The surreal archaeological site of Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

A shepherd through the ruins
A shepherd through the ruins
Woman praying in Dhammayanggyi temple

According to the UNESCO, Bagan is the capital city of the first Myanma Kingdom, the site measures 13 by 8 km and contains over 2,500 mostly Buddhist monuments (temples, stupas, monasteries, etc) built from the 10th to the 14th centuries AD. Several of these monuments are still highly venerated by the population, and attract numerous pilgrims and devotees from all over the country, particularly at festival times and on Saturdays. It was fun to see mini-buses full of Myanmar people, wearing tour-operator hats actually, but at times quite busy!

The UNESCO never gave the site the status of “World heritage” but regularly helps the restoration, in particular of mural paintings as they constitute a unique corpus of paintings of that time in southeast Asia and have been the most reliable source for the history of the Kingdom.

And it does feel like a sacred and privileged place. Especially at sunset where it turns to a truly magical spectacle, as dusk casts a golden spell on the brick ruins, highlighting the shadows of the countless temples…

Sunset rays lighting the buddhas…

Bagan can be reached easily from the Nyaung U Airport in 10min. We stayed at the Blue Bird, a recent boutique hotel in New Bagan, which was a real treat, modern and with a walk-in shower that I soooo wanted to take home. Well, the fact is that showering had become quite an obsession after long days spent mostly barefoot in temples or wandering in the dust in flip flops!

Renting bikes or electric bikes makes all the difference at the site is quite vast, once again I was glad to have a flash light, as it gets completely dark about 20min after sunset. Despite that, we ditched the idea of getting a driver (useless) and spent 3 days loosing ourselves in a maze of temples and soaking the atmosphere, where I was pretending to be a repentant Queen about to build my own pagoda.

Indeed, the alleged 2,500 temples carry much legends and folklore. I loved the Dhammayangyi Temple, that was built by  King Narathu to repent for murdering his father, brother and a wife (charming compensation!). The legend is that Narathu’s wickedness was so perpetual that he chopped off the hands of temple masons for faulty workmanship. ahh!!! I’ll tell that to the builders next time…

Dhammayangyi temple
Dhammayangyi temple

My Christmas present was a balloon ride over the site and I enjoyed every minute of the unique bird-eye view. Getting up at 4am was well worth it, those guys didn’t make it to the Lonely Planet cover for no reason! Even without going on a balloon, getting up before sunrise is strongly recommended, the haze dissipating and temples bathed in an early morning light make for a great spectacle.

bagan temple site river
Sunrise over the archaeological site, a magical sight…

And finally we spared a morning to pay our respect on the Mount Popa. I think the Lonely Planet had a great recommendation: going without a guide is a little bit like watching a foreign movie without subtitles. We couldn’t find one unfortunately, so we started by reading a few stories that I found on different blogs and website, and ended up chatting people and creating legends of our own…there’s a certain story about losing a ring on the way out and finding it several hours, plus all the stones, one by one, on the road. If that was not a miracle, I’m not sure what else it was!?

mount popa sacred volcanoe
The sacred Mount Popa
mount popa 777 stairs
The 777 stairs climb to Mont Popa is a little adventure, in a lush background, surrounded with cheeky monkeys and other nats and spirits

Related posts:

Mingalabar to Myanmar, generic recommendations to read when preparing the trip

3 days trek from Kalaw to the Inle Lake, photos


13 thoughts on “The surreal archaeological site of Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)”

    1. indeed! Writing this post last night I felt so nostalgic! it was the best Christmas present …
      BTW, I was looking at your trek around Hsipaw, but google map doesn’t seem to feature Pamkam. Did you essentially trek around the wider part of the Doktawady river then? Did you need a license for that?


  1. Haaaaa c’est génial, merci pour le rush de souvenirs !
    Tes photos sont absolument magnifiques, je vais prendre mon temps pour dévorer tous tes articles sur le pays, c’est trop bon!

    Et ouais, j’ai une super triplist prévue, puisque je pars deux semaines au Japon en février et que j’enchaine sur six mois d’échange à Pékin ! Pour le reste, j’ai tout plein d’envies de visiter la Chine, Hong Kong et éventuellement d’essayer d’aller faire un tour au Tibet / au Népal, sans compter la Mongolie à cheval ! Bref, mon année 2015 sera l’année du voyage !


    1. Merci 🙂
      ca promet!! ah oui j’avais vu tes tickets pour le Japon, j’ai eu l’occasion de passer une semaine cette année á Tokyo et c’etait fantastique. Une amie a fait un gros trek de 3 semaines au Nepal et elle m’a tellement donné envie, j’avuoe je suis un peu jalouse!! j’attendrai les photos alors 🙂


  2. The black and white pictures are lovely. I can definitely empathize with your desire to bring home the walk-in shower – I had a similar thought when I was travelling through Laos on local buses for several days!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi! Nice to find your blog! I just got back from Myanmar last night and my word, how amazing is Bagan?! It was the highlight of my trip and I’m already dreaming about my next visit. I checked out the hotel you stayed at and it looks gorgeous (wish I had read your post before going. Damn).

    I agree – Electric biking is an absolute must, so much fun to be had exploring the dusty paths and side-streets of Bagan. Although it’s a very peaceful place, some of the roads scream with hazards! (All the more exciting though, eh? ;-))

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Shing for passing by! Sorry to hear you were back last night, and I have to break the news: The nostalgia feeling will linger for a bit more I’m afraid…where else did you go in Myanmar? Looking forward to read all about it (and hear the car bipping and horning in my head again as I read!)


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