrise). After the sunrise, get yourself breakfast and visit The Archaeological Museum to learn more about ancient Bagan. Next, visit The Golden Palace and dine at Nanda restaurant to enjoy nice food and watch a traditional puppet show.
Thitsarwadi Pagoda is the perfect spot to view a sunrise and get close up shots of air balloons departing into the sky. This pagoda is also the only one that allows visitors to climb to the top for the sunrise view. However, it is very crowded, so make sure you come early.
The Archaeological Museum is a popular museum where you can learn more about Bagan and its temples. There are 10 exhibitions rooms that are dedicated to not only Bagan's history, literature and arts, but also contains examples of Buddha images, period frescos (mural paintings) and architecture from Bagan. You can easily spend a couple of hours in the museum. Also, make sure to stroll around the outside of the museum building as it is very beautiful and symbolises Bagan's traditional architectural style.
Bagan Golden Palace is a reconstruction of the destroyed royal palace and is still currently being built. If you want to enter Golden Palace, you will have to pay an admission fee as it isn’t included in the ticket of Bagan Archaeological Zone. Inside, you will be able to watch a traditional show or musical performances while eating delicious traditional food. There is nothing more to see, but it’s a good place to spend some spare time.
Every night, the Nanda restaurant organizes a puppet show that tells funny and historic short stories. Through the puppet show, you can learn about Myanmar myths and some historical facts that are very interesting. Also, the costumes are very colourful and breathtaking. Aside from the puppet shows, Nanda restaurant serves very good traditional food that is worth trying.
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