Formerly known as Bagan, few landscapes can claim as dramatic a mystique as the ancient city of Bagan. The former capital of the Pagan Kingdom is considered among the top man-made wonders of the world, which between the 9th and 11th Centuries was home to over 10,000 temples and pagodas at the height of the dynasty. The plains of Bagan still host more than 2000 ancient Buddhist structures today, making it one of Myanmar’s premier tourist attractions.
Stretched over 108 sq km, the medieval ruins of Bagan are located on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwady River, to the south-west of Mandalay, approximately 644 km from the business capital of Yangon. The most popular route is by air, with daily flights from Yangon via Mandalay taking around one hour. Overnight trains and buses are also an option for those wanting to experience an authentic if somewhat bumpy ride across Myanmar’s picturesque and diverse landscape.
Luxury cruises along the Ayeyawady from Mandalay to Bagan, ranging from two days to two weeks, are growing in popularity and are an excellent way to be exposed to the rich cultures scattered across the rivers scenic banks.
On Temple Route
According to ancient chronicles, Bagan was originally founded in the second century, making the archaeological zone an even more entrancing destination. Home to the largest collection of Buddhist temples in the world, droves of tourists explore Bagan’s “temple route” throughout the year, with peak season from mid-December to late January. Regarded as one of South-east Asia’s most sought-after historical destinations, the region offers a wide variety of five-star and boutique hotels catering to high-end travellers, nestled among the esteemed temples and giant palm trees. Less luxurious accommodation is also available to lodge those travellers who are on tighter budgets.
Exploring The Sights
The compelling scenery of ancient clay structures built more than 1500 years ago can be explored by visitors in a variety of ways; horse carriage, bicycle, and scooters are all readily available for a small fee for those who wish to survey the maze of sand roads and dusty footpaths up close. Private taxis can also be hired for those seeking shelter from the glaring sun and searing heat.
There is an abundance of historic temples to visit and paths to follow, but one can easily be lost with great joy wondering aimlessly amidst spectacular pagodas, shrines and meditating monks in shadowy corridors that are pierced with rays of sunlight.
If you wish to take in the sights from above, then an early morning hot air balloon ride should be on the cards. The sunrise journey will hoist you above the trees and send you floating with tropical birds that gently soar above King Anawrahta’s valley of breath-taking temples.
Images of these balloons suspended over the ancient city, with endless mountains in the background, is fast becoming an iconic image that has lead to a dramatic increase in tourist arrivals in the once isolated nation. For those who are less likely to take to the skies then a visit to the viewing tower located just outside Aureum Palace hotel is worthwhile, where snacks and refreshments can be enjoyed throughout the day and early evening.
Visitors can also enjoy a tranquil sunset boat trip aboard a local fisherman’s vessel, along the majestic Ayeyawady River – another great opportunity to mingle with residents and get a closer glimpse of their daily lives, while trying to take in the astounding view from beneath the monsoon-forged river banks.
Regardless of which mode of transport new arrivals opt for, they are likely to have an unforgettable visit, but it is important to bear in mind that Bagan is a large place and should not be taken too lightly. Trying to rush between the sites in soaring heat, for example, is not advised. Visitors should take their time and see a few temples in detail, rather than trying to see as many as possible and risk exhaustion.
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