Temples of Bagan

The more I travel, the less unique each place appears to be. A neighborhood in the Philippines might remind me of where I lived in Guatemala. A street in Hong Kong might send me back to a district in Buenos Aires. A pagoda in Japan might be reminiscent of a temple in Taiwan. So I forget sometimes that, no, I haven't seen it all, and human society still has a lot of hidden treasures to reveal.

I was under the impression that Angkor Wat was the most beautiful, special, magical place I would ever be fortunate enough to visit in my lifetime. I was wrong. I had never even heard of Bagan until I started researching travel in Myanmar for this summer and kept coming across images of what looked like Angkor Wat on crack. 2,200 temples on one site? Are you kidding me?!

A high vantage point gives you an idea of how many
temples are scattered everywhere

Sunset over temples

Sunset over temples

Bagan was an ancient city in Central Myanmar that was home to 10,000 temples at its peak in the 11-1200s. The Burmese empire fell when Genghis Khan and the Mongols invaded and the temples fell into a state of disarray. Tourists have a few different little villages to choose from when picking a guesthouse, and it really doesn't matter where you stay. Unlike Angkor Wat, modern and ancient intermingle, so you may be riding your electric bike down a dirt path and see a cell phone store on the same block as a 1,000 year old temple.

E-bikes are readily available for tourists to rent

Temple interiors

Temple interiors

The large temples are hollow and have passageways and tunnels full of statues and art that you can explore. There are so many temples packed into this site that a tourist map is almost unnecessary because you can pick any random street and work your way down it and not have enough time in a week to visit every temple there. There are a few big ones that are actively maintained and have pop up artisan markets targeting tourists, but most of the temples are completely abandoned. This means you will be wandering in and out of bat filled inner sanctums with gold covered Buddhas completely alone. The majority of temples I wandered into, I had to myself. At first it can be eerie but you get used to it.

Massive Buddhas are in most temples

Practicing some yoga in a remote temple

Crawling through a tunnel in a temple

Allowing locals to continue occupying the same place as the temples and live alongside these ancient monuments is kind of genius because they self-maintain the area, seeing as it is their home. The temples have a strict dress code, that for women shoulders and knees must be covered, and all shoes must be removed. One time my friend and I were in a decrepit temple with no one around, we sat on a bench near the entrance and left our shoes on. Within 5 minutes, a random local man popped his head in and told us to take off our shoes. Where did that dude come from?!

A guitarist wandered over to join in our jam session

My ukulele was along for the ride

Taking a breather really high up on a temple

The views in Bagan are stunning no matter where you go. Try to find yourself a temple you can climb up on for sunset or sunrise, or a good vantage point on the Irrawaddy river. I had two full days to explore the temples and I definitely could have used one more day. I also have to mention Moon Vegetarian Restaurant located on the outskirts of Old Bagan because we ended up going there for lunch both days and it was some of the best food I had in Myanmar.

So many unique temples to explore:

Bagan was a highlight of my summer backpacking SE Asia, and could truly provide a transcendental experience if you are there in the right mindset. It's a place of still beauty, and spiritual heaviness like no other.

Moment of peace in a temple


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