Bagan, with its collection of over 2000 awe-inspiring pagodas, is surely the most splendid sight in the whole of Southeast Asia and a must for any visitor to Myanmar. Nowhere else in the region do manmade relics mix so evocatively with nature as on the plains of Bagan.
The sheer variety of temples, many of which were built in the 12th century, will overwhelm most visitors. The most imposing pagoda is perhaps the Dhammayangyi dating back to 1167 AD, with bricks so finely laid that a needle could not be inserted between them. Visitors can enjoy a horse-and-buggy ride around the site. On nearby Mount Popa, one can enjoy trekking, horseback riding trips and spectacular views.
The Ananda Temple is located in old Bagan; it is probably the finest, largest, and best preserved of all the Bagan temples even though it suffered considerable damage from various earthquakes. It was built in 1090 and the temple is said to represent the endless wisdom of the Buddha.
Thatbyinnyu Temple is located just inside the southeastern corner of the old city wall; it is Bagan's tallest temple at almost 61 m (200 ft) and represents a transition from the Mon period to a new architectural style. In a monastery compound slightly southwest of the temple there are stone supports which once held the temple's huge bronze bell. Northeast of the temple stands a small Tally Pagoda, this was built on a scale of one brick per 10,000 bricks used in the main temple. It is set in a semi-arid landscape sparsely dotted with such xerophytes as the tamarind, the acacia and the neem.
The Gadawt Palin is Bagan's second tallest and most imposing temple. It is a large eastward-facing two-story temple set on a low platform in the center of a walled enclosure with four gateways. Severely damaged by the earthquake of 1975, the tip of the temple was as high as 180 feet (55m). It is located just to the north of the present Archaeological Museum.
The Bupaya or Bu Pagoda is situated right on the riverbank of the Ayeyarwaddy. It has been claimed to be the oldest in Bagan, dating back to the 3rd century AD. The shape is extraordinary being in the shape of a gourd. It was completely destroyed when it tumbled into the river in the 1975 earthquake but has been totally rebuilt. The Bupaya sits on a polygonal platform made up of a series of crenulated semi-circular terraces overlooking the river; it has long served as a conspicuous landmark for river travelers. The Bupaya is also a favorite place to watch the sunset.
The Dhammayangyi Temple is located in old Bagan, over a kilometer in the southeast of the city walls. Extending approximately 255 ft (78m) on each of its four sides, it is Bagan’s most massive shrine. Among the four extraordinary temples in Bagan, it is well known for its mass and thickness and remains one of the most unique and intriguing of the country’s shrines.
The Mingalarzedi Temple is located in the Old Bagan region and was constructed in 1277. It was completed just ten years before the kingdom's collapse at the hands of the Mongols. It is noted for its fine proportions and for the many beautiful Jataka tiles around its three square terraces. The 550 life stories of Buddha can also be found.
The Mahabohdi temple was erected from 1211 to 1234, it is modeled after the temple of the same name in Bodhgaya, India. It is a 140-foot-high brick and white washed stucco structure characterized by a large square pyramidal tower and topped by a conical spire and umbrella. This pagoda is unique in Myanmar for its Indian style.
The Shwesandaw Pagoda is located in old Bagan region. It is a graceful circular pagoda built in 1507 with a stupa that has become a popular sunset-viewing spot. The five terraces once had terra-cotta plaques showing scenes from the Jataka. Close to the Shwesandaw stands the Lawkahteikpan Temple, a small but interesting one for its excellent frescoes and inscriptions in both Myanmar and Mon.
The Tharaba gate is located in old Bagan region. The gateway was built during the 9th century as the fortress of Bagan with 12 gateways. One of the gates is named "Tharaba" meaning "The Gate which can prevent the arrows of the enemy." The gate is guarded by the spirits of Min Maha Giri (the brother) and Namadaw (the sister).
The Myoe Daung Monastery is the oldest and the finest monastery of that age and is located in the north of Old Bagan. The complex contains two monasteries, numerous pyathats, pavilions, rest houses and ancillary buildings. Its glory and what should be a major claim to prominence lies in its numerous woodcarvings which are also mostly from the late Kon-baung period of the mid- to late 19th century.
The Bagan Archaeological Museum is one of the most important places to visit while you are in Bagan. Built in the northern part of Bagan, it is a three story building constructed in an octagonal design that is fully furnished with Myanmar handicrafts.
The Shwegugyi or "Great Golden Cave" is an early example of a transition in architectural styles which resulted in airy lighter buildings. It was built in 1131. Located just to the north of Thatbyinnyu, it is a large single-story temple set on a large and tall platform. There are three square receding upper terraces with corner spires or stupas at each corner on top of the central block. The temple is also notable for its fine stucco carvings and for the stone slabs in the inner wall which tell its history.
The Pahtothamya Temple is a large two-story edifice located just inside the old city wall near the modernistic Bagan Archaeological Museum. It is near the presumed site of the old palace and immediately to the west of Thatbyinnyu. The temple probably dates from the 10th century, even if the legend suggests an older origin.
The Nathlaung Kyaung Temple is located slightly to the west of Thatbyinnyu and inside the old city walls - it is the only remaining Hindu temple in Bagan. It is believed to have been constructed during the 10th century AD. In the early days of Bagan, people used to believe in Hinduism and worshipped Vishu, Brahman and many other Hindu gods. This used to be a place to worship those gods. It clearly is one of the earliest of the Bagan temples.
The Dhammayazika Pagoda is located in the southern part of Bagan. It was established in 1198. It is unusual because it has pentagonal terraces instead of the usual square ones. Above the three receding terraces, which are ornamented with glazed Jataka plaques, rises a bell-shaped dome, which merges directly into a sharply tapering conical finial. On each of the five sides of the pagoda there is a small temple. This pagoda is about 1 km (0.6 mile) to the west of the Tourism Services Center.
The Shwezigon Pagoda is located in the town of Nyaung Oo, 6km (4 Miles) to the northeast of the ancient city of Bagan. It is 49m high (160 feet) and 160 feet wide at the base. Built in the early Bagan period on an open plain, this pagoda inspires faith even today, bringing joy to the hearts of monks and laymen alike as they behold its brilliant golden color.
The Gubyaukgyi Pagoda is a 13th century temple with a spire resembling the Mahabodhi Temple at Buddha Gaya in India. It is noted for its wall paintings, depicting scenes from the previous lives of the Buddha. The ceiling of this temple is full of wall paintings and the halls have enough lights to view these clearly.
The Ahlodawpyae Pagoda is located between the new Bagan and the village of Bagan. It still expresses traces of the Pyu culture, with the stupa placed on the superstructure, which preceded the arrival of the first temples of bricks. Paintings are interesting which often show Bouddha in the position of Dharmacakramudra with its disciples on each side.