Myanmar

The Best of Bagan Pagodas

#124 The Best of Bagan, Cover

There are over 2,200 temples and pagodas in Bagan, Myanmar. They survived earthquakes, political turmoil, and time to the present day. After the 2016 earthquakes, many sites, unfortunately, have to be scaffold against the top and are even prohibited to climb or enter. (Not to mention I just saw the news today about a pagoda collapsed in front of our eyes when the river is flooded!) Still, I couldnโ€™t deny the absolute beauty and find my inner peace when I was sitting on top of a pagoda, waiting for the sunrise. Together with Angkor Wat (in Cambodia) and Borobudur (in Indonesia), these three sites are claimed to be the three greatest and largest ensemble of Buddhist heritage in the world. However, Bagan is yet โ€œcommercializedโ€ as compared with the other two sites; therefore tourists are given an opportunity to have a more lay back experience.

Bagan Sunrise 1

The Bagan archaeological zone is around 100 sq. km and not as large as the Angkor Archaeological Park. Most temples are mainly located in the area among New Bagan, Old Bagan, and Nyaung-U (the main town in the northeast near the airport and bus station).

Bagan Sunrise 2Yes, tourists come to in Bagan mainly (or solely?) for the temples but it doesnโ€™t mean what they see would all be the same. I visited a number of major temples (in my longyi) and I was pleasantly surprised that each of these temples has their own unique feature or interesting story. To visit these temples, some may hire a horse carriage, some may get a driver, and some may ride a bike; I hired the driver on the way from the airport to the hotel. Whatโ€™s more, we experienced a lot more about the Burmese history, food and culture than temples. I will be sharing the โ€œmust-dosโ€ in Myanmar soon enough. Now, I will go through the highlights in Old Bagan – which are simply – the best.ย Do you have any other in your list that’s not listed here?

Manuha Temple: Unique Structure and Intriguing History


Bagan 1 Manuha 0

The name โ€œManuhaโ€ was given after the captive Mon king from Thaton. Most of the temples and pagodas are shaped like a pyramid and so, Manuha stands out with its different structure. The Buddha statues all seem too big for their enclosures, with a smile on their faces showing that for Manuha only death was a release from his suffering. This is one of the first places that Aung San Suu Kyi visited when she was released from the house arrest โ€“ maybe it was because of the history of this temple and she saw the resemblance?

We went to Manuha right after we saw the sunrise, not only we saw a nice reflection of the sun with the temple, it was also the time when the monks collecting alms! I will talk about a little more about this Buddhist tradition in the future.

 

Bagan 1 Manuha 1

Monks collect alms

Gubyaukgyi Temple: The Best Decorated


Bagan 2 Gubyaukgyi Temple 0

The Gubyaukgyi temple is built 900 years ago by Prince Yazakumar of the Pagan Dynasty. The temple is important as it has a large array of well-preserved frescoes, the oldest original paintings to be found in Bagan. The frescoes are captioned by ink in Old Mon, providing one of the earliest evidence of the language used in ancient Myanmar. It was dark as we entered the Pagoda so I couldnโ€™t see anything. Once we turn on our lights we could see the delicate paintings on the wall like tomb raiders.

Besides, the temple is located very close to two stone pillars that were found inscribed by four ancient Southeast Asian languages: Pali, Old Mon, Old Burmese, and Pyu. The inscription provides evidence about these ancient cultures and these are the keys to cracking the Pyu language.

Tip: Bring a handy torch as some of the temples are very dark; and you canโ€™t appreciate the impressive mural printings in the darkness.

Ananda Temple: The Most Beautiful


Bagan 3 Ananda Temple 0If you have been to the famous Ananda temple you would agree why it lives up to the hype. If you are checking out the 10 must-sees, 5 must-sees, or 3 must-sees temples in Old Bagan โ€“ Ananda would probably still remain in the list. In terms of Architecture, this glowing masterpiece is the best persevered and holds the title of being โ€œthe most beautifulโ€. The temple was built during the reign of King Kyanzittha, who instructed the architects to make sure the uniqueness of Ananda. One iconic feature would be its spires that radiant in the sun as they are covered in gold.

There are four Buddha statues around the temple and each of them represents different parts of Buddhaโ€™s teachings. The ground and the terraces are paved with glazed tiles. The Buddha statues in the inner courtyard are interesting, too. They seem scowling when you look at it up close and seem the scowl would soften and becomes a full grin when you step back.

Thatbyinnyu Temple: The Tallest


Bagan 4 Thatbyinnyu Temple 0Thatbyinnyu is known for being the tallest in Bagan. The temple is built in the mid-12th century and it is so neatly constructed that a knife blade couldnโ€™t pass between the bricks. The temple was seriously damaged after the earthquake and so, unfortunately, now itโ€™s not allowed to climb up the building. Towering above the other monuments of Bagan, Thatbyinnyu dominates the Baganโ€™s skyline; Try, no matter which angle you aim through your camera, the temple will always give you a perfect host.

Bagan 4 Thatbyinnyu Temple 2

Shwesandaw Pagoda: Sunrise. Sunset.


Bagan 5 Shwesandaw Pagoda 0King Anawrahta, the founder of the Burmese Kingdom, built Shwesandaw Pagoda after his conquest of the then Mon Capital, Thaton. If you ask any guide or locals that where to go to watch the perfect sunrise and sunset in Bagan, this is the place, and itโ€™s hard to argue why. It is the pagoda that tourists could climb up and sit down for a perfect panoramic view โ€“ and itโ€™s purely majestic and breathtaking. Be warned, it could be quite crowded in peak season and save yourself a good seat by arriving the pagoda a little bit early. Besides, prepare to a bit of workout with a steep climb to the top!

Dhammayangyi Temple: The Largest


Bagan 6 Dhammayangyi Temple 0Dhammayangyi was built by King Narathu, and itโ€™s known for being the โ€œlargest of them allโ€. It was built so large because the King came to the throne by assassinating his father and elder brother, and he thought building this largest temple as a way to compensate his sins. The huge pyramid-shaped Temple dominates Baganโ€™s skyline on the opposite side of Thatbyinnyu Temple. If you think the outside of the building impressed you already, itโ€™s even more majestic when you wander, bare foot, around the giant corridors inside, and see the magnificent drawings with the naked eye.

Bagan 6 Dhammayangyi Temple 7

Bagan 6 Dhammayangyi Temple 3

The gates impressed me as well!

Shwezigon: The Oldest & Grandest


Bagan 7 Shwezigon 0The Pagoda reminded me so much of the Shwedagon in Yangon, but make no mistake, Shwezigon is much older than Shwedagon and it is considered to be the most significant monument for then- newly found Theravada Buddhism in Bagan. Itโ€™s located close to Nyaung-Uโ€™s city center and away from the rest of the famous Temples in Old Bagan. Yet itโ€™s one of the busiest because it is believed that the temple is the most โ€œeffectiveโ€. Every day, thousands of worshiper come and pray, while the markets on the four sides of the temple make it more crowded.

 

 

Bagan 7 Shwezigon 2

The locals love taking photos with Caucasian foreigners!

Gawdawpalin Temple: The Temple of Forgiveness


Bagan 9 Gawdawpalin Temple 0Gawdaepalin was built in the 12th century by King Narapatisithu, and itโ€™s known as the โ€œtemple of forgivenessโ€. Same as King Narathu, he committed a terrible crime against his ancestors and he had gone blind for his sins. The temple was built as a result to paid obeisance in atonement for what he had done. Gawdawpalin is one of the largest temples in Bagan.

Htilominlo Temple: The Last Temple Built


Bagan 10 Htilominlo Temple 0

Htilominlo Temple is put in last because it is also the last Myanmar style temple built, in 1218, by King Htilominlo. Legend has it the temple was built in the same place where he was selected as the next King by his father. The five princes were standing in a circle in this place with a white umbrella in the center. The next king was decided to depend on who the umbrella was pointing at when it fell. The temple was built with red bricks and it has a similar design to the earlier Sulamani Pahto and Gawdawpalin Temples, both built by Htilominloโ€™s father. Again, like many other temples, Htilominlo was seriously damaged after an earthquake in 1975 and the second floor was now closed to tourists.

29 thoughts on “The Best of Bagan Pagodas

    • Have a nice trip Chloe! Hot air balloon is seasonal in Bagan, therefore if you would like to go for the hot air balloon experience, you have to be there during winter. I went there during Sangkran and missed the balloon๐Ÿ˜‘

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  1. Oh wow, 2,200 temples and pagodas in Bagan! Thank ufor going into so much detail about each – I’ve seen the photos of hot air ballooning above Bagan to see spectacular views of the temples, but not found any information about actually visiting each individual one. Nice to know it’s affordable enough to hire a private driver – bike could be a fun way to organize a pagoda hop too.

    Ananda really does look like such a beautiful example of architecture, and I also mistook Shwezigon at first for what I’ve seen of Shwedagon in Yangon. Very cool to know that while similar, it’s actually a much older and more significant monument. Thanks for such deep insights!

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    • Thanks Meg and yes, the hot air balloon ride is only seasonal in Bagan, therefore if you would like to go for the hot air balloon experience, you have to be there during winter. But I heard the price upsurged these days due to overwhelming demand. ๐Ÿ˜จ

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  2. wow, you have opened to my eyes a world of temple. Yes, the number 2,200 temples and pagodas in Bagan is som impressive. The famous Ananda temple looks simple from outsite but so beautiful to see insides. I will notive this as visiting Bagan. Thanks.

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  3. The Pagoda are fascinating and each one seems to be unique. Each one of the Pagoda seems to tell its own story. Would love to visit and explore one Pagoda at a time. My favourite seems to be Shwesandaw Pagoda , would love to climb it and watch the sunset.

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  4. Thank you for the trouble you have taken putting together this post. For those of us in the North and West, Myanmar is a land of mysteries, and it is so important these links to its ancient past should be preserved. They are beautiful, yes, but they are also messengers from another time.

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    • Thank you very much frederick for stopping by and share with us your comments. There are lots of heritage and treasure that we need to protect and understand! โ˜บ๏ธ

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  5. How special to be able to see these for yourself (although it must have been really bizarre to see one collapse in front of you). I love how different they all are from one another. I’d especially like to see the Gubyaukgyi temple and those drawings on the walls.

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  6. I’ve never been anywhere in Asia and I can only imagine the beauty of these pagodas. Such intricate designs! It’s a good think they began reinforcing them after these earthquakes.

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    • That’s exciting! I would highly recommend Bagan – hire a driver for the day and visit the major temples, and then rent a bike (or usually the resort / hostel has it) to explore the town.

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