What’s the best way to experience the magical wonder of Bagan, Myanmar—home to the largest and most densely concentrated collection of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas, and ruins…some of which date back to the 11th century?

A hot air balloon ride, of course!

The sheer number of temples and ruins dotting the lush 26-square-mile plain is a sight to behold, and the best way to appreciate this archeological gem is with a hot air balloon ride.

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has reopened its doors to tourism, making it a destination filled with opportunities to discover hidden treasures. Bagan is one such location, with plenty of sights that have yet to be explored by tourists. As you soar above this beautiful land, you’ll see temples rising from the ground, dotted with palms and tamarind trees.

The country’s history and culture are on full display in Bagan, with its beautiful buildings and fascinating ruins that have stood the test of time. Whether you are looking for a serene, spiritual experience, or an adventure to discover an unspoiled destination, Bagan is a must-visit on your travel bucket list.

An Introduction to Bagan’s Temples and Landscapes

Located along the Irrawaddy River, Bagan is an otherworldly destination of lush plains dotted with palms and tamarind trees—and thousands of Buddhist temples, stupas, pagodas, and ruins. While the number of tourists and vendors has increased in recent years, it’s still a place that offers a wonderful opportunity to experience Southeast Asia’s history and culture. The area’s religious significance is reflected in the temples’ stunning architecture, frescoes, and ornate statues of Buddha.

The history of Bagan is as fascinating as it is beautiful. The temples were built between 1057 and 1287 by the kings of Bagan, but many were destroyed by earthquakes and invading armies led by Kublai Khan and his Mongol army. Regardless, more than 2,200 of the original 4,400 temples still stand today, many of which are in excellent condition. Exploring the temples of Bagan, you’ll see they’re adorned with exquisite frescoes, intricate carvings, and ornate statues of Buddha.

In addition to the temples, Bagan’s beauty extends to the surrounding landscape, which is dotted with farms and small villages. If you have the opportunity for a hot air balloon ride here, you’ll love a sunset flight, complete with hues of red, orange, and pink.

Highlights of Visiting Bagan

Visiting Bagan, Myanmar’s City of Temples - Frayed Passport

Photo by Yves Alarie on Unsplash

Bagan combines awe-inspiring beauty, cultural significance, and historical importance. Despite its incredible beauty and cultural significance, it remains relatively undiscovered, with only a small number of tourists visiting each year. It’s perfect for those seeking to escape the craziness of everyday life and immerse themselves in the tranquility of ancient temples.

For years, the only way to explore Bagan was by horse cart, but now visitors have the option to explore the flat, vast space by bicycle or electric bike, providing a more immersive experience. No matter how you choose to explore, the sheer number and diversity of Bagan’s temples will leave you breathless. While it’s impossible to see all 2,000-plus temples in one trip, here are the top 5 temples that you should not miss:

Ananda Temple

This is the holiest temple in Bagan, built in 1091. It houses four Buddhas facing the cardinal directions, symbolizing the four Buddhas who have attained Nirvana. Ananda comes from the Pali word anantapannya, meaning “boundless wisdom.”

Shewsandaw Temple

Known as the “sunset temple” and is a popular gathering point to view the vibrant Bagan sunset. Visitors need to climb a narrow flight of stairs for five minutes, but the breathtaking views are worth the effort, as the sky lights up with color over the temples and landscape.

Shwegugyi Temple

This is a good alternative for watching the sunset. Commissioned by King Alaunsithu in 1131, Shwegugyi Temple is one of the best-preserved temples in the area, with impressive carvings and intricate architecture.

Thatbyinnyu Temple

The tallest pagoda at the site, Thatbyinnyu Temple was built in the 12th century and reaches a height of 66 meters. It is an impressive structure that reflects the region’s rich cultural and religious history.

Gubyaukgyi Temple

Located in Wetkyi-Inn Village, this is modeled after the famous Bodh Gaya temple in India. It features a rooftop with an excellent view of the surrounding area, as well as murals depicting scenes from the Jataka tales, literature native to India that tell about the previous lives of the Buddha.

The main jumping-off point for exploring Bagan is Nyaung-U, which has the most hotels, restaurants, and tour options. Two miles to the west is tiny Old Bagan, a quiet village whose inhabitants were forcibly relocated in 1990 to New Bagan, two miles to its south.

The journey to Bagan typically starts in Yangon, where you can catch a domestic flight, bus, or train. The bus and train may be less comfortable, but they offer a scenic route that winds north from Yangon.

Exploring Bagan is not limited to the temples, and visitors can also explore the surrounding areas, such as Mount Popa, a sacred mountain, Salay, a religious center from the 12th century with colonial-era buildings, or take a short boat trip to enjoy the sunset at Nyaung-U.

With its awe-inspiring beauty, cultural significance, and historical importance, Bagan is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the rich history and traditions of Southeast Asia!

Recommended Reading about Myanmar

The Glass Palace: A Novel by Amitav Ghosh

The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma by Thant Myint-U

Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin

Featured image via Unsplash.

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