The Temple Fields of Bagan, Myanmar
Light had just barely crept into the vast plains of Bagan. The petrichor from last night’s rain gently whiffed through our faces as the stupas started to take shape in the distant horizon. Momo, our dutiful horse clip-clopped under the tree tunnels as our hearts raced to see the antiquity that is Myanmar.
Bagan is one of the most, if not the best destination in Myanmar. Most of those who come to this nation that shielded itself from the world for more than half a century make Bagan as the highlight of their Myanmar experience. Now that Myanmar has finally reopened its doors to international tourists, everyone is taking the opportunity to witness the splendor of its attractions before its real charm are gone.
Know more about the temple fields of Bagan, Myanmar. Discover what you can do in this small town that lies in ruins but remains mighty & culturally spectacular.
Once & Forever a Kingdom
Going into a thousand years back in time, the ancient city of Bagan was the most powerful in the Kingdom of Pagan of what is now known as Myanmar. For hundreds of years, this city along the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy River was the nucleus of power, economics, learning & religion.
They built thousands of Buddhist pagodas, shrines & monasteries on its vast hot plains that became the universe of religious scholars. Here, they studied & grew the various disciplines of Buddhism, Hinduism, astrology, language & alchemy.
Bagan lost its grandeur to shifts in imperial controls, natural calamities & the massive invasions of the Mongols throughout the land. Despite how time & circumstances changed the lives of its people, Bagan remains the fortitude of its culture & history even to this day.
The City of Temples
Out of the 10,000 religious monuments that once stood on its sprawling land, there are about 2,000 left today. Many of these temples have been restored & some are left in its irreparable state.
The Bagan temple designs are massive & ornate. Its building techniques & aesthetics are a contrast of solid brickworks softened by intricate bas-reliefs. Its outside structure speaks nothing short of its fascination for grandeur. On the inside, the walls are finished with stuccos & tiled galleries narrating stories of Buddhism. Its vaulted chambers are decked with huge Buddha images highlighted by the light & shade streaking from its arching windows.
The ancient city, preserved amidst the arid expanse is a testament of the artistry of its craftsmen, their ways of life & their distinct opulence in a time & space in ancient Asia.
Panoramic, Different, Time-lapsed.
The attractions in Myanmar are mostly centered on religious architecture & natural landscapes that are time-warped & panoramic. If you are a chaser of sunsets & sunrises, then the temple fields of Bagan is an excellent spot for you to catch these fleeting spectacles. Take a quiet bike ride under the long & narrow tree tunnel to the symphony of birds. Retreat in the quiet nooks of temples & monasteries; watch the monks amble in the cloisters. All these are once-in-a-lifetime indulgences unique to this differently pretty destination.
Exquisite Art & Handicrafts
Perhaps you have seen popular images of monks walking in their distinct parasols or those pretty decorative lacquerwares in shelves & tables. Well, these are just among the much-adored handicrafts you can find in Bagan. Elaborate marionettes, string puppets & intricate sand paintings are also famous art legacies that keep Bagan in the league of sought-after Myanmar art.
Like the rest of its population in Myanmar, the people of Bagan are overwhelmingly warm, honest & friendly. Most of those who have come here can at least say that these admirable characters that are already hard to come by in many countries still exist in Myanmar.
Despite it being touristy (at the level of Myanmar, that is), the people here remain genuinely interested to interact with foreigners.
Create Your Own Nightlife
If your concept of nightlife is wild & noisy, then it’s non-existent. There are a few restaurants that serve beer & karaoke bars in Burmese. But that’s all it. What backpackers usually do is create chill parties in the hostel over a few bottles of beer. Retiring early at night is really a common thing.
Slow Down to Myanmar Pace
Getting around Bagan is either through horse-drawn carriage or through bicycles. Tourists are not allowed to use or rent any motorbikes like in other Southeast Asian countries. The fastest that tourists can avail of is to hire an e-bike.
Now this one’s delightfully different.
Bagan is the crown jewel of Myanmar. It represents its people’s glory & strife narrated through the ceremonial monuments that have stood for more than a thousand years.
Today, developments in the town are taking shape to serve the growing tourism industry of Myanmar. No one really knows its fate & how it will change the face of antiquity, that real old-world charm everyone adores.
How to Get to Bagan
Bagan is accessible by night bus from Yangon. Travel time is approximately 8-9 hours, with 1 stopover. This usually costs between $20-$30 USD.
The integrated bus terminal for long-distance trips is located outside the city center, about 20 kilometers north. Taxi is the only best way to get there. Please leave 2 hours travel time because this route from downtown is perennially traffic jammed.
Purchase your tickets in advance, as it is really inconvenient to take chances. You can buy it from the ticketing offices across the central railway station or from your hostel.
Buses from Yangon come in various classes. In luxury buses, you can choose your seat that reclines comfortably, has good legroom & with individual TV. Regular buses are also fine but seat reservations are not allowed. Toiletry kits are usually provided for long-distance trips in all bus lines.
Alternatively, you can fly from Yangon to Bagan. If you have time, it can be fascinating to take the slow train.
If coming from Mandalay, mini vans regularly ply this route. This is the easiest way & travel time takes about 3.5 hours. You can buy ticket from your hostel & arrange for a hotel pick-up.
There are also ferries that sail between Bagan & Mandalay via the Ayeyarwaddy River. The faster boat takes you to Bagan in 10 hours for $50. The slower option sails between 15-17 hours. This is a very scenic ride but if you are on a budget & lacks time, taking the boat is not a good choice.
Slow trains also travel to Bagan from Mandalay & it leaves at night.
In all points of entry in Bagan, expect to pay a 1-time $15 as Archaeological Zone Admission Fee.
How to Get Around Bagan
The attractions in Bagan, Myanmar are clustered in the Old Bagan side. Horse-drawn carriage is usually the most popular way to take if you are discovering the temples. It is more expensive but horsemen also serve as guides. It really helps to have someone guide you through the maze of temples.
Bicycles & e-bikes can also be rented. Foreigners are not allowed to drive motorbikes here. There are no taxis in Bagan but they have share-a-car thing where you can rent a car with other passengers.
You can also enjoy the view of Bagan’s old town from a hot air balloon. Refer to other web articles for updated schedules as this vary year-on-year.
Where to Stay in Bagan
Accommodations are clustered into 3. Nyaung-U, has more budget rooms & eating places but far from the temples. New Bagan has mid-range options & closer to the temples. The Old Bagan is where the overpriced hotels are because it is the closest to the temple field but very few choices for food stores.
Regular accommodations in Bagan can come between $15-$30 for single & double room occupancies. There are also backpacker rooms at $8-$10. For this category, Winner Giesthouse in the most recommended.
There are no super hotels here & even their A-listers are not too worth the money.