With thousands of age-old temples, Bagan’s Archeological Zone is Myanmar’s Must-See. Although it is not yet recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to poor management strategies and legal frameworks, it still is a sight to behold and not to be missed.
To explore, one can choose to go by horse carriage, car, balloon, bike or an electric bike. We chose the latter (for a change). It’s like riding a motorbike, except that the battery is charged by electricity and a fully charged battery will last for 8 hours (more than enough to get you by for the day). It can go up to 40km/h making your way to the destination quicker than riding a bike. And besides, foreigners are not allowed to drive motorbikes or scooters in Myanmar making e-bikes the popular choice.
So at 9AM, right after breakfast, our guide talked Anton through the mechanics of operating the bike, which is basically like driving a scooter. And then we discussed the day’s itinerary and requested that we start the route from the end – our way of avoiding the usual crowds. That was how we found ourselves (alone) in the midst of temples and stupas sprawled across the Bagan plain.
Lying on the bend of the Ayeyarwaddy River, spanning 26 square miles, Bagan was once an ancient city that was the capital of the prosperous Bagan empire that dates back to the Christian era. At the height of the empire’s power, more than 10,000 temples and pagodas were built. Over 2,200 temples and pagodas still exist today.
In between pagodas, we had a delightful lunch at the Starbeam Bistro, and we likewise managed to visit a market (my all-time favorite activity).
Our first stop and closest to New Bagan, where we were staying, Pya Tha Da had a fantastic panoramic view of the area and is said to have one of the best sunset spots around.
We didn’t get to see it, but we luxuriated in the sight all by ourselves.
Thatbyinnyu Phaya, our next stop after lunch, is one of the highest monuments.
It towers above other temples nearby and can be seen from much of the Bagan plains.
Thatbyinnyu Phaya from Pya Tha Da
Adjacent to it is the Ananda Temple. Considered to be one of the best surviving masterpiece of the Mon Architecture and one of the 4 surviving temples of Bagan.
Well preserved and most revered, the impressive temple has been called the “Westminster Abbey of Burma.” This is my favorite.
Last but not the least is the Shwezigon Pagoda, a Buddhist temple in Nyaung-U, a town just outside of Bagan. A prototype of Burmese stupas, it’s circular stupa is gilded in gold leaf. Among the 4 important temples of Bagan, Shwezigon is the most essential reliquary shrine of Bagan.
Other temples seen only from afar: