Bagan Temples Guide 2023
Visiting the Temples of Bagan In Myanmar
Overview of Bagan
Bagan is located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in Central Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and is the site of the densest collection of Buddhist temples, stupas and monasteries in the world. The haunting beauty and juxtaposition of the stupas and spires rising above the Bagan plain veiled in morning mist creates an unforgettable panorama which rivals any of the more famous and renowned attractions in the world such as the Egyptian Pyramids or Machu Picchu in Peru. In addition to the visual beauty there are also the cultural wonders to experience as many of the ancient temples and pagodas are active and living sites of devotion in this country of colour and warmth where religion is the life blood of society. Bagan has deservedly received recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Bagan Temples, Pagodas and Monastries
The ravages of time have reduced many of the structures to little more than rubble through the action of a millennium of erosion from wind, rain and the great power of the mighty Irrawaddy River cutting its path through the plain. That said, what currently remains undisturbed and what has been restored provides more than enough fascination for the visitor. There is contention about how the renovation of many of the structures has been carried out as many outside of the country believe the present state of disrepair should be prevented from getting worse and reconstruction should not take place while the local populace believe it is disrespectful to not repair damaged religious sites and re-instate worship at them. The most well-preserved and restored buildings are also the most revered, famous and therefore visited.
Bagan Hot Air Balloons
Undoubtedly the most memorable experience one can have from a trip to Bagan is a hot air balloon trip that takes off at the break of day and silently carries the tourist across the plain with the temples and pagodas breaking through early-morning mist. There a various experienced companies employing expert foreign pilots offering flights in comfortable baskets of different sizes giving the visitor the ability to view the thousands of temples and the whole plain in one unforgettable panorama.
Old Bagan, New Bagan, Nyaung U And Mount Popa
The Bagan Plain is part of the Central Burmese Basin which is a strip of flat ground that runs much of the length of Myanmar in a north-south direction and is flanked by two mountainous areas. To the west is the Arakan Mountain Range and to the east are the Shan and Karen Hills. The Bagan Plain is located at a bend in the Irrawaddy River and is where the great concentration of temples was constructed. The various areas of greatest interest to the visitor are known as Old Bagan, New Bagan, Nyaung U Town and the Mount Popa National Park. All have accommodation options with each having a different atmosphere resulting in a different experience for the visitor.
Old Bagan is a quiet, relaxing area on the banks of the Irrawaddy River and the location of many of the temples including the notable Ananda Temple and the Shwesandaw Pagoda. It is a highly atmospheric locale and many of the higher-end hotels can be found here. The sleepy laid-back atmosphere is a pleasant contrast to the hustle and bustle of the more densely populated areas.
New Bagan, as its name suggests, is more modern and lacks the atmosphere of Old Bagan. It was founded about five kilometres south of Old Bagan although still on the banks of the Irrawaddy and is set out loosely in a grid pattern. Many of the new and cheaper accommodation options can be found here.
Nyaung U is a bustling local town in its own right located about five kilometres upstream from Old Bagan and is the centre for the various travel links with the airport, train station, bus station and boat piers that serve the area. Many temples can be found around the town most notably the Shwezigon Pagoda and many recommended hotels are situated in the town as well as great restaurants.
The open air markets assault the senses with a kaleidoscope of colours, sounds and smells that allow the casual visitor a chance to see what life is like for everyday Burmese as well as providing an insight into the ingredients of the delicious food served in the local restaurants.
Mount Popa volcano is located about fifty kilometres south-east of Bagan at the heart of the Mount Popa National Park.There are numerous temples within the park and perhaps the most famous is the one set atop the volcanic plug that was created by the volcano in the distant past known as Taung Kalat. From here there are views to the east of the volcano’s present location and of Bagan flanked by the Irrawaddy River to the north-west. The site of the volcano, named Taung Ma-gyi (Mother Hill) is about 3 kilometres away and rises high above the plains. It has a central caldera that is over six hundred metres wide and its fertile sides support a variety of fauna and flora that is not able to thrive on the arid plains including Macaque monkeys. Within the Mount Popa locale there are hotels which enables the visitor easy access to the national park.
Bagan Hotels and Accommodation
There are now over 50 hotels in Bagan offering accommodation options to suit all visitors from budget through to luxury although typical prices in Bagan are slightly higher for the same quality of room compared to much of the rest of Myanmar. Many places offer individual bungalow-style accommodation and numerous places, even some in the budget range, have swimming pools which are a great way to cool off and relax after a busy day viewing the sights.
At present expect a room or bungalow in a 4-star hotel to cost from around 80 USD a night, while a comfortable room in a 3-star hotel, but still with a swimming pool, costs from around 45 USD. At the other end of the scale a bed in a shared dormitory can be found for around 15 US Dollars a night or pay upwards of 30 USD for a twin room with en suite bathroom facilities.
Travel Options For Getting To Bagan
Most visitors to Bagan arrive from Yangon or Mandalay and the best, most comfortable and easiest method of travel is by air with flights being a relatively cheap and easy transport option. For the more adventurous and those wishing to meet more of the local people plus the chance to see the beautiful countryside there are choices of traveling by road or rail and also by riverboat if coming from Mandalay. The road and rail networks are poor in comparison to Western standards and it can take a long time to travel a relatively short distance especially on the train so planning for a long journey is recommended although the experience can often be half the fun of getting there.
The weather in Bagan is split between the dry season which sees the most visitors and the wet season which is less crowded and also less dusty. The start of the dry season from November to January is cooler and the most pleasant time to visit. From February the temperatures and humidity begin to rise peaking in April and mark the start of the wet season. The rains increase with August being the wettest month tailing over the next two months.
Transport For Visiting The Temples Of Bagan
With a tour that only spans the ten most interesting temples, pagodas and stupas covering more than twenty kilometres most visitors allow two or more days to give sufficient time to explore the area. Added to these most popular buildings are numerous other significant temples that are definitely worth visiting, as well as seeing the sights of Old Bagan and Nyaung U Town and watching the sun rise and set across the plain from high up one of the pagodas. The method of transport chosen can greatly affect how long the visitor has to spend at each site and how enjoyable the whole experience is. It is perhaps best to use a selection of the available transport options throughout the trip including taxi, horse cart and electric bicycle.