If you haven’t heard of Bagan then you need to stop reading this article right now and type it into Google Images. All done? Good. Bagan is a place beyond belief; a lush plain peppered with crumbling, ancient temples – each of which tells its own tale. If Myanmar is on your to-do list then it would be remiss to skip a visit to this mystical site.
The easiest way to visit Bagan is by an Irrawaddy river cruise. These cruises offer guided tours of the city and its temples, as well as other highlights of Myanmar. Of course, given that there are over 2,200 temples and pagodas at the site of Bagan, seeing and learning about all of them is not realistic. We recommend arriving a day or two before your river cruise to explore the less-visited temples. To assist you in deciding which temples to put on your must-visit list we have compiled a list of our top 5 temples of Bagan’s archaeological site to visit.
Rising up majestically out of the earth to a height of 61m, Thatbyinnyu is the tallest of all the monuments in Bagan – this alone makes it worthy of a visit. The temple was built in 1144 and its name translates literally as ‘omniscience’. From the top of the temple, travelers can expect to see one of the most staggering views they’ve ever encountered. Many choose to ascend to the top terrace for sunrise or sunset as this is when Bagan is at its most beautiful. If you are looking for a magnificent temple that’s going to look perfect in your photo album then Thatbyinnyu is definitely one of the best options.
Coming in just behind Thatbyinnyu in terms of height and sitting at 55m, Gawdawpalin is another of Bagan’s more picturesque temples. While its exterior is certainly a sight to behold, there is yet more wonder within as Gawdawpalin boasts a number of impressive Buddha images placed upon raised pedestals. The architecture of the temple is intricate as well, making the entire complex fascinating to explore. Despite the extensive restoration the temple has undergone because of damage caused by an earthquake, it is still one of Bagan’s most incredible structures.
Big, bold and beautiful, Ananda deserves a place on your Bagan itinerary. This temple was built in 1105 but has been significantly restored since the earthquake that took place in 1975. According to legend, when it was first built the King had the architects executed immediately after so that they would not be able to build any more temples, meaning that his would be unique. Wandering through the temple, you can see why the King wanted to keep the design for himself. Buddha statues sit regally throughout the corridors and intricate tiles detailing the life of Buddha cover the floor. Every year between December and January, a festival takes place at this temple. The festival lasts for three days and draws in Burmese Buddhists from far and wide to join in the celebrations. There are also as many as 1,000 monks there chanting every day throughout this festive period.
While Thatbyinnyu and Gawdawpalin take the crowns when it comes to height, Ananda reigns champion in overall size. Not only is this temple incredibly impressive to look at but it also has a fascinating history. The story goes that the temple was built by King Narathu in homage to himself after he killed his father in order to take the throne. He ruled over a brutal regime, executing anyone who displeased him, until one day he ordered the execution of an Indian princess. Her father wanted revenge for the death of his innocent daughter and sent in 8 men to assassinate the King. For this reason, the temple was never completed.
Being the most frequented of all the temples of Bagan, Sulamani is not the best place to go if you want to explore in silence. Hawkers tend to congregate here, offering tours among other things and other travelers fill the halls and corridors. That being said, there is a reason why Sulamani is among the most popular of all the temples – its beautiful frescoes, stuccoes and other ornamental pieces are certainly part of the reason. The other part could come down to the sublime lighting that filters into the temple, illuminating its inner beauty.
With over 2,200 monuments on offer, choosing just 5 is a challenge so do not consider this an exhaustive list of everything you should see. Take your time, do your research and compile your very own itinerary. This is a sure-fire way to make sure your trip to Bagan is a memory you will never forget.
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