Myanmar – BaganBack to Story

Bagan - The Land of Temples

Bagan is justifiably famous for being the “city of four million pagodas”, in fact there are over 2000. In a relatively compact 42 square kilometres you can see more pagodas than you can probably do justice. Formerly known as Pagan this was the former capital of the Burmese Kingdom from 1044 -1287AD. Most of the temples were built during this time in order to gain religious merit. There are a mixture of both stupa’s and temples in the archeological zone with UNESCO describing the key difference being that a stupa is a solid object where a temple you can walk into and often contains Buddha images of worship inside.

Either way you can spend days exploring these amazing buildings which while use similar brick building materials differ greatly in size, style and decorations. Most of the temples and pagodas were built during the 11th to the 13th Century and it was during this period and shortly after that Pagan as it was known was a Buddhist learning and cultural centre attracting pilgrims and monks alike. There are so many to visit that you could spend a week exploring and still wish you had more time.

Myoe Daung Monastery

This Monastery in Old Bagan was one of my favourite visits. It is a fine example of 19th Century monastic architecture. The wood carving is beautiful and very intricate. The building dates to the Kon-baung period and shows the skills well. There is also a series of smaller building which the monks use today including a basic kitchen. If you haven’t seen a traditional teak monastery in your time in Myanmar then you’ve missed an important piece of architecture.

Shwezigon Pagoda

Shwezigon Pagoda is the cities main active pagoda and also an important site for pilgrims to this day. As you arrive in the temple you will be sure to notice some pilgrims dressed in white which is the colour of choice for buddhist pilgrims. There were also monks and nuns visiting the pagoda when I was there. The temple was completed during the reign of King Kyanzittha (1084-1113) and said to enshrine a replica of the Buddha tooth relic which can be seen in Kandy, Sri Lanka. ZeeGlobe is obviously doing a tour of Tooth Relic temples as there is also one in Singapore.

The temple is ablaze in gold and the bell shape of the pagoda was to influence the design of many of Myanmar’s later pagoda’s. If you walk around you can see enamel plaques telling the stories of the previous lives of the Buddha. This pagoda was one of the first apparently where the monarchy acknowledged the worship of the nats which are the spirits that were worshiped in Myanmar before Buddhism came to the country. Many temples combine their faith to include recognition of the nats.

Ananda Temple

Ananda Temple is also well worth the journey to visit. It was completed in 1105 by King Kyanzittha. Architecturally it is said to mark the end of the Old Bagan era and the beginning of the Middle Period. The layout is said to reflect a perfect greek cross and is extremely well preserved. The temple is occasionally white washed and has had the spires gilded in 1990 as part of celebrations.

The temple contains four giant standing Buddha’s. The interesting thing to note is that as you change your proximity to the Kassapa Buddha in the South the expression on the Buddha changes from being serious to laughing. The inner corridors also contain murals of scenes from the Buddha’s life or Jakata. The corridors are very interesting to wonder through from an architectural perspective as well as for the Buddhist aspects.

Life in Bagan

The other interesting thing to do is go and explore and see the daily life as it exists in and around Bagan today. There are no houses allowed within the archeological zone but you will see farmers out working. It was interesting to see crops being grown in and around many of the pagodas. Ox and cart still do the heavily lifting in the fields and you can often turn a corner to see these magnificent animals hauling a loaded cart. Crops are often harvested and sorted by hand and goats can be seen being herded around. It gives you the feeling that nothing much has changed for many of the local people living in this area over the centuries.

The local market is also well worth visiting – although you will see many of your fellow visitors there as well. Here daily produce is sold and household goods. In the early morning novice monks can be seen walking around the stalls to receive their alms. You can see vendors selling the Thanaka cream – which is made from grinding the bark of a tree. It is a cosmetic worn by woman and children. It is said to protect their skin from the sun and wind and is the creamy colour you can see on their faces.

Understanding the local life would not be complete without going to the Ayeyarwaddy River which plays an important role not only in the life of those in Bagan but of course many in Myanmar. The river provides many with the livelihood and importantly their transport. There are cargo vessels moving up and down the river selling produce and you can see some of the larger boats moving up and down. But people from nearby villages also use the river to bring their market produce to town and also to buy anything they need in return. Children can be seen swimming in the river and many people wash in the river.

Staying in Bagan

These days most of the premium hotels are in what is known as Old Bagan in the Archaeology Zone itself. Bagan Hotel which is a great location but the rooms are dated and service is slow. Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort has an excellent reputation as providing the best service in the area. My experience with resort and tourist restaurants is that they are expensive (by local standards) and the food is somewhat bland. Try one of the many local spots and you will be rewarded with much tastier food.

Your options for getting around to see the stupa’s is to either walk (it’s a long way), rent a bicycle or hire a driver / guide. Another popular thing to do is to take a hot air balloon over the temples at sunrise. This isn’t a cheap option but everyone I spoke to who went up said they enjoyed it.

Shwezigon Pagoda, temples, novice monks

Back to Story

ZeeGlobe Feedback