Embedded in the heart of Myanmar lies Old Bagan, an ancient city that flourished as the capital of the first Burmese Empire. It’s a historical wonder, stretching back to the 9th century when King Anawrahta initiated its creation, ushering in a golden age of cultural and religious advancement.
Old Bagan was the center of immense architectural activity between the 11th and 13th centuries when over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries were constructed. The city became a critical nexus of Buddhist teachings, earning the nickname ‘the city of four million pagodas.’
However, invasions, natural disasters, and the passage of time have taken their toll, and today around 2,000 of these religious monuments still stand, each narrating a distinct tale of the city’s glorious past.
The city’s significance is acknowledged worldwide, with Old Bagan being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019 for its extraordinary cultural and historical value.
Old Bagan is a treasure trove of historical and architectural wonders. Its vast plain, dotted with hundreds of ancient temples and pagodas rising against the skyline, offers a sight that is both surreal and awe-inspiring. A visit to Old Bagan is like stepping back in time, allowing you to walk the same paths as ancient Burmese kings and Buddhist monks.
Each monument in Old Bagan is a masterpiece, showcasing the intricate art and architecture of the Bagan era. Whether it’s the enormity of the Dhammayangyi Temple, the elegance of the Ananda Temple, or the spectacular murals inside the Sulamani Temple, Old Bagan’s edifices exude a unique blend of history, religion, and art.
Besides, the city is known for its enchanting sunrises and sunsets. Watching the day break or end over the mist-laden plains of Bagan, with the silhouettes of ancient pagodas in the backdrop, is an experience beyond words.
Location and Route
Old Bagan is situated in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar, on the eastern banks of the Irrawaddy River. It’s approximately 600 kilometers north of Yangon, the country’s largest city.
Visitors can travel to Old Bagan via air, road, or river. The Bagan Nyaung-U Airport is the closest airport, with daily flights connecting it to Yangon and Mandalay. An overland journey from Yangon to Bagan takes around 9-10 hours by bus or car. For those who wish to enjoy a scenic river journey, there are river cruises available from Mandalay.
When to Visit
Old Bagan can be visited year-round, but the best time to visit is during the dry season from November to February, when the weather is cooler and more pleasant. This period also coincides with several traditional festivals, such as the Ananda Pagoda Festival in January, where locals participate in vibrant cultural activities.
Sunrise and sunset are the most popular times to visit, offering mesmerizing views of the temple-dotted landscape. During these times, the temples and pagodas are beautifully illuminated by the warm hues of the sun, creating a magical, golden vista.
What to See
Old Bagan offers a wealth of historical and cultural sights. Among the most iconic temples are the Ananda Temple, known as the ‘Westminster Abbey of Burma’ for its grandeur and exquisite architecture; the Dhammayangyi Temple, the largest temple in Bagan; and the Thatbyinnyu Temple, the tallest temple offering panoramic views of the city.
The Shwesandaw Pagoda is another must-see, popular for its spectacular sunrise and sunset views. Meanwhile, the Sulamani Temple, often referred to as the ‘crowning jewel’ of Bagan, is famed for its intricate frescoes depicting scenes from the Jataka tales and the life of the Buddha.
Beyond temples, the Bagan Archaeological Museum offers insightful displays about the history and culture of the Bagan era. The bustling Nyaung-U market is perfect for a taste of local life and to pick up traditional lacquerware, a speciality of the region.
Balloon rides over Bagan are a popular activity, providing a bird’s eye view of the stunning landscape adorned with ancient temples.
In essence, Old Bagan is an archaeological marvel and a testament to the country’s rich cultural heritage. Its spectacular temples, stunning vistas, and historical significance make it an unmissable destination for history buffs, architecture enthusiasts, and cultural explorers alike.