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.
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.
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.
The Thatbyinnyu Temple is the tallest one in Bagan. It is near the Ananda Temple and was built in the 11th century.
Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar
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.
This photo shows the gorgeous Ananda Temple in the daytime, and the next photo shows how it looks at night.
Inside the Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar
The Ananda Temple features four standing Buddhas inside. Each is different.
Inside the Ananda Temple
The interior of the Ananda Temple is cool, even when the temperature is hot outside. The 12th Century designers were talented, weren't they?
Murals in the Ananda Temple
At one time, all of the walls in the Ananda Temple were white-washed. However, scientists have restored some of the murals.
Mural in the Upali Thein Temple
The Upali Thein Temple in Bagan is small, but it has terrific frescoes inside like this one.
Dhammayangyi Temple in Bagan, Myanmar
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.
Riding in a Brahman Cattle Cart
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.
Plains and Temples
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.
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.
Woman Carrying Baskets on Her Head
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.
Puppets Hanging in a Tree
This photo provides an up-close look at the details on the Burmese puppets.
Each temple had vendors. We saw puppets hanging in a tree and they looked a little creepy. However, seeing the puppeteers on the Avalon Myanmar river ship gave us all an appreciation of their talent.
Shopping for Shoes
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.
We love to eat fish, but usually walk quickly through the fish section of any market because of the (what else?) fishy smell.
New Bagan Market
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.
This was our first look at the Irrawaddy River after flying from Yangon to Bagan to board the Avalon Myanmar river ship.
Sunrise Over the Irrawaddy Near Bagan
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.