Wrapped on two sides by the Ayeyarwady River, the ancient city of Bagan is an impressive site and an absolute must see. A collection of around 2,200 religious monuments, in assorted states of repair and of varying architectural styles, are strewn across a sprawling dusty plain and appear at almost every turn.
The sheer scale of Bagan, which covers 25 square miles, can be overwhelming and is almost impossible to take in. Highly atmospheric Old Bagan has the site of the old walled palace and the greatest concentration of must-see temples, stupas and pagodas, including the outstanding Ananda Temple, which is the holiest and most important in Bagan; the Shwesandaw Pagoda, which is one of the most popular places to watch the sun rise or set; and Thatbyinnyu Pahto, the highest temple in Bagan.
The old city was formerly inhabited by up to 200,00 people but is now largely deserted with most of the local population settling in riverside villages dotted around the archaeological zone, particularly Nyaung U where most of the hotels, restaurants and shops can be found. Many temples can also be found around the town, most notably the Shwezigon Pagoda, a stunning gold-leaf gilded temple said to house a tooth and bone of Buddha.
Horse and carts can be hired and provide a memorable and romantic form of transportation for exploring and visiting the monuments. Experienced drivers know the best places to go, some of which are off the beaten track away from the crowds. However the ultimate way to see Bagan has to be from the air, from one of the hot-air balloons that drift over the ruins and surrounding plain each morning and evening (pre-booking is a must)!
No visit to Bagan would be complete without a trip to nearby Mount Popa, an extinct volcano covered in forests and considered one of Myanmar's most sacred places. Following the last eruption a huge volcanic outcrop was created on the lower flank of the mountain, Popa Taungkalat, which has a monastery precariously perched on its summit. Reached by a stairway of almost 780 steps, the top has spectacular views across the crater, and even as far as Bagan if the weather is clear.
- A must-see in Myanmar
- Spectacular temples
- Explore by horse and cart
- Memorable hot-air balloon trips
- Mount Popa nearby