Every view in Bagan is magical. This wasn’t even taken from a coveted viewpoint — this was the roof of our lovely hotel at sunrise on our first full day in Bagan.
Bagan is located in central Burma on the banks of the Ayerawady River and has the world’s highest concentration of Buddhist pagoda, temples, and monasteries. In its heyday during the 9th century, the 42 square kilometer plains were peppered with about 13,000 pagodas, of which about 2,000 remain today. Marco Polo once described it as a “gilded city alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sounds of monks’ robes.” I had a distinct feeling of being in a completely different world in Bagan. The air is alive with mysticism and spirituality — it’s hard not to feel transported to a different dimension when exploring the ancient ruins here.
Mitch and I spent three full days exploring pagodas and temples — we probably visited about thirty, spending a lot of time at our favorites and just stopping by others. In an effort to save some money, we rented bicycles our first day, which was at times very nice but overall very hot and sometimes impractical, as the dirt roads could sometimes be rocky and difficult to maneuver. The next two days we “splurged” (just about $2 more per person) for electric bicycles and enjoyed ourselves much more.
Each temple or pagoda houses at least one big Buddha and oftentimes many smaller ones. In the past, the pagodas were gilded in gold or silver, but most have lost this physical luster and stand beautifully in bare brick. In a few select temples, we were able to see the remains of beautiful fresco paintings, but most of this decor has disappeared with the passage of time.
Below are some (okay, a LOT) of our favorite temples and moments during our three days in Bagan with some notes of explanation. I had a really difficult time choosing my favorites without overwhelming you, my dear readers. These photos can’t capture of the beauty of Bagan, but I hope they convey some.
Lawkaoushaung, one of our favorite temples in Bagan. It was quiet, in good condition, and it offered beautiful views of the plains.
Temples you are allowed to climb usually have a key holder, and often they are adorable little ones like this young girl.
The view from Lawkaoushaung, complete with goat herd and farmer
A smaller Buddha representation surrounded by beautifully aging mural paintings with exposed brick.
The Bagan landscape took my breath away. It was a mix between tropical with palm trees and desert with aloe and cacti dotting the plains. This hybrid scenery was one of my favorite things about Bagan
A rare shot of both of us together! On our first day, we decided to watch the sunset from the extremely popular Shwesandaw temple just to get the touristy items off our to-do list. The sunset was spectacular but it was extremely crowded. I did meet an English professor from Cornell who knew many of my professors at Berkeley!
The many-layered, magical sunset from Shwesandaw Temple. The Ayerawady River can be seen on the far right (barely).
Many people enjoy a hot air balloon ride at sunrise, but we loved sitting atop Thisa-wadi temple and taking in this surreal scene of balloons hovering over the ancient pagodas — it really felt like another world there.
Dhammayazika pagoda in the morning held practicing Buddhists. The chants were so haunting and beautiful, but my reverie was interrupted when I stubbed my toe on a raised walkway. Being bare foot per temple etiquette meant getting a pretty terrible gash. As I limped back to our e-bikes, so many Burmese women stopped and tried to help me clean the cut. The hospitality and kindness of the Burmese overwhelmed me every day.
I loved this Buddha image, especially because it was surrounded by surviving frescoes of the bodhi tree where Buddha attained enlightenment. Magical.
More Bagan landscape. I love the juxtaposition of palm tree and cacti
Another temple amidst desert-like landscape. Look how beautiful it is! It was crazy to me that there were SO many temples that amazing ones like this were completely empty.
View from Lawkananda pagoda in the morning
I asked this little dude, and he let me photograph him 🙂 The yellowish paste you see on his face and others’ faces is thanaka, a paste made from a tree that is cooling and protects from sunburn. Many children wear it, and young ladies often create designs using thanaka as well.
It was so hot, Mitch took a hint from the local ladies and started using an umbrella as protection, haha!
Bell shaped pagoda that was virtually empty and gorgeous
Sunset on our last night from Thisawadi temple
Last evening prayers after sunset in Thisawadi
That’s a wrap for Bagan! I have so many more photos, and it was SO difficult to choose. Overall our favorite temples were Lawkaoushang, the North and South Guni temples, Thisawadi, and the many empty temples in the eastern areas away from the river. Has anyone been to Bagan? What was your favorite temple?
We are leaving to a remote island in southern Thailand, but updates about Inle Lake and Mandalay will be up soon!