After an eye opening stay in Mandalay we couldn’t wait to get to Bagan to see the famous temples there and to spend some time out of the city in more rural Myanmar.
Bagan is one of the main tourist attractions in Myanmar and with its 26 square mile archeological zone filled with over 4000 Buddhist temples from the 11th to 13th century it is easy to see why.
Having visited several world famous temple complexes in recent months, such as Angkor and Ayutthaya, Bagan had a different feel. The sheer number of temples packed into the area was astonishing with breathtaking views in every direction. Also Bagan feels unique because the site isn’t just preserved for historical and tourism purposes, all the temples are actively used by local people and are a very important part of everyday religious life in the area.
The area itself is spread over several main villages, with a rural feel. The temples are so plentiful that you can easily get off the beaten track and the vast majority of people you do see are local villagers and monks who are using the temples to worship. The excption to this is obviously the larger temples around Old Bagan and the ones with good sunset views, where many tourists congregate.
We were planning on spending two days cycling around the temples but after thinking about the sheer magnitude of the site we decided to hire ebikes (electronic mopeds). I was terrified at the idea but they are very slow and therefore relatively safe and the roads are generally pretty quiet with many horse and ox drawn carts.
Bagan originally had the impressive name “City of the Enemy Crushers”. Yikes. Seeing as we were visiting with friends as there were 7 of us in total we thought our biker gang had to have a name and “The Enemy Crushers” was the obvious choice! It was somewhat ironic as we pootled around the streets at a very well behaved 10mph!
We visited many temples over the 2 days, including some of the main ones like Ananda and That Byin Nyu in Old Bagan and Shwesandaw nearby, but also lesser visited temples further out near Min Nan Thu and Pwa Saw Villages. We were relieved to have chosen the ebike option considering the large distances we were covering!
It seemed that even some of the local wildlife was impressed!
Nearly all of Bagan’s numerous temples have been restored at some point and with varying success. Despite this it is interesting to see some of the original features of the temples (and some of the restorations!)
Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes were positioned in and around the temples, usually at least on at the main entrance or on each of the 4 axis of the temple.
Some huge statues squeezed into tiny, claustrophobic spaces.
Despite being quite cloudy while we were there we were determined to witness a Bagan sunset. Very atmospheric – despite the crowds at peak times!
After our stay at Bagan it was time to head further down country towards Yangon to explore the relatively modern and developed side of Myanmar.