Bagan - Ancient City of Temples in Myanmar

Young boy in monk's robe in Bagan, Myanmar

Linda Garrison 

Bagan, an ancient city on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar (Burma), was once home to over 13,000 brick temples built between the 9th and 13th centuries. Over the centuries, most of the temples have been destroyed by earthquakes, man, or time. However, about 2,300 temples spread over 40 square miles remain in the Bagan Archaeological Zone around the old city of Bagan.

Many people who visit old Bagan compare the ancient city to the temples of Angkor at Siem Reap, Cambodia. which were built in the 12th century. Both are spectacular and worth a visit. Angkor is in a jungle setting, whereas Bagan is drier and the setting is on a giant plain. Angkor has many more visitors, but Bagan will probably grow in popularity now that Myanmar is more open to travelers.

Bagan is over 400 miles north of Yangon and 170 miles southwest of Mandalay, so it's not easy to get to unless you are on an Irrawaddy River cruise tour. Several river cruise lines visit Bagan, and I visited this amazing ancient city from the Avalon Myanmar 36-passenger river ship of Avalon Waterways on a cruise from Bagan to Bhamo in northern Myanmar. 

Even though the temples in the Bagan Archaeological Site are ancient, it's important for visitors to remember that the Burmese people consider this place a sacred one. When there in February 2016, we heard that an increase in the number of visitors has led to an increase in vandalism and behavior such as partying at night in the temples. Please be respectful of this marvelous place so that devout Burmese like the young boy in the photo above can continue to be amazed by the temples when he's a grown man. 

Enjoy these 32 photos of Bagan I took while touring with Avalon Waterways.

01 of 31

Sunrise at Bagan, Myanmar

Sunrise at Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

Climbing to the top of a temple in the pre-dawn hours in order to watch the sunrise is one of the most popular things to do in Bagan. The temples spread across the plain below almost seem to glow in the early morning sun

02 of 31

Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan, Myanmar

Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

The golden Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan is one of Myanmar's most important Buddhist shrines, and pilgrims from all over the country visit it each year. King Anawrahta was responsible for the construction of Shwezigon, and it was completed in 1102 AD. The temple is covered with over 30,000 copper plates.

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Another View of the Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan, Myanmar

Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan, Burma
Linda Garrison

 A close-up view of the Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan.

04 of 31

Walkway at the Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan, Myanmar

Walkway inside the Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

The Shwezigon has four covered walkways leading up to the pagoda. Vendors sell souvenirs in some of the walkways. 

Continue to 5 of 31 below.
05 of 31

Thatbyinnyu Temple in Bagan, Myanmar

Thatbyinnyu Temple in Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

The Thatbyinnyu Temple is the tallest one in Bagan. It is near the Ananda Temple and was built in the 11th century.

06 of 31

Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar

Ananda Temple in Bagan, Burma
Linda Garrison

The Ananda Temple at Bagan is built in Indian-style architecture and was completed in 1105 AD. It is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Bagan. Although it was significantly damaged in the 1975 earthquake, Ananda has been completely restored. 

07 of 31

Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar

Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

This photo shows the gorgeous Ananda Temple in the daytime, and the next photo shows how it looks at night.

08 of 31

Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar

Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)
Linda Garrison
Continue to 9 of 31 below.
09 of 31

Inside the Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar

Inside Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

The Ananda Temple features four standing Buddhas inside. Each is different. 

10 of 31

Inside the Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar

Inside Ananda Temple in Bagan, Burma
Linda Garrison

The interior of the Ananda Temple is cool, even when the temperature is hot outside. The 12th Century designers were talented, weren't they?

11 of 31

Murals on the Walls inside the Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar

Murals on the walls inside the Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

At one time, all of the walls in the Ananda Temple were white-washed. However, scientists have restored some of the murals.

12 of 31

Temples of Bagan

Bagan Temples in Burma
Linda Garrison

Everyone you look in Bagan you see dozens of temples of all sizes. 

Continue to 13 of 31 below.
13 of 31

Mural in the Upali Thein Temple in Bagan, Myanmar

Mural in the Upali Thein Temple in Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

The Upali Thein Temple in Bagan is small, but it has terrific frescoes inside like this one. 

14 of 31

Doorway at the Dhammayangyi Temple in Bagan, Myanmar

Doorway at the Dhammayangyi Temple in Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

The Dhammayangyi Temple is the largest one in Bagan, Myanmar. This photo of the doorway shows the bricks used to build the structure. The inside has been bricked in for some unknown reason, but visitors can go onto the porch and into the outer corridors. These corridors were very tall, and filled with bats. 

15 of 31

Riding in a Brahman Cattle Cart

Riding in a cart pulled by a Brahman cow in Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

The Avalon Myanmar river ship guests rode in brightly colored cattle carts (like ox carts) to visit one of the sunset temples, Pyathatgyi. It was fun to watch the sunset and an appropriate ending to the day that had started with watching the sunrise at Bagan.

16 of 31

Plains and Temples at Bagan

Plains and temples of Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

The region around Bagan was once covered with trees. However, most of them were cut down for firewood. The builders of the temples at Bagan were able to get mud from the river for brick-making, but needed hot fires to set the bricks.

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17 of 31

Temples in Bagan, Burma (Myanmar)

Temples in Bagan, Burma (Myanmar)
Linda Garrison
18 of 31

Temples in Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

Temples in Bagan, Burma (Myanmar)
Linda Garrison
19 of 31

Late Afternoon Cattle Drive in Bagan

Cattle drive in Bagan
Linda Garrison

 While watching the sunset from the Pyathatgyi Temple, we had the opportunity to watch the cattle used for the carts being driven home for the evening.

20 of 31

Balloons over Bagan

Balloon over Bagan at Sunrise
Linda Garrison

Three companies operate balloon rides in Bagan. Riding one at sunrise is popular. 

Continue to 21 of 31 below.
21 of 31

Thousands of Temples in Bagan

Thousands of temples at Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison
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Sunrise Over the Temples in Bagan, Myanmar

Sunrise over the temples in Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison
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Balloons over the Temples at Bagan, Myanmar

Balloons over the temples at Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison
24 of 31

Woman Carrying Baskets on Her Head in Bagan

Women carrying basket in Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

In addition to all the temples, visitors to Bagan get an opportunity to see the everyday lives of the Burmese. This woman is carrying laundry in her baskets. The next six slides show other things to see in Bagan.

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25 of 31

Puppets Hanging in a Tree in Bagan

Puppets hanging in a tree at Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

Each temple had vendors, but I thought these puppets hanging in a tree looked a little creepy. However, seeing the puppeteers on the Avalon Myanmar river ship gave us all an appreciation of their talent.

26 of 31

Close-up of Puppets Hanging in a Tree

Close up view of puppets for sale in Bagan, Myanmar
Linda Garrison

This photo provides an up-close look at the details on the Burmese puppets. 

27 of 31

Shopping for Shoes in Bagan

Shopping in the Bagan Market
Linda Garrison

We visited the large market in New Bagan and wasn't surprised to see many longyi and flip flops for sale. This is the everyday wear for the Burmese. 

28 of 31

New Bagan Fish Market

Fish Market near Bagan in Burma (Myanmar)
Linda Garrison

I love to eat fish, but usually walk quickly through the fish section of any market because of the (what else?) fishy smell. 

Continue to 29 of 31 below.
29 of 31

Vegetables for Sale in the New Bagan Market

Market near Bagan in Burma (Myanmar)
Linda Garrison

The Bagan market looked much like other markets we saw in Myanmar--filled with food, clothing, and all the things you'd find in a department store. None of the Burmese markets were as large as the Bogyoke Aung San Market (also called the Scott Market) in Yangon.

30 of 31

Irrawaddy River near Bagan

Irrawaddy River in Myanmar near Bagan
Linda Garrison

This was our first look at the Irrawaddy River after flying from Yangon to Bagan to board the Avalon Myanmar river ship. 

31 of 31

Sunrise over the Irrawaddy near Bagan

Irrawaddy River near Bagan, Burma (Myanmar)
Linda Garrison

And, this was our last look at the Irrawaddy River near Bagan before the Avalon Myanmar river ship sailed north towards the village of Shwe Pyi Thar.

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