Myanmar travel destinations almost always include one of the great archaeological sites in the world, the once Royal City of Bagan, which was ‘merely’ the seat of a vast kingdom that flourished as the world center of Theravadan Buddhism for nearly a thousand years. Through many kings and city incarnations the empire grew inexorably toward its apex. The first king was Thamodarit, who claimed his throne in the early 100′s A.D.. The great walled city, with 12 gates and moat, wasn’t built until 849 by the 34th king, Pyinbya. Though there were thousands of Buddhist temples in a dizzying array of styles built over the ages, most of them were made of teak and other woods, until the trees grew too far away and Bagan devolved into a dry dusty plain along the banks of the Irrawaddy.
It was King Anawrahta in 1044 who began the great surge in brick temple building, which actually had its origins during the Thamodarit era a millennium earlier. Most all the temples standing today were constructed between 1044 and 1283, which represent the two and a half centuries of Bagan’s height of power and influence. By 1287 it is estimated that some 13,000 temples had been built , which stood as a grand target Kublai Khan and his Mongol hordes could not resist. Or did they? Recent findings indicate they may not have reached the city at all, and if they did, destroyed little. Bagan fell apart for many reasons, and the mere threat of a Mongol invasion may have been the last straw.
The 2,220 temples, payas and zedis that survive are yours to explore as you will. Most are of serious interest only to archaeologists, but the grandest and most well preserved are a marvel to anyone, inside and out. The views from atop one of the temples across the temple-plain, especially at dawn with the rising mists, are an enthralling journey of the imagination into the mysteries of antiquity.
The Sights – The Bagan Archaeological Museum, and 2,000 Ancient Temples! Major temples of interest are Ananda, Shwe-zigon, Htilominlo, Gawdawpalin, Dhammayangyi, Shwesandaw and more. *You can fly over the vast temple-scape and the Irrawaddy River in a hot air balloon for about $310 if you book ahead. Highly recommended! All British made balloons & pilots.
Luminous Restaurants – Best Burmese & ambiance: Green Elephant (in New Bagan and riverfront location); Best Vegetarian: San Thi Dar Restaurant (opposite the Archeological Museum); Best All Around Asian, Burmese, Italian: Star Beam, (Anawrahta Road, north of Ananda Temple); Best Burger Joint: Weather Spoons.
Shopping: Myinkaba Village boasts nearly 600 family Lacquerware makers. Among the best are Chan Tar Workshop, Ever Stand Workshop, and Golden Bagan Laquerware Shop. Vases and pottery are also widely available.
Extensions/Excursions – Mt. Popa, Salay, Zee-O Village, Ngathayork Village. Bagan is a main transition point to reach Chin State and Mt. Victoria by road, about 8 hours.