Discover Bagan: An Ancient city of Myanmar

The journey to the ancient city of Bagan begins with a flight from the bustling metropolis of Bangkok, soaring over the verdant landscapes of Southeast Asia and descending into the heart of Myanmar, Yangon. This city serves as the gateway to Myanmar’s historical treasures, with Bagan being the crown jewel of its archaeological legacy.

Yangon as first step

Upon landing in Yangon, travelers are greeted by the golden spires of Shwedagon Pagoda, a symbolic introduction to a nation steeped in spiritual heritage. The city is a vibrant mix of colonial architecture, modern-day hustle, and serene Buddhist sites. Visitors often spend a day here acclimatizing to the cultural heartbeat of Myanmar before embarking on the overland journey to Bagan.

Train or airplane to Bagan

The trip from Yangon to Bagan is an experience in itself. Roads meander through rural landscapes, where wooden carts, drawn by water buffaloes, trundle alongside motor vehicles, and scenes of daily life in Myanmar unfold like a living tapestry. The journey, although lengthy, is a window into the soul of the country and an essential prelude to the wonders of Bagan.

Arriving in Bagan, the setting sun casts a warm glow over an expansive horizon punctuated by the silhouettes of over 2,000 temples, stupas, and pagodas. This ancient city, which was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom from the 9th to 13th centuries, sits within the Mandalay Region and is perched on the eastern banks of the Ayeyarwady River.

Bagan’s archaeological zone is a testament to the golden age of Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar. The temples are an architectural marvel, with influences from Mon and Indian styles. They are adorned with intricate frescoes and carvings that narrate stories from the Jataka tales and the life of Buddha.

The scale of the archaeological zone is staggering. It spreads over 104 square kilometers, and exploration can take days, if not weeks. The most iconic among these is the Ananda Temple, often referred to as the ‘Westminster Abbey of Burma’, thanks to its elegant and symmetrical design. Meanwhile, the Dhammayangyi Temple, the largest of all Bagan’s temples, impresses with its monumental size and mysterious bricked-up inner passageways.

I loved the horse ride. But you can visit on bicycle or otherwise.

For a panoramic view of Bagan, one can climb to the top of the Shwesandaw Pagoda. The early mornings here are serene, with the mist lifting to reveal a 360-degree vista of temple spires reaching skyward. For a truly memorable experience, many visitors opt for a hot-air balloon ride at dawn, witnessing the awe-inspiring sight of Bagan awakening to the day’s first light.

Bagan is not only about its temples. The city is also home to vibrant markets, traditional workshops, and a rural lifestyle that has remained largely unchanged for centuries. Visitors can take a break from temple-hopping to observe local artisans crafting lacquerware, a Bagan specialty, or to sample local cuisine that is both unique and tantalizing.

In the evenings, the banks of the Ayeyarwady

River transform into a place of tranquility. The gentle flow of the river complements the meditative atmosphere of the city. As the sun sets, the sky turns into a canvas of fiery hues, silhouetting the ancient temples against a crimson backdrop, a daily spectacle that has occurred for millennia.

Bagan’s significance goes beyond its visual splendor. It’s a cultural touchstone for the people of Myanmar, embodying the nation’s historical and spiritual identity. The city is an active place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and a symbol of the enduring nature of their faith.

Unesco World Heritage site

Preservation efforts have become paramount to maintain the integrity of Bagan’s monuments. Earthquakes have periodically shaken the region, leading to restorations that strive to retain the authenticity of the structures while ensuring their survival for future generations. The city was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019, a recognition of its global importance and a step towards safeguarding its legacy.

For the intrepid traveler, Bagan offers an immersive journey into the past. Walking through the temple grounds, one can’t help but feel a deep connection to history, a sense of awe at the artistry of ancient builders, and a profound respect for the devotional spirit that has permeated this land for centuries.

Discovering Bagan is more than a visit to an archaeological site; it’s an exploration of the human spirit, a pilgrimage to the heart of Myanmar’s majestic past, and an encounter with the timeless soul of this enchanting country.