If you are visiting Myanmar, I am sure you wouldn’t skip Bagan. And among the top things to do in Bagan are temples. The fantastic pictures of Bagan Pagodas with hot air balloons and mountains in the backdrop will make you take the Bagan trip. At least, that’s what made me go. And, yes, you’ll be thrilled at first sight of thousands of Bagan Pagodas sprinkled all over. With over 1000 temples, how to pick the best Bagan Pagodas? Don’t worry, this Bagan travel guide for best Bagan temples will help you make the decisions. Read on to find out.
Introduction of Bagan – A brief history of Bagan Pagodas in Myanmar before moving to the best temples – The archaeological zone in Bagan is a UNESCO world heritage listed site. It used to consist of more than 10000 temples and monuments! Why are there so many temples in Bagan?
Well, in 1044, King Anawrahta established the Bagan Kingdom, which was called as Pagan. The kingdom was initially tiny. Plus, Bagan’s land is dry, and although located close to Irrawaddy, people relied on other means for living. But once the kingdom was formed, many dams, reservoirs and canals were built to use water for farming. It changed the landscape of Bagan, making it fertile inhabiting more people at the end of the 11th century.
Also, King Anawrahta got introduced to Theravada Buddhism soon after. To promote Buddhism, he took up construction of thousands of Bagan pagodas, temples and monuments. During his 30+ years of rule, the kingdom expanded, so did the number of Bagan Pagodas.
The kings in the 12th and 13th century added more and more Bagan temples because it gave merit. During these centuries, the Bagan Kingdom reached its glory, on par with the neighbouring Khmer Empire in Cambodia. These two were the richest and dominant kingdoms in SE Asia at that time.
Fall of Bagan Empire – Over 10,000 temples built, the land available for farming reduced, which unfortunately was one of the causes for its decline. The attacks by Mongol and other neighbouring kingdoms brought an end to the glory of Bagan.
With that, most of Bagan became abandoned again, and by the 15th century, it became a site of pilgrimage for the Burmese. Apart from the few prominent temples, most of the Bagan Pagodas, wooden Royal Palace and other buildings perished with time.
Bagan presently is home to over 2000 temples, many of which need maintenance. I guess these remaining Bagan temples will be preserved as I saw a lot of renovation and restoration going on.
If you found the history of Bagan interesting, wait for the best of Bagon Pagodas. Here is a list of best Bagan temples that you can visit on your first Bagan trip.
My favourite of all Bagan Pagodas is Dhammangayi Temple, the largest of all, which looks like one of the Incan pyramids. Its vast size makes it one of the dominating temples in the area. You can’t skip the biggest Bagan Pagoda.
Plus, the temple has a fascinating history. King Narathu, who built this temple, became the emperor after murdering his father and brother. Worried that bad Karma would get back at him and to seek some good merit, he constructed this vast temple.
This temple is exclusive because of its unique location. It is situated on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, from where you can get some stunning panoramic views of the mountains and the river.
It is also the oldest Bagan Pagoda in the city. Another reason not to skip this. The sign at the entrance states that it was built in the year 300 AD, many centuries before the Bagan Kingdom. Bu Phaya means the temple in the shape of a gourd. At this place, the farmers couldn’t grow due to gourds that destroyed crops. King Pyusawhti solved this problem and built a pagoda here. Go here during the evening to watch a fantastic sunset.
I know, the name is similar to Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Well, it’s not just the name, the Pagoda is enormous and golden as well resembling the Yangon one. The best time to visit this temple is at night when it is lit, and the golden colour shines through.
The golden stupa is the most impressive part of this Pagoda. It was one of the first temples built in Bagan and started the tradition of constructing large temples. If you travel to Bagan In December, visit this temple for a unique festival that takes place here, during which Shwezigon Pagoda is decorated.
The most touristy of all Bagan Pagodas is Ananda Pagoda. It is a giant white Pagoda housing majestic standing Buddha covered in gold. You should visit this temple because of its grand structure and the serene-looking Buddhas. The best time to visit Anand Phaya is early in the morning in the evening if you want to escape crowds.
The beautifully sculpted temple is topped with a golden tower or Shikara. The architecture is North Indian style, which was brought here by the Indian monks who visited the King. So you’ll notice that it is different in a manner than the other Bagan temples, which follow the Burmese architectural style.
Sulamani Pagoda lies away from the main road and is one of those large temples that stand out in the group. You should visit this temple for the grand tiered architecture. It is one of the popular Bagan Pagodas that can’t be skipped.
Gawdawpalin is the second-largest Bagan temple, and one of the four white Bagan Pagodas. It is also one of the temples built during the best times of Bagan empire, which is reflected in its rich architecture.
It is very similar to Gawdawpalin in architecture and is one of the white and large temples in Bagan. Visit this between other brick temples to have a mix of Pagodas.
Shwesandaw Pagoda is my favourite among the white temples. To begin with, it is tall – 328 feet high. Plus the stupa resides on top of five levels of square terraces with steep steps leading to the top(which you can no longer climb).
The perfectly symmetrical terraces are carved with motifs – all of these make it an impressive monument. If you want to choose between the four large white temples, I’d recommend you to keep this one.
Bulethi is one of the unique among Bagan Pagodas. It is located on a hilltop, and its architecture is a mix of Bagan and Sri Lankan style. Sculpted square terraces are leading to a bulbous top, which is unique to this temple. Visit Bulethi to feel this difference.
Htilominlo is one of the large temples known for its magnificent architecture, named after King Htilominlo. Designed in Indian architectural style, it’s three-storeyed that is sculpted, with a Shikara or a tower at the top.
It is also one of the well-maintained Bagan Pagodas. It is located close to Bulethi, and you can combine them in a visit.
One of the temples that I loved is Dhammayazika pagoda. It is off the touristy list, which cuts down the number of people visiting. It is very neatly kept, has a garden and shady places to relax( which you’ll be craving for in that hot weather). The temple is worth visiting for its vast golden dome-shaped stupa at the centre, and the intricately decorated terrace.
PS: I got confused with Dhammayangi( which spell similar except the last part), which I am mentioning here to tell don’t be like me.
If you want to go offbeat, Seinnyet Sister Pagodas are worth adding toyour list. They are 12th century, small twin temples dedicated to Queen Seinnyet and her sister.
Gubyaukgyi is one of the few remaining cave temples in Bagan as most of them are gone. It is a small pagoda built in Indian style but worth visiting for its architecture and encaved shrine.
Pyathadar is one of the last large temples in Bagan. It is worth visiting its architecture – large brick outer structure houses a double cave monastery, which was earlier surrounded by wooden structures.
It is also one of those prominent temples built during the peak period of the Bagan kingdom.
Again, one of the last large Bagan Pagodas built is Mingalazedi, known for intricate carvings of the Jataka tales of Buddha. The stepped terraces with a stupa on the top – it’s a classic example of a Bagan temple style.
Myazedi Pagoda is one of the temples with a beautiful large golden gilded stupa. But the temple is in this list of worth visiting Bagan monuments for the Myazedi stone inscription. It is the oldest stone inscription of Burma ever discovered.
The inscription has a mixture of 4 ancient languages – Pali, Pyu, Old Burmese and Mon and consists of a story of a King and his father.
One of the worth visiting temples in Old Bagan is Mahabodhi. It is a small pagoda built replicating the temple of Mahabodhi located in India, the place where Buddha attained enlightenment over 3000 years ago.
If you have time or you don’t mind adding two more pagodas to your list, I would suggest checking these two.
Lawkananda Stupa is another temple influenced by India. It is a simple Pagoda in style with a golden top, but what makes it worth visiting is its location. It sits on the other side on the banks of Irrawaddy, and the sunset views are gorgeous.
If you want to watch a sunset for views something apart from the silhouettes of the temples, Lawkananda is the place.
Thisa Wadi or Thitsawadi is one of the last major Bagan temples to be built. Just after its completion was the start of the decline after Bagan empire was invaded.
It is located away from all the famous temples. Why should you visit This Wadi? Until a year ago, it was one of the few temples available to watch the sunset from the top. Now that it’s not possible, you should visit to get off the beaten path in Bagan.
Most likely, you would be the only tourist. And also, there are scores of smaller temples on the way in case you wish to get lost amidst Bagan Pagodas.
With so many temples in Bagan, you might get confused and end up messing up and mixing things, which I guess is quite reasonable. For you to remember better and choose your temples, I have come up with these Bagan temples category ideas.
Large Bagan Temples – Dhammangayi, Sulamani, Shwezigon, Htilominlo, Pyathadar, Bulethi and Mingalazedi
Large White Bagan Pagodas – Ananda, Gawdawpalin, Shwesandaw, and Thatbyinnyu
Other smaller Bagan Pagodas – Bu Phaya, Dhammayazika, Gubyaukgyi,Thisawadi, Lawkananda, Myazedi, Mahabodhi andSeinnyet sisters
Editor’s note: Read this complete guide to find out the options for getting from Yangon to Bagan.
Keep these Bagan temples map handy, especially if you don’t have the internet on your phone. Alternatively, you can download a map of
Bagan Myanmar on maps.me, which works offline.
If you are wondering how to explore all these temples, there are 3 to 4 ways to do so.
E-bikes – The most popular among the travelers is E-bike. Foreigners are prohibited from riding any motor vehicle in Myanmar. So you can opt for these E-bikes, which come around 2500 Kyat per day. If you have excellent negotiating skills and buy for 2 or 3 days, you get the best price. The price of these E-bikes at your hostel or hotel might be slightly higher. It is better to rent from the shops, which are found in plenty in Old Bagan, New Bagan as well as Nyuang U.
Bikes – Getting around Bagan in bikes is fun if you can bear the hot sun. You can rent one for 1500 Kyats or lesser. Perfect for solo travelers on a budget.
Tuk-Tuks – These days, renting these tuk-tuks have become popular bridging the gap between expensive taxis and the bikes. The advantage is you can escape the hot weather, which will exhaust you quickly. The price depends on the places you want to cover.
The best way is to negotiate and arrange a full-day/half-day tours, which will allow you to cover more attractions at the best prices.
Taxis – The most expensive and the most comfortable way to go around Bagan and costs about 60 to 70 USD. It is worth it if you are in groups, as you can share the cost.
Hot air balloons – Those hot air balloons beat all of these above for sure to get stunning views from the air if you can afford the price. It costs over 300 USD per person
Ox carts/Horse carriages – I am against torturing these poor animals, but if you fancy these rides, they cost between 20,000 to 30,000 Kyat.
Don’t fall for this – All of the temples are now closed for climbing. You can still get that post-card like views from these places that I have mentioned.
If you are wondering which are the best places to stay in Bagan, I got this covered for you in this post.