Bagan the Ancient Pagoda and Temple City

Myanmar's main ancient city is Bagan

This was once the capital of the First Empire located in the dry zone of the country on the left bank of the mighty Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River. When traveling in the country virtually all roads and flights somehow leads to the place. 

It should be visited at least one time, hotels are plenty and it is reachable from Yangon, Mandalay and Heho (Inle Lake) via several airlines every day, they all use small aircraft. 

When purchasing a ticket for the trip try "Vegas Travel" in the Central Hotel in Yangon, they have the best prices and work fast, don't buy it from the airline direct.

Bagan Travel by Ox Cart
Travel by Ox Cart
Travel and day trips are on the agenda, tourists are the new invaders and they are welcomed by almost everyone since they bring what all people like, money and work, read more.

Irrawaddy river cruise
Irrawaddy river cruise
A Irrawaddy river cruise should be made to see the monuments from the waterside. This is now a 42 square kilometer area dotted  with thousands of ancient pagodas, stupas, Buddhist shrines, ordination halls and monuments, read more.

Going shopping, people sell their goods, handicrafts, lacquer ware, ceramics and other items and services, there are plenty of them. Especially the lacquer cottage industry is well known and appreciated for their beautiful creations, read more

On top of it the driver usually also functions as a tourist guide showing scenes along the road via a short side trip a foreigner will never see since many of the interesting places are not listed in any guide book. Such a journey is not made every day for many this is a once in a lifetime event.

Marching nuns
Marching nuns
Buddhist nuns, monks and novices are constantly "in the picture" they enrich the colorful countryside and have plenty of other mostly social function. 

Some are not real nuns but they wear the robe because they live in a monastery style environment. People are very poor and many have no place to go, read more.

No easy living
No easy living
There is no easy living in the city unless you have plenty of money the whole infrastructure and living conditions for local people is not good at all since salaries are real low, that means around $ 100,- for a normal job and who can live from that? The top hotels are charging this per night and they make good profit. Nevertheless people come from everywhere because compared to other places in the country even that is better.

This is one of the reasons why there are so many monks and novices since they cant survive otherwise. Monasteries have a high level of social function they look after the people who have no chance including kids and the old, read more.

Bagan Myanmar Pagoda and Temple City
Pagoda and Temple City

This somehow sacred city 

Bagan Hotels
Bagan Golf Hotel
is a must see destination. There are plenty other attractive trip possibilities in the country browse our website to discover them. 

The hotel spectrum is wide, cheap and medium price range plus high end. The main difference with them is do they have a UPS or not since power break downs are still normal every day although the government is working on it to bring a sustainable solution. There are luxury ones, cheap ones, everything is available and some are just beside the Irrawaddy river. To get an idea what's there just have a look at the pictures,  read more.

How to build a Temple
How to build a Temple
Here is a description how to build a temple in the 13th Century, It's also a bit of the philosophy behind, the material used and the environment. 

Understandable only very wealthy people were able to do this and it often went on for many year. Finally so many people very involved in creating this monuments that the whole kingdom declined since they neglected all other activities, read more.

Since there are already enough websites listed at Google who have just the same and another tour program, hotel listing and dozens of monuments listed we do it different, we tell you also about the time and how Burma's people lived. 

Things such as Google are only quantity oriented, we are quality driven, they don't know what that is and that's the reason why you see on their first 3 listing pages just the same stuff.

Why to build a pagoda
Why to build a pagoda
Why build one? This is somehow a interesting subject worth to look into it. It is similar as to ask this days why someone buys a Mercedes, well, why? Because they want to show their wealth and in the old days this was one of the real reasons why they did it. 

Everyone is telling that was to gain merit, but this is only part of the story, read more.

Lokananda Pagoda
The Lokananda at the river

Some of the most impressive monuments are the Shwezigon Pagoda and the Ananda Temple. Visiting this places are highlights on every trip to this ancient city.

The Lokananda is just beside the Bupaya and it is a interesting place to watch the life on the river, it seems there was no change in the last few hundred years.

Bagan Pagodas and Temples
Pagodas and Temples in the plains of central dry zone

Bagan's monumental temples and pagodas 

is what most of the visitors come for. The monuments form a surrealistic landscape in the dry and flat area. At sunrise and at sunset great visual impressions are around in particular in

Old Bagan and Irrawaddy

composition with the Irrawaddy or Ayeyarwady river behind. The old inhabitants have set plenty of monuments into the plains. A reason to built them is is a usual way to accumulate merit in the current life to be in a better position in the next life, most people are Buddhist.

Thatbyinnyu Temple
Thatbyinnyu Temple is colossal

Here three versions of Myanmar art come together and form an impressive symbiosis,  this is painting (usually in form of mural or wall paintings), sculptures (usually Buddha related) and architecture (usually temples and pagodas). This is not very visible in the very early period  but from the 12th century onward this arts become more and more inter dependent.

Bagan Mural Paintings Art and Sculptures
Mural Paintings Art and Sculptures

Bagan has a special place in the history of Myanmar; this period was the “Hay Days” of the country by every means and especially in culture and art. 

Religious monuments take various forms and styles,

the monuments withstood monsoon floods and some even earthquake but not many monastic complexes resist the teeth of time, the reason is they were built from wood and fires erased them from time to time. The monuments where made from bricks now those are the remains of the glorious hay days of the city.

Gubyaukgyi Pagoda
Gubyaukgyi Pagoda Perforated Stone Window

Dhammayangyi Monument
Dhammayangyi Monument
Bagan has a special place in the history of Myanmar. This period from the 11th to the 13th century is as chronicles and other sources indicate Myanmar‘s Golden Age. 

This were the "Hay Days" of the ancient country by any means, but especially of culture and art.

One of the architectural masterpieces was the Dhammayangyi Monument a beautiful and massive pyramidal structure.
Myanmar‘s Golden Age
Myanmar‘s Golden Age 
Bagan, where came the name of this powerful empire with a glorious two hundred years long epoch. In the heart of Burma at the Irrawaddy, stands a partly ruined city, which is regarded by everyone in the country and elsewhere as one of the wonders of the world. Only English and US politicians always blocked the attempt to declare the town as a cultural heritage by UNESCO, for lousy political reasons since the old and the new colonialists don’t like when others don't bow their body to them.

Temples and Pagodas

This place has long been abandoned as a capital, only the monyments remained, the place was also called Arimaddhapura or Pukam and was once the center of a huge state whose territory stretched over the borders of today. 

Bagan Monuments
The count of Monuments is still around 2000

Regarding the extent and size of buildings and monuments brings the city au par with the biggest cities of the Middle Age. The number of buildings were extremely exaggeration in some chronicles is sometimes far, some even write about 5 million temples which is simply impossible the total area of around 40 skm this would allow 8 – 10 sqm for each temple and they would have to build around 50 buildings per day, sometimes they talk about 5000 buildings which is probably also an exaggerated count.

Bagan Temples
Temples are plenty and some look real good

Today according to official figures 2300 monuments are still around in different condition.

 In the 13th Century the number of buildings were probably about 4000, among them stupas and temples, between the 11th and 13th century the main pagoda building period saw both small and gigantic structures. Even today  most  temples still have magnificent mural paintings and Buddha sculptures.

Reclining Buddha Sculpture

How, why and when this unique complex of several thousand buildings come into being? Where people lived, who constructed the temple and prayed in it? What was their everyday life beside of pagoda building? Was there any basic idea of the urban buildings related to the environs   Since plenty of research went into these subjects today we have a good picture of the formation and evolution of the city.

Bagan Chronicles
Chronicles in the monastery at Saleh

Chronicles date the founding of the city in the year 850, when a ruler had the city encircled with a wall. Since at 832 the Pyu kingdom (today Prome od Pyay) and its capital Thayekhetaya  was destroyed by troops of the northern neighbor Nan Chao which belonged to the Khmer empire.
The town had a square layout and a very favorable position by any means.  The trading road from India to Indochina ran from west to east through the city.

Bagan Road was revived by the British during colonial times as the Ledo Road but abandoned after WW2. Only recently, in 2012, the prime minister of India and the president of Myanmar agreed to open this road again by 2016, which is a Hercules task since around 80 bridges must be rebuilt and the road extended since right now 2012, this is only a better dirt road. 

Stupas in the sun
Stupas in the sun

Irrawaddy River at Bagan
Bagan day trip on the Irrawaddy River with small boats

The Irrawaddy and Chindwin served as a north – south waterway

and natural wall, towards the plains  an approaching enemy could be seen from the 10km Touwa Hills to the south already far away. 

The streams from the northern mountains also created a favorable climate in the area allowed growing millet and peanuts, to cultivate palms and rear cattle. There also was plenty of clay around for making bricks used as building material. Teak came down from the north using large rafts, actually many teak trunks were fixed to bamboo rafts since teak without cutting the sap wood and leaving them to dry at location is too heavy to float. 

Monastery made from Teak Wood
Monastery made from Teak Wood

Originally, the city was not a large one, total barely around 1.5skm but the fortification was gigantic. The thickness of the walls reached almost 4m and even 9m high at certain places. Who founded the city, maybe Pyu, maybe Mon or local people nobody know for sure. What is known is at the turn of 10th to the 11th Century it was already in the hands of the Burmese and famous far over the country's borders.

Bagan Monumental Buildings
Monuments with a religious purpose

But until the mid-11th Century the creation of monumental buildings not exceed the construction of fortifications, and pagoda and temple building was rather minor. Around the middle of the 11th century Bagan was an ordinary a feudal city under the protection of brick walls and moat, surrounded by villages with agricultural orientation.

King  Anawrahta
King  Anawrahta making a official tour in the city

The data specified in the chronicles of the kingdom, 1044, fall together with the year of the coronation of King  Anawrahta, who transformation of the small state into a mighty one.

The economic base of the empire were agriculture, domestic as and also by trading with other countries as well. A well-organized system of irrigation whose preservation was one of the main duties of the king in peacetime rendered twice rice crops per year and rice farming was the main crop.

Bago or Pegu
Bago or Pegu is east of Yangon, ideal for a day trip
The wealth of the state and the port cities of Pegu, today Bago, at the Gulf of Martaban and Sittwe at the Gulf of Bengal drove an extensive maritime trade with India and the countries of South and East Asia, the city was in the center of this important trade routes in Indochina. The chronicles say that the residents knew several languages ​​and were known for their courtesy and business capabilities.

All this found its reflection in the cultural development, in a relative short time a Burmese script was created, which has strong similarities to India, a literature arose and achieved a respectable level.

Bagan Empire
The Empire held for quite a long time

In the time of the Bagan Empire Burmese contributed to the grammar of Pali and with comments on Holy Books of Buddhism.

By subjugating other areas wealth grew and the increasing number of prisoners of war, who were used as cheap labor forces increased and made the building boom possible. This reminds me to the building boom at Phuket and other places in southern Thailand which is mainly fueled by workforce from Myanmar, now it’s just the other way around as it was the last three hundred years thanks to lunatic communists and military. The result of such prosperous time is always expressed by art and monumental architecture intimately connected with Buddhism. Today (2014) one more parameter is added and this is nightlife to spend money for pleasure.

Bagan Arts and Crafts
Arts and Crafts, here are wall or mural paintings

The history could be divided into three periods,

the first until the 12th Century, Then the time until the start of the 12th Century the first period. It is the time of the Union of Myanmar to integrate the influence of the Mon culture. The second period until the beginning of the last third of the 12th Century was to some degree a "time of troubles" in the history of the kingdom when in the  provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim insurrection started and they were cruelly suppressed, raged as bitter power struggle between the King and the political opponents.

History and the King of Bagan
The King at an historic audience for foreigners
It was also a time of growing wealth at the expense of the conquered provinces, the period of assimilation by the traditions of the Mon-Burmese. Thus, in the late 12th Century the Mon language in literature and epigraphy was completely ousted by the rulers. The third, the Burmese period began by the end of the 12th Century and lasted the entire 13th Century until the fall of the Empire.  It was a time of a relative peaceful development of this feudal state with vast resources of men and material. Particularly intensively developed during this time was building the shrines. 

Myanmar Histort Rakhine
History seen at Rakhine's Mrauk U
Myanmar History Arakan
At Arakan at Mrauk U

They charged the inhabitants of the conquered territories with taxes and duties to invest huge funds in the "faithful" temple and monastery. It is significant that the strengthened country, similar to ancient Rome, had no walls around, with the Romans the exception was the Hadrian Wall in England. In the 11th and 12 to the early 13th Century, it was so powerful that  there was no danger of enemy armies, and it required no defenses. 

The Bagan Empire
The empire was not only made from pagodas
Day trip on the Irrawaddy with big sailing ships
Day trip on the Irrawaddy with big sailing ships

And then, when the decline began, lacked the resources and people for the construction of defensive walls. The first signs of decline were already evident in the first half of the 13th Century. Centrifugal tendencies and separatism of the feudal elite plus a controversy between the king and the clergy began to smash the foundations of the state.

Ananda Temple
The famous Ananda  is one of top monuments in the city

Ananda Temple and Shwezigon Pagoda

are probably the most popular, in appearance they easily can match the pyramid of Egypt, Boroboudor and what the Maya built, its a great exotic and monumental Buddhist environment. The monuments are optically very similar to Sukhothai and Ayutthaya in Thailand and a few places in Cambodia, but not Angkor Wat, that's more in the Hindu direction but the area is much bigger, anyway check the pagoda pictures.

Shwezigon Pagoda

The Shwezigon Pagoda is together with the Shwedagon in Yangon the most stunning implementation of a Buddhist shrine in the country. The building is incredibly impressive when you stand in front or looking from the Irrawaddy, its a great exotic and monumental environment read more.

The Shwesandaw Pagoda is another famous in the area, and one of the reason is, the building is perfectly situated to watch the sunset over the plains and the Irrawaddy, it is allowed to climb up the pyramid. Every day dozens of tourist climb up shortly before sunset to watch beautiful tropical colors on the horizon. its a real "eye candy", it needs to come a bit 
more early since the crowd is dense, more.

Earthquakes (a major one every two hundred years) and the monsoon flood, have taken their toll on some of the most important monuments, but many have been restored to their original condition. People are continuously working to renovate more of the most historically important ruins.

Ananda Temple
A other view of the Ananda in the morning

The Ananda Temple is probably the most impressive Buddhist temple structure, its always impressive to see what the people long time ago created without all this technical equipments we are used to work with today, the monument can be seen already from far away.

Ancient Bagan History
Ancient Bagan History

Day Tours

Day trips to Mount Popa, Irrawaddy Cruise, Sale Monastery and Lacquer Factory

Travel in central Myanmar means not only pagodas and temples, there is more, for sure. Although this is the driest part of the country with all the negative effects. 

There are plenty of possible trips (for details pls. check above) with interesting destinations such as Mount Popa, the Abode of the Nats, Irrawaddy Cruises, visiting a monastery having a look for the famous "cottage industry" and more. Or maybe just climb up the Shwenandaw Pagoda in the afternoon and watch the sunset behind the Irrawaddy.

The Sale Monastery
The Sale Monastery
A day tour to the Sale Monastery is one of the most popular because it's not to far (about 40 km) and the road is also not so bad. What you get in return? 

A great insight into one of the most interesting Buddhist teak construction in Central Myanmar. When you are around give it a try, it's worth it, read more.

Irrawaddy cruise in the afternoon
A Irrawaddy Cruise either with a sailing boat or a bigger one with an engine is one of the best turns around. 

The most interesting is to move along the banks in a distance and watch the people. Their live is dominated by the stream with lots of surprises and colors, give it a try, read more

Day Tour to Mount Popa
Day Tour to Mount Popa
What about a great short trip to Mount Popa, during that drive you can get a good insight into the countryside and the real spiritual life of the local people. Because although Buddhism is the official religion in the country since at least more than 500 years the believe in the ghost amd spirit system is just as strong as it was thousand years ago.

Interestingly it is identical in Thailand, no difference including the spirit houses in front of every building, read more.

Visiting Mount Popa is probably the best

This is a detour into the past and gives an idea what happen in the country before Buddhism, when the Nat Spirits where the ghosts the people prayed to.

Nat Spirits
Nat Spirits

Lokananda Pagoda

The Lokananda Pagoda has a unique location at the Irrawaddy River banks

Similar to the Bupaya stupa plenty of gold leaves are used at the bell, devotees come every day to add some more. Built in 1059 the bell already show the characteristic elongated profile, the base and the crown show the main features of the iconographic stupa.

Lokananda Pagoda at Bagan
The Stupa at Bagan
Busy traffic on the Irrawaddy River at the foot of the pagodas
Lokananda Pagoda from a different perspective
The shrine from a different perspective

The architectural design shows some indication of the transition between old Pyu and the newer Bagan style. On the bell are a few decorative elements as you can see at the pictures it is a rather simple design.

In the eastern tazaung is a sandstone Buddha sculpture of almost 2 meters high. The earthquake of 1975 damaged the shrine but not much. Today it is a preferred point for local women to sell various fruits and souvenirs because of the proximity of the Irrawaddy there is busy life. 

Shwezigon Pagoda seen from the river
Bagan Myanmar and the Ayeyarwady

Pagoda and Temple City
Pagoda and Temple City

Probably one of the best about the Lokananda Pagoda is the location which makes a great visual impression.

A Tour to Mount Popa

Almost everyone who is on holiday in Bagan is visiting Mount Popa.

There in the central plains of the country a extinct volcano pops out from the flat area and has virtually been transferred into the abode of the Nats. This mainly 37 strange guys are kind of ghosts never seen anywhere but strongly believed that they are around. Although Buddhism is the main religion the belief in this ghosts is still very alive. 

In every house they dwell, in trees etc. they are the souls of warriors and other killed in battle and now protecting people and objects (but only by imagination). Their statues are exhibited in a small temple right in front of the mountain and at almost every house in the country.

Mount Popa abode of the nats
Mount Popa abode of the Nats
Day trip to Mount Popa

Monkeys jumping aroundAt Mount Popa

At the base of the mountain is the hall with the Nats sculptures and countless of monkeys, they are quite dangerous because they are after the goggles of the tourist and once they got them they are gone, they just disappear with it. So if you ever visit this place take them off and any leave any other thing which could be snatched in the car.

The Popa Nats

Although Buddhism is the primary religion here they are similar popular, it's just the same as in Thailand where a spirit house close to every normal one can be seen.
Only the idea is a bit different, in Thailand they are also placed on the roadside where a fatal accident happen to give a place to stay for the soul of the victim, actually there are to many. 

The mountain monastery
The mountain monastery
The monastery on the volcano
The monastery on the volcano

Leaving Bagan

Traffic in the dry zone
Traffic in the dry zone

Another type of spirit
Carrying fire wood.jpgThey catch the juice of toddy palms and make a high percentage liquor from.

caravan to the market

Street market in the morning
Street market in the morning
Road travel on the way
Road travel on the way

Lacquer ware shopping
Lacquer ware shopping