I first traveled among these pagodas by moonlight in a pony cart. By day I sheltered from the hot season sun in the swimming pool of the Thiripyitsaya Hotel and at night I explored the pagodas of the Pagan/Bagan (ပုဂံ) plain. Fast forward 26 years and in some ways so little has changed. I came to Bagan not long after the military regime had forcibly removed the residents of Old Bagan to New Bagan, clearing the archaeological zone for what they hoped would be an enormous influx of foreigners and US dollars.
Some tourists came, for a day or two, and the residents continued to herd goats and grow vegetables among the Temples of this UNESCO World Heritage site. The national elections of 2014 further opened the floodgates of tourists who climbed all over these fragile ancient structures. Since 2018 this practice has been stopped except for five of the largest Temples, and now you can travel by foot, car, ponycart, bike, e-bike, boat or balloon to see more than 2000 Bagan temples.
The Bagan Archaeological Zone is undoubtedly one of the world’s most spectacular historic sites and is the centerpiece of any Myanmar itinerary. The Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China vie with the pagodas (temples) of Bagan as the most magnificent sites in Asia. The sheer scale of the human endeavors on the Pagan plain shows a powerful and sophisticated Burmese civilization thriving in the wide bend of the Irrawaddy River from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries. Once you’ve seen Bagan you understand why it is the largest archaeological site in the world and why you need a travel guide like this one to see the most wonderful aspects despite the heat, the distances, and the basic tourism infrastructure.
Being upcountry in Myanmar is a special feeling. You feel like an intrepid adventurer as you gaze upon these magical structures. It won’t be long before over-tourism is a real problem, but for now, it is possible to spend several magical days getting to know this enticing and unforgettable destination.
Visiting Bagan Temples: Must-Know Information
Here’s some basic information to know before starting your short Bagan itinerary.
How to get to Bagan, Myanmar
As there is no international airport in Bagan, you’ll almost certainly be arriving via another town or city. Here’s how to get to Bagan from some of the most popular destinations in Myanmar.
Yangon to Bagan
The most popular trip in Myanmar for tourists continues to have a Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay itinerary ( with the beach resort of Ngapali increasingly popular). The majority of visitors to Bagan, therefore, arrive from Yangon, Myanmar’s busiest city and home to the only international airport. Unfortunately, Yangon lies over 600 kilometers south of Bagan, so it’s a bit of an exercise in logistics to get there. Luckily, it’s a well-trodden path and there are multiple options to travel from Yangon to Bagan.
The quickest and most comfortable option for travel is to fly. There are numerous daily flights from the international airport in Yangon to Nyaung U in Bagan (Bagan airport). In total, the flight takes around an hour and a half and is very comfortable.
Alternatively, you can travel by bus or train. The bus takes around nine hours, and the buses are pretty clean and modern. An alternate option is to travel by the overnight sleeper train. This is actually slower than the bus, but you are likely to get a better night’s sleep – and train travel is always a bit of an adventure! (see the Further Information section below for the address of Bagan bus station).
Mandalay to Bagan
Mandalay is significantly closer to Bagan, however, there are still 180 kilometers between them. Like Bagan, there is no shortage of incredible things to do in Mandalay as you’ll want to spend time in both cities on your trip to Myanmar.
You can take a short domestic flight, which is by far the quickest option and will have you in Old Bagan in just 30 minutes. Otherwise, several buses take 5 to 6 hours each, or two trains daily (a slow option that takes 11 hours, and a fast train that takes 8 hours).
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Another option is to go by boat – it’s quite slow (around 10 hours) but a great (and cheap) experience. The Irrawaddy River Cruise to Bagan has free cancellation up to 24 hours before the cruise and you can download the mobile voucher to your phone. Check availability and book the cruise here.
A hassle-free way is simply to take a door-to-door transfer from your accommodation in Mandalay to your hotel in Bagan. A private transfer to Bagan takes 4 hours. You can download a mobile ticket with free cancellation up to 24 hours before your departure time. It makes life simple!
Elsewhere in Myanmar
As Bagan is Myanmar’s most well-known tourist destination (and one of southeast Asia’s most important sites), it is becoming well connected with other cities and attractions around the country, including Inle Lake. Buses are generally the most cost-effective way to travel, although flying (when available) is the most efficient.
In terms of sheer convenience and comfort, I have for many years now simply hired a car and driver for the duration of my trip. Speaking Burmese makes this a simple thing to do but shorter visits can be accomplished through a return or one-way car transfers, for example, from Mandalay to Bagan or Bagan to Yangon.
When to go to Bagan
Bagan has a tropical climate which means it’s hot all year round. Between November and January temperatures are typically at their mildest, hovering around the low 30s. By contrast March to May is scorching, sometimes notching up past 40 degrees celsius. I have been to Bagan in mid-May with temperatures around 46 degrees.
If you can, it’s probably best to avoid monsoon season between June and September. Although there are fewer tourists and prices are generally lower, heavy rain can disrupt your trip and also keeps hot air balloons grounded.
Like the rest of Myanmar, the perfect time to visit in terms of Bagan weather is in November, December, and January. The temperature rises in February but it is still reasonably comfortable for travel. Myanmar is miserable in the monsoon season.
Getting around Bagan
The Bagan Archaeological Zone (where you’ll find the temples) is relatively compact, so it’s quite easy to explore.
A popular way to explore the temples is by e-bike. This environmentally friendly way to travel is cost-effective and lots of fun – so it’s no surprise it’s taken Bagan by storm. Of course, there are more traditional options like going in a car or by tuk-tuk (a motorized rickshaw common throughout South East Asia).
When exploring the township of Bagan, the easiest way to get around is simply to walk! Taxis and tuk-tuks are readily available for longer trips, such as visiting Mount Popa. It is possible to walk if you stay in Old Bagan which is the most enchanting area on the Bagan Plain and where some of the best Bagan hotels are.
A wonderful and relatively new way to get around on your own on this hot but flat plain is by e-bike. Hiring an e-bike is simple as most hotels have them for hire from $4-10 US per person per day. If your accommodation doesn’t hire them, you fill find dozens in each of the nearby towns, especially in Nyaung-U. I really wish these had existed during all the times I lived in Myanmar!
Finally, if your time is short and you would prefer to take a Bagan tour, I describe three of the very best of the available tours at the end of the post.
A Quick History of Bagan, Its Architecture and Its Significance
By the end of the thirteenth century, there were over 4400 stupas (solid Buddhist monuments), paya (pagodas) and pahtos (hollow Temples) littering the Bagan plain from the Irrawaddy River for forty square kilometers.
Stupas will often have Buddhist relics inside and pahtos often have delicate murals. Bagan is unusual in that it was made primarily of brick and stone, unlike other religious centers in Myanmar that were made from wood and perished in earthquakes and fires. Architectural styles can be seen from Pyu, Mon, Sinhalese and Indian cultures. Other significant types of buildings include monasteries (kyaung) and Buddhist libraries (Pitaka taik).
Two catastrophic events in the life of Burma (Myanmar) are crucial to understanding Bagan history – these are the events that created and destroyed Pagan (Bagan). The first was the conquest of the lower Burma kingdom of Thaton in 1057 by King Anawratha (below) (pronounced ‘annoy – ata‘).
Thaton was created by the Mon people and it is thought that around 30,000 Mon were brought to the remnants of the Pyu City State that is now Old Bagan. Important Buddhist scriptures, figures, and relics were seized from Thaton over the next 250 years, Bagan thrived as a religious and political center.
An incredible building program existed for monasteries, Buddhist libraries, pagodas, stupas, and temples. But then, in 1287, Bagan fell to Kublai Khan’s Mongol army. Or, the threat of the invaders caused the stones of the buildings to be used as fortifications and so Bagan was eventually abandoned prior to the actual invasion. In any case, the invaders meant the end of the great period of religious construction of 11 Burmese Kings.
Bagan only began to grow in size again once the British invaded Burma and Burmese people felt the area was safe for permanent settlement. But then the ravages of earthquakes and the decades of the military rule further destroyed Bagan or, “restored” the monuments as the regime asserted.
As Myanmar has opened up, Bagan has suffered from tourists eroding the pagodas by climbing all over them. This UNESCO World Heritage site is now protected from further decay since 2018 when this practice was finally stopped.
The villagers of Old Bagan were forcibly moved to New Bagan by the military regime so that it could earn foreign currency from the few tourists it allowed into Burma from 1962 to 2015. But there has been human habitation of Bagan through the last turbulent millennium of its history as people have lived and farmed in the shadows of these wonderful temples.
Things to Do in Bagan
1 Day Bagan Itinerary
With such a mind-bending number of temples throughout Bagan – plus other attractions – it’s hard to know which things to do in Bagan and in which order! This one-day itinerary for Bagan will introduce you to the main highlights of the Bagan Archaeological Zone and is an excellent foundation for learning about the country’s past and Bagan history.
There are 24 architecturally and historically significant monuments on the Bagan plain, and we are going to see them all in 3 days. The Table of Contents above contains the Bagan pagoda list for the full three days.
You should try and fit in a morning air balloon ride over Bagan and a sunset river cruise. Details of the best of these two tours are below.
Assuming that you book a hotel in the archaeological zone (Old Bagan), you will be able to easily walk to all of the Bagan attractions in the 1 Day Bagan Itinerary. I have created an itinerary (and a best Bagan temples map) that gets you to the most important monuments with the least amount of travel and ends at sunset at the oldest Bagan pagoda, overlooking the Irrawaddy River.
TIP! The itinerary in this Bagan travel guide is designed to be additive, meaning this itinerary stands alone as a guide for one day in Bagan. As a result, this one day Bagan itinerary squeezes a lot in! If you have only one day, you may want to try and add in two nearby temples, Dhammayangyi and Shwesandaw. They are close to Thatbyinnyu Temple and you can find them by slightly enlarging the Google Maps I provide below. There are a number of tours you can choose to make this itinerary simpler. I would recommend a hot air balloon ride, a sunset Irrawaddy River cruise and perhaps also a Mount Popa tour which gives you a quick air-conditioned transfer to the mountain which is two hours from the Bagan Archaeological Zone. You can find all the best ones below. I also include Bagan sightseeing tours if time is short.
Sunrise: Hot Air Balloon
While it can be difficult to get out of bed early on holiday – trust me when I say, you’ll want to make a Bagan sunrise. The deep history and spirituality of the place already give it an amazing atmosphere, but when it’s bathed in the golden light of sunset and the sky turns crimson – things are even more spectacular.
For a comprehensive guide to the best hot air ballooning companies, inclusions, prices, and must-know tips, see my post on Everything You Need to Know About the Best Bagan Hot Air Balloon Rides
I highly recommend opting for a hot air balloon ride in order to be able to see the whole Bagan plain with its Temples, villages and the winding Irrawaddy River.
Outside of monsoon season, the sky is a kaleidoscope of colors as the balloons hover over the landscape, allowing their lucky passengers a birdseye Bagan view. It’s spectacular to watch the sun slowly peak out over the horizon, and cast its golden glow over the tops of the temples.
If the Bagan balloon price seems to high (as it was for me when I was backpacking Bagan), a good alternative to a balloon ride is to view the sunset either at Shwesandaw Pagoda or perhaps the quieter LoukaOushang if you prefer a more peaceful experience (see Temple 2 on the Day 2 Bagan temple map). Watching the sunset must surely be among the very best things to do in Bagan at night!
The best sunrise hot air Bagan balloon tour is the Golden Eagle Hot Air Balloon Ride. This company has only 5-star reviews. This one-hour flight sells out very quickly but you can book immediately and cancel with a full refund anytime within 15 days. Perhaps the best feature of this company is that they get into the air earlier than other companies and so you have the sky to yourself for much of the flight!
Pick-up from your hotel is at 5-5.30 am in the morning and there is a light breakfast as the balloon is inflated. There is a full safety briefing, a flight over the Bagan plain, followed by sparkling wine on your return to the ground and a shuttle bus back to your accommodation.
Map of Bagan Myanmar: 1 Day Bagan Itinerary
1. Ananda Temple (အာနန္ဒာဘုရား)
The beautiful Ananda Temple was built around 1091 and stood for almost nine centuries until it was badly damaged during the 1975 earthquake in Bagan. Luckily for us, it has been painstakingly restored, and today reflects its former glory as the first major building in Bagan. (Note: The restoration of many of these sites has been terribly botched during the decades of military rule).
The outside of the temple is very beautiful and is strongly influenced by Indian architecture. Perhaps the most famous feature of the temple, however, is the beautiful Gold Buddhas inside. Designed to face Nirvana, be sure to look at them closely to see how they all differ.
2. Ananda Oq Kyaung (အာနန္ဒာဘုရားအုတ်ကျောင်း)
This small red brick vihara (sanctuary) is within the grounds of the Ananda Temple. It was damaged in the 2016 earthquake. This little monastery was built in the eleventh century and might be the oldest surviving monastery in Myanmar. The murals inside the building are well worth seeing.
Kyaung (ကျောင်) is the Burmese word for a monastery.
3. Pitaka Taik (ပိဋကတ်တိုက်)
A beautifully designed and purpose-built Buddhist library that once housed the 30 elephant-loads of palm-leaf scriptures that were taken from Thaton when it was sacked by King Anawratha. Pitaka Taik was built in 1058. Check out the stone windows with their beautiful perforations – they were each carved out of just one piece of stone. I particularly love this type of square gu structure because of the way it shafts light into the building.
Taik (တိုက်) is the Burmese word for a library.
4. Shwegugyi Temple (ရွှေဂူကြီးဘုရား)
Shwe means gold, Gu means a cave, and Gyi is the Burmese word for ‘big’ or ‘large.’
Shwegugyu was built in 1311 what is known as the middle period between the wonderful large but squat Ananda Temple and the lighter and taller temples of the later period like Gawdawpalin Temple that you will see on Day 2.
5. Thatbyinnyu Temple (သဗ္ဗညုဘုရား)
Adjacent to Ananda Temple, you will find Thatbyinnyu Temple. It is one of the tallest monuments in Bagan, standing at 61 meters high. This, paired with its stark whitewashed exterior, makes it one of the most recognizable temples and an absolute must-see for your Bagan itinerary. It is recognizable because it is constructed as two huge stacked cubes. It is a middle-era Temple constructed in the mid-twelfth century.
Typically, Thatbyinnyu Temple is a bit quieter than its neighbor Ananda, so it’s a good place to explore at a more relaxed pace.
6. Nat Hlaung Kyaung (နတ်လှောင်ကျောင်း)
Built during the tenth century as a Hindu shrine to the god Vishnu this is the only Hindu Temple in Bagan. It was named by King Anawratha. Its name means a place to confine spirits and he placed all of the images he could find of animist (Nat) spirits and Hindu figures into this building.
His attempts to stop pre-Buddhist worship of animist spirits in Burma failed miserably and it is possible he then began to integrate the Nat Spirit cult into Theravada Buddhism.
7. Pahtothamya (ပုထိုးသားများဂူဘုရား)
A lotus bud crowns this Pyu-era single-story temple that is quite dark inside. This is characteristic of Pyu architecture and creates a wonderful atmosphere inside to view the giant Buddha images and outstanding murals. The surviving murals are definitely amongst the oldest that we can still see in Bagan. The temple was built sometime in the eleventh or twelfth centuries. Don’t miss this one.
8. Gawdawpalin ( ကောတော့ပလ္လင်ဘုရား)
The most magnificent monument built in the late Bagan period, this large and majestic pagoda was completed in 1134. It was, unfortunately, very extensively damaged in the major earthquake of 1975. It has been restored and its sikhara (the apex of the Temple) has been restored.
Gawdawpalin has a similar layout and structure as Thatbinnyu, a gu-style, hollow Temple. It is the second-largest Temple on the Bagan plain.
9. Mahabodhi (မဟာဗောဓိကျောင်း)
This is an unusual pagoda for Bagan. It is modeled on the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya and is similar to pagodas to the south. It was built in the early thirteenth century during the reign of King Htilominlo. It has 450 Buddha image sin the niches built into the pyramidal tower.
10. Bu Paya (ဗူးဘုရား)
I have a real soft spot for this little golden pagoda on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. It was built at the same time as the city walls and is possibly the oldest of Bagan’s pagodas and temples. The poor thing tumbled into the Irrawaddy River due to the force of the 1975 earthquake. What you see now has been completely restored. It is an early Pyu-style bulbous pagoda.
It is a lovely spot to end the first day of exploring the temples of Bagan.
Bagan Itinerary Day 2
If you are lucky enough to have 48 hours in Bagan, then for the second day of your Bagan 2 Day Itinerary, you’ll be able to venture a little further afield to see some amazing sites out of the central archaeological zone.
TIP! I suggest you book a sunset river cruise to round out the day after a hot and dusty day. At the end of the two days of this Bagan itinerary, you will have seen all of the most significant monuments of the Bagan plain by land, air, and water!
Map of Bagan Myanmar: Bagan Itinerary Day 2
1. Sunrise at Law Ka Ou Shaung Temple (လောကဥသျှောင်ဘုရား)
This charming temple is a bit off the beaten path, so it doesn’t attract the sunrise and sunset watching crowds like the other closer, and hence better-known temples. As a result, it’s a great place to experience a magical sunset, far away from the bustling crowds. With just a few others in the know, you can start your second day in Bagan with a visual delight.
2. Mingalazedi (မင်္ဂလာစေတီ)
Mingala means hello in Burmese and a Zedi is a stupa. We are starting the day with the most advanced of the Bagan construction techniques as this was the last of the great temples and pagodas built just before Bagan began its decline with Kublai Khan invading Bagan not long after the pagoda was finished.
The pagoda is ringed with glazed tiles of the jataka, the lives of the Buddhas. Many have been stolen or vandalized but the remaining ones are worth seeing.
3. Shwesandaw Pagoda (ရွှေဆံတော်ဘုရား)
The beautiful Shwesandaw Pagoda is rightfully considered an iconic monument of Bagan, having been one of the earliest temples constructed in the early 11th Century. It has a five-tiered pyramid shape, with each side featuring a staircase towards the top.
It’s no longer permitted to climb the staircases (no matter how tempted you might be!), however, the temple itself is still incredibly beautiful. Plus, although it is very popular at sunrise, the crowds thin during the day, making it an enticing pagoda to explore.
4. Shinbinthalyaung (ရှင်ပင်သာလျောင်း)
Beside the Shwesandaw Pagoda is a cave-like building with a vaulted roof. It contains an eighteen meters-long reclining Buddha of Shinbinthalyaung.
5. Dhammanyangi Temple (ဓမ္မရံၾကီးပုထိုး)
The first thing that stands out about Dhammanyangi is the sheer size of the pyramid-like temple. It’s overall the largest temple in Bagan – and there’s a rather macabre reason for that. The temple was built by King Narathu in 1167, who rose to the throne after murdering his father and brother. It’s believed that to atone for his sins, he built the sprawling temple. (This is not an uncommon occurrence in the families of the Buddhist Kings).
Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work – Narathu was murdered even before the temple was completed, meaning to this day Dhammanyangi is unfinished. It’s still spectacular, though and is an amazing twelfth-century achievement.
6. Sulamani Temple (စူဠာမဏိဘုရား)
Behind Dhammayangyi is the equally impressive late period Sulamani temple.
Sulamani means ‘small ruby’ and it thought that King Narapatisithu found a small Burmese ruby on the ground and decided to build the Sulamani on that spot.
It was built in 1181 and damaged in the 1975 earthquake. It is shaped like a stepped pyramid with two large terraces. It is large, light and has complex ornamental, brickwork and frescoes.
7. Htilominlo Temple (ထီးလိုမင်းလိုဘုရား)
Another of the most majestic temples in Bagan – and a must-see on any itinerary for Bagan – is the Htilominlo Temple, named after the King who built it. This temple is enchanting, with intricate details that are very typical of Burmese architecture and shows the skill of the temple’s builders.
It’s the kind of structure where the longer you look, the more details you notice. As one of the last temples built in Bagan, it’s a true masterpiece of engineering and craftsmanship.
8. Shwezigon Pagoda (ရွှေစည်းခုံဘုရား)
The Shwezigon Pagoda was completed around the turn of the twelfth century. It is arguably the most famous and beautiful temple in Bagan, and certainly an unmissable stop on your Bagan itinerary.
The magical golden pagoda is one of the most perfect places to be introduced to the religious history of Myanmar which is such a large part of the lives of everyone in this country.
Not only is it jaw-droppingly beautiful, but it’s also a good example of how many of the temples in Bagan mix Buddhism and animism (you can see the smaller shrines around the base of the pagoda). The Cult of the 37 Nat spirits was officially integrated into Theravadan Buddhist practices through this pagoda.
The elegant bell shape of this pagoda has become the most common type of pagoda built for the next 1000 years in Myanmar. You will find four bronze Buddhas here – they are the last ones in Bagan
TIP: If you can squeeze in a little more time and enthusiasm for all things ancient and Burmese, close by the Shwezigon is the wonderful Kyanzittha Umin, a cave pagoda built into the cliff face.
Sunset: Irrawaddy River
One of the reasons that Bagan flourished as an ancient city was that it sat along the banks of the Irrawaddy River. Today, the Irrawaddy River’s strategic importance may have diminished, but it remains a treasured feature of Bagan.
There’s no better way to close out your 1 day in Bagan itinerary than taking a relaxing cruise down the Irrawaddy River at sunset. You’ll be treated to the sky reflecting a kaleidoscope of colors as you cruise gently down the river. It’s a perfect way to finish a magical day.
For a comprehensive post on the very best spots to see the Bagan sunrise, read my post on Sunrise Bagan: The Best Ways and Places to Experience It)
Day 3 Bagan Itinerary
With three days in Bagan, you’ll be lucky enough to take a closer look at Bagan’s past and present. This day sees you head a little bit further out to explore the significant monuments around a village directly south of Old Bagan close to to the Irrawaddy River: Myinkaba. We’ll visit its village, market, and beautiful temples and then see the cluster of historically significant temples in and around Pwasaw and Minnanthu in the afternoon. It’s possible to enjoy seeing so many temples because they are very close together in their two clusters. Finally, we’ll close off the day with a perfect spot to reflect on your amazing Bagan 3 day itinerary.
Map of Bagan Myanmar: Bagan Itinerary Day 3
1. Myinkaba Village and Local Market
There’s no doubt that the temples of Bagan are the area’s biggest drawcard, however, I highly recommend spending some time looking at Bagan’s present, as well. With three days in Bagan, you’ll have the opportunity to see another side of Bagan by visiting Myinkaba Village.
This charming village is close by if you are staying in either Old Bgan or New Bagan. And although it might be only a stone’s throw from several beautiful temples, it is still skipped over by most visitors to Bagan (although the word is starting to get out). However, I recommend starting Day 3 with a visit.
Depending on how early you have begun your day, you may arrive in time for the Myinkaba morning market, which is like a smaller version of Nyaung U’s Mani sithu market – with even fewer tourists. In this rickety market, you can find all kinds of wonderful things, from deliciously sweet fruit through to some more unusual food “treats” like preserved fish. Sampling new foods in Nyaung-U and Myinkaba markets is certainly one of the more unusual things to do in Bagan. What you choose is only limited by your bravery!
Myinkaba is also famous for selling lacquerware, and this is why most visitors stop by it. It’s amazing to see it crafted, and perfect if you’re looking for some traditional and authentic gifts.
2. Manuha Temple (မနူဟာဘုရား)
Just across the road from where the Myinkaba Market is set up, you’ll find the Manuha Temple – so it’s a logical next stop. This beautiful temple has a famously grim tale behind it, as it was built and named after a king who was held captive by King Anawrahta.
King Manuha had been the ruler of the great Mon civilization of Thaton. It is said that many of the design elements were inspired by his loss of freedom, such as the huge oversized Buddhas that seem to sit uncomfortably in the Pagoda. This is only a myth, but the pagoda has three large Buddhas at the front and an enormous reclining parinibbana Buddha at the back fo the Temple.
3. Nanpaya Temple (နန်းဘုရားကျောင်)
Next to the Manuha Temple, there’s also Nanpaya. This smaller temple was also supposedly built by King Manuha during his captivity. It is also assumed to be a Hindu temple. The temple does have Indian-derived elements in its sculptures but further research is needed to sort out exactly when the temple was built and its Buddhist or Hindu origins. Misconceptions exist because of the long period when Bagan was abandoned and the lack of scholarship on Myanmar during the long decades of military rule.
4. Gubyaukgyi Temple (ဂူပြောက်ကြီးဘုရား)
Completing the trifecta of beautiful temples in Myinkaba is the Gubyaukgyi Temple. The temple was built early in the 12th Century, and famously houses the oldest frescoes (paintings) found in the Bagan area. Below the frescoes are inscriptions are written in the language Old Mon.
The captions are not the only example of the Mon language at the Gubyaukgyi Temple. There are also large pillars that feature inscriptions in several different languages including Old Mon and Pyu. This inscription is known as the Burmese Rosetta Stone, as it allowed historians to translate Old Mon for the first time.
5. Somingyi Kyaung (စိုးမင်းကြီးကျောင်းတိုက်)
Next to Somingyi Pagoda, Somingyi Kaung or monastery is like all other remaining single-story brick monasteries in Bagan. Somingyi Kyaung was built in 1204 and is unique in that it features a courtyard that has groups of monastic cells coming off from it.
Minnanthu and Pwasaw
Moving due east now we begin in Pwasaw at the Dhammaziki Pagoda and then onwards to a cluster of thirteenth-century temples in Minnanthu.
6. Dhammayazika Pagoda (ဓမ္မရာဇိက စေတီ)
This circular pagoda was built by King Narapatisithu in 1196. There are five entrances through the circular wall enclosing the complex which consists of three pentagonal terraces topped by a stupa.
You will by now have seen many instances where Temples and pagodas have four Buddha images, usually placed at the cardinal points. These images represent the current and previous three Buddha’s. In Buddhism, there are a total of five Buddha’s and Dhammayakika has five rather than four Buddhas. The fifth and final Buddha is Arimettaya and he is the future Buddha or Buddha-to-be. That’s why Dhammazika has complex pentagonal shapes.
7. Lemyethna Temple (လေးမျက်နှာ ဂူဘုရား)
This wonderful little whitewashed temple is part of a whole series of buildings (and a water tank) donated to Min Nanthu village in 1222 by the King’s Commander in Chief and his princess wife. The interior of the building has frescoes (partially destroyed), stone inscriptions about the Buddhist relics buried there, and even a court case from almost a millennium ago!
8. Paya Thone Zu (ဘုရားသုံးဆူ)
Thone means three in Burmese and this is a pagoda consisting of three interconnected temples. The three shrines each have the sikhara on top of them which became popular in the late Bagan period. Payathonzu was abandoned before it was completed and this could be because of the imminent or actual invasion by Kublai Khan.
9. Thambula Temple (သမ္ဗူလ ဘုရား)
The frescoes are faded in this small temple but well worth the visit. Thambula Temple was built by Queen Thambula and completed in 1255 and its frescoes include a winged bird-man and a boat race!
10. Nandamannya Temple (နန္ဒာစေတီ)
This is a small temple that was built in the middle of the thirteenth century. It’s on an unnamed road but there is a sign at the entrance to the road. The pagoda is close to Thambula Temple and it is worth tracking down because of its delicate and detailed frescoes.
11. Sunset: Thitsarwadi Temple (သစ္စာဝတီ)
At the end of this 3 day Bagan itinerary, there’s still time to squeeze in one more magical sunset. Around nine kilometers away from the Shwesandaw temple, you’ll find Thitsarwadi. It’s largely off the tourist radar, so while you won’t be lonely it’s generally a quiet spot. Here, you’ll be able to watch the sun go down over the plains of Bagan, and reflect on three amazing days in this incredible place.
Bagan Archaeological Museum
While all of the Bagan Architectural Zone is an open-air museum, it can be overwhelming – especially trying to put everything into a timeline. For this reason, I highly recommend squeezing in a visit to the Bagan Archaeological Museum, even if you only have a day in the town.
The museum will provide a deeper insight into the past of the area, including a glimpse into the past when modern-day Myanmar was one of the most powerful and united empires in Asia. You’ll see many amazing artifacts and objects that help pad out the history of this amazing part of the world.
This history lays the foundation for modern-day Myanmar, so a visit to the Bagan Archaeological Museum will also deepen your understanding of the country, and its people, today. There are many great day trips from Bagan and the Museum is an ideal addition to an extra day at Bagan if you wanted to end your day here after a day trip.
NOTE: The Museum is closed on Fridays and is open from 8 am to 4 pm.
Travel Tips for your Bagan itinerary
- If you’re visiting Bagan independently, you might want to consider joining a tour or getting a private tour guide for at least some of your visit. A good tour guide can add so much context to what you are seeing, especially in Bagan where it’s a bit of history overload!
- To enter the Bagan Archaeological Zone you will need a pass. This can be bought online or as you enter the area and costs 25,000 kyat. The pass is valid for 3 days, so is perfect for this Bagan itinerary!
- Although many of the temples have stood for almost 1,000 years, some are at risk as a result of modern tourists. Although it is tempting, do not climb on any temples except for where it is clearly permitted. As well as the risk of damaging the temples, you can also get hurt as they are often unstable.
- Visitors of all genders should make sure that their shoulders and knees are covered when visiting the temples. This is especially important because some of the temples are still in use as sites of worship. As well as loose, modest clothing, I highly recommend comfortable shoes that can be removed easily.
- A tour is convenient and hassle-free and gives you some relief from the heat and dust. The best few are below.
Best Tours of Bagan Temples
My favorite full-day Bagan Temples sightseeing tour manages to pack in 10 pagodas, Nyaung-U market, a lacquerware stop, and a sunset Irrawaddy river cruise. As such, it’s great value for money and hard to imagine how you could get that much accomplished in a day without a lot of pre-planning.
The Bagan Full-Day Temple Tour takes you in an air-conditioned car around the Bagan archaeological zone. It is very handy if you are coming straight from the airport as the tour begins from either the airport or your hotel.
The tour has free cancellation up to 24 hours before your departure time. It is not available during the week of Thingyan, the water festival (early to mid-April).
This is the best small group bicycle tour of Bagan. The tour does not spend the day visiting Temples, although it does visit Dhammayangyi and Ananda Temples, among others. The tour winds through and around Nyaung U and Myinkaba village and along the Irrawaddy village. It is a nice slice of Burmese life, especially if you have already spent a day seeing the major Bagan temples.
The tour has perfect 5-star reviews, free cancellation up to 24 hours before the tour, and a downloadable electronic voucher.
The tour begins from the Tour Office in New Bagan but drops you back at your hotel at the end of the tour. Archaeological Zone fees are not included and sleeveless shirts are not allowed.
This is the best e-bike tour of the Bagan Temples. It has perfect reviews only and it sells out fast. Luckily you can book a couple of dates and cancel without penalty up to 24 hours before the tour.
The tour includes return transfers from your hotel and is 7-8 hours in duration. You will see Shwesandaw, Ananda and Shwezigon Temples and a Burmese lunch is included. The E-bike tour travels on several pony cart tracks not accessible to cars.
Further Links and Information
- Download a great Bagan tourist map here: Myanmar Bagan Map
- Best hot air balloon flight over Bagan is here: Golden Eagle Ballooning in Bagan
- Best private transfer (door to door) from Mandalay to Bagan is here: Private transfer to Bagan.
- Best quality (inexpensive) Irrawaddy River Cruise from Mandalay to Bagan.
- Bagan bus terminal address: Bagan Shwe Pyi Highway Bus Terminal, Nyaung-U, Myanmar. Note- this is the new bus terminal, the old Bagan bus terminal has been moved.
- Visiting Yangon? Click on my ultimate itinerary for one, two or three days in the former capital: Yangon Itinerary: Best Things to Do in Yangon in 1, 2 and 3 Days
- For a comprehensive guide on the most important of all the things to do in Yangon – visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda – see my post here: Shwedagon Pagoda: The Best Pagoda in Myanmar
- More detailed information on how to book transport, airfares, accommodation, and travel insurance is available on my Travel Resources page
- Get Your Guide Myanmar travel activities are here
- For another spectacular and must-see Asian temple, see the world’s largest Buddhist temple, Borobodur here
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