I tend to think of myself as a jaded traveler in Southeast Asia. Having seen all of the ancient monuments of Southeast Asia, I didn't think I could be impressed by anything again. Of course, I had read up on Bagan before my first trip there, but I still wasn't prepared for the scale of the place. It's one thing to read about more than 2,000 temples built in an area of just 42 square kilometers, it's quite another to see it for real.
We arrived in Bagan around sunset, and on the drive from the airport to our hotel, an endless line of pagodas and temples could be seen just outside the car's windows. In the light of the next day, the amazing scope of Bagan became clear, as a seemingly endless cluster of monuments stretched from the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy River to the horizon.
But let's not get too carried away. Comparisons to Angkor Wat are probably inevitable, but Bagan is a very different place. None of the monuments at Bagan are a match for the size of the temples of Angkor, but what Bagan lacks in scale, it makes up for in numbers. While there are less than 50 monuments at Angkor, there are more than 2,000 temples still standing at Bagan.
The area around Bagan has been settled since the second century AD, and in 849 King Pyinbya built the walls of the city, the remains of which can still be seen today. The "golden age" of Bagan, when most of the temples were built, began with ascension to the throne of King Anawrahta in 1044.
The temple building began after King Anawrahta conquered the Lower Burma Mon kingdom of Thaton in 1057. The king had converted to Theravada Buddhism and set about spreading it throughout the land. The practice was carried on by most of his successors, and by the time Kublai Khan's armies overran Bagan in 1287, there were some 13,000 temples, pagodas and other religious structures spread across the plain.
The first of the monuments built by King Anawrahta was the Shwesandaw Pagoda, making this as good a place as any to start with. Most of the monuments are along the two roads running between Old Bagan and Nyaung Ou (see map). From Shwesandaw, the next notable monument is the last Bamar style temple built in Bagan, the Hitlominlo Temple. Next would be the Gubyaukngi Temple, with its fine murals.
From Gubyaukngi Temple, the next logical stop would be the golden spire of the Shwezigon Pagoda. Traveling back towards Old Bagan, you'll come to Ananda Temple, then the Tharabha Gate, and ending up at Thatbyinnyu Temple.
Archaeological Zone Entrance Fees
An entrance fee of US$10 must be paid by each person visiting Bagan. The fee may be paid on arrival at the airport.