The Temples of Bagan

Pagan Travel Blog

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Flood water pours in through the Hyundai on the way to Bagan


So it’s Friday the Thirteenth and what better way to spend it than attempting to navigate through knee deep flooded roads in Myanmar? Min Min warned us that it could be a tough trip to Bagan and we caravanned with two other cars including Min Min's friend who was the guide for a Scottish woman we have run into several times who is really nice. She is actually a journalist, however you can't say that if you want in to Myanmar as their government is rather paranoid. Min Min referred to her as "the large lady", his polite way of implying she is a bit chunky.

Through the first flood we were towed by an old Chinese tractor so that we wouldn't short out the engine.

Typical Burmese truck plodding through the flood.
Seeping water oozed in through the door rising above my ankles.  Tree lined roads were still filled with people displaced by the floods several days ago. They have erected mini cities with all their belongings and livestock and even impromptu stores built from bamboo and palm fronds - pretty self reliant and amazing.

Actually, other than the first waist deep crossing, today's drive was pretty smooth (although the leaky rear windshield attached with duct tape wasn't so swift) and we made it to Bagan in about eight hours. I think we will have to stop bitching about driving five and a half hours for the 340 miles to Mammoth - that would take days here!

The last bit was exciting. Just before Bagan, Min Ko had to navigate through sand dunes on the Ayeyarwady flood plain. Sometimes the sand gets three to four feet deep but all the locals chip in and help dig out the sand, hitting up all the cars for "tea money''.

Sunset at Tayoke Pye Paya in Bagan
  Throughout the sand ordeal both of "The Mins" remained calm as we fish-tailed through the sand trying to not get stuck. Visions of Mono Lake and Steve Vogel's infamous POS car "Belew" sunk up to the axels pop into mind (wherefore art thou now Sir Vogel?).

We made it in time for sunset at Tayoke Pye Paya and got some great views of the awesome vistas of the temple studded Bagan plains. It’s hard to imagine if you haven't been, and we are not good enough landscape photographers to adequately capture the enormity of Bagan's 4400 temples, mostly built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  It is awesome, rivaling Cambodia's Angkor Wat and, perhaps, because it is not high season, we had many sites completely to ourselves.

That night we had an excellent Myanmar dinner similar to Nasi Padang food in Indonesia.

Temple carvings at Leik Paya
They bring out bowls and plates of curries, veggies, pickles, salad and soup and you eat and pay for only what looks good (and of course the beers J)


Today was a whirlwind visit to what felt like all of the 4400 pagodas interspersed with lessons in Buddhism and architecture by the very knowledgeable Min Min. Since we didn’t understand everything and you would be bored to tears, only some highlights follow.

  • Lakananda Paya - our first stop for the day with a large golden Stupa and views across the Ayeyarwady.  It is one of four temples that locals try to rush visit by noon to earn good luck and a wish.
  • Leik Paya - the Turtle temple was buried under mounds of sand with an inner hallway of nicely carved sandstone panels, many of them missing and probably now gracing the walls of collectors.
    Giant Buddha at Manuha Paya in Bagan
    The locals were blasting loud music on bad speakers but thankfully turned it off when we arrived.
  • Naga Yo Paya - a king rested here and legend says a dragon protected him from the sun so the King built the pagoda with naga protecting the Buddha. 
  • Apayadana -  has four large faces of Buddha and is famous for its mural paintings of Mahayana Buddhism.
  • Manuha Paya - houses a giant eight foot high bowl where people donate Kyat.  It is also where a Mon King was held prisoner. To express his discontent he built four giant Buddha’s, far too big for the space, representing confinement.

We stopped at a Lacquer ware shop, Bagan is known for fine lacquer products, and got a demonstration of making a piece.

Giant Buddha at Naga Yo Paya
  It is very time consuming and consists of first making the shape, say a cup or bowl, out of either fine strips of bamboo or horsehair then covering it in multiple layers of clay and next several layers of lacquer. Next, a layer of color and then lacquer is applied and young girls etch away the lacquer by hand without a pattern with a variety of sharp instruments. This is done for each color in the piece and is incredibly tedious looking. It is done once for each color in the piece. 

  • Ananda Pahto - is one of the nicest and most famous temples with a 50 meter golden top and lots of ornate spires. Four large Buddha's face north, south, east and west representing Buddha relaxing, teaching people, discussing with celestial beings and lying dead (this is a good thing and represents his reaching Nirvana, the state not the grunge band). The building has three sets of concentric hallways for normal people, important people and the King and is designed with large openings on the outer corridor that tunnel light into the inner recesses illuminating the four huge Buddha’s.
    Ananda Pahto in Bagan
  • Tamayangyi Pahto - following a tasty Burmese Lunch we visited the Pyramid shaped, biggest Pagoda in Bagan. Bats and their guano stench filled the place. It has two concentric hallways too; however the central one is filled with brick and mortar. Rumor has It that the King who had it built was a real asshole so after he died, the workers blocked off the inside corridor to spite him.
  • Sulamani Pahto - a very pretty two storey temple with nice grounds. We managed to catch the caretakers applying glue and gold leaf to the Buddha Statue. 
  • Pyatthada Paya - We, along with a large tour bus full of Spaniards watched sunset over the plains and Ayeyarwady from atop. The climb was steep and narrow but the views were great.

New! This should launch a separate window on YouTube - if not, hit Back after watching the video.

Sunset at Pyatthada Paya
Sunset in Bagan

We ventured out into New Bagan (in the 1990's for some reason the Myanmar government uprooted the entire village of old Bagan and moved everyone to New Bagan. They also built a ridiculous looking "viewing tower" hoping that tourists world fork over dollars to view Bagan from an ugly, modern tower rather than form the beautiful temples themselves - they were wrong, go figure) on our own, leaving the Min's to happily fend for themselves, and ate at the friendly Yuzana Restaurant with Chinese Food and Myanmar Beer. On the dark walk home we met a kid who is from the village and is a sand painting artist. He wanted to show us his paintings and I mentioned that it was dark but perhaps tomorrow. Something tells me we will see him again. 


We dragged ourselves out of bed early and visited Sein Nyet pagoda for sunrise which was nice and almost deserted with only one other small group there.

Sunset at Pyatthada Paya
  A very narrow passage led to some steep, steep steps and up to the top with nice views of the early morning sun, peachy and pink in the fog.

New!  Video of Sunrise at Sein Nyet Pagoda (yes that is me looking sleepy at the end...) Sunrise at Sein Nyet Pagoda in Bagan

When we descended the steep, dark stairs, none other than Nyo the sand painting artist showed up and we felt obligated to buy at his "special morning price". He proceeded to show us each and every one of his many paintings, explaining them in gory detail.

  • Shwe Zigon - Another large gold pagoda that people like to look at in reflection in a small pool of water.
    Sunrise at Sein Nyet Pagoda in Bagan
    This one is famous for its display of Nat deities which are pre-Buddhist beings, some benevolent and some tricky, whom many people still believe in.  The cute little girl in the picture is a blossoming baby bookseller trying to sell me a copy of George Orwell's Burmese Days (sorry sweetie, read it last time I was here).
  • Thilominlo - This is another large temple famous for beautiful plaster carvings.  Min Min explained a story about four brothers who had to figure out which of them should be king.  Supposedly an umbrella shading them from the sun fell on one of them which was obviously a sign from Buddha that that brother should be king.
  • Upalithein Paya - the tallest Pagoda in Bagan with pretty mural paintings. As we tried to walk through the interior perimeter corridor, a group of little kids wanted to exchange foreign coins for Kyat (the Myanmar government will only accept fresh, unmarked and untorn notes, no $100 bills with serial numbers starting with CB) and Myo the Sand Painter showed up again.
    Ornate Roof at Shwe Zigon
    One fat kid tried to get me to exchange dollars for what he said was a 10 Euro coin that was actually Israeli money. We did give one little girl dollars for quarters and Myo saw that we had foreign bills which he collects. Now he wants to exchange paintings for Baht or Kip or Yen.
  • Shwegugyi - a tall Indian style pagoda across from the "being rennovated" palace with nice stucco carvings inside.

Brief interlude for a nice nap in the afternoon heat, then on to…

  • Katapalin - Sometimes written as Gawdawpalin, a very tall white square building with golden spires and nice views of the surrounding vistas and buildings.

We made another stop at a temple who’s name I forgot to write down (but it is the weird shaped gold one next to the river in these pictures) where there were more Nat deities and a large golden Stupa.

Nat Dieties at Shwe Zigon Pagoda
  We hopped on our “yacht” for our sunset cruise and took lots of pictures of potential, next generation yachts for Paul and Jason.  We cruised up the Ayeyarwady for an hour or so before parking (and doing “spins and twirls” in the current) to watch the very picturesque sunset.  Min Min looked nervous the whole way - he doesn’t like boats since he doesn’t know how to swim.

This little boy, probably 10 years old with spiked hair had asked if I would give him some gel which earlier which I did and made his day.  We had told him that if he came by later today, we would give him more.  He brought a plastic bag and nearly peed himself as we gave him most of the remainder of our gel.  He couldn’t have been happier (and instantly spiked his hair). 

We ended up having dinner at a nice place right around the corner from the Silver Moon Guesthouse.

Baby Bookseller at Nat Dieties at Shwe Zigon Pagoda
  Initially it looked touristy and expensive but it was really neither and was pretty much empty which was nice.  On the way back to the guesthouse, Myo the painter once again shows up to change paintings for foreign money but it was dark and late and we convinced him to come back in the morning before we leave.

dyron_888 says:
Nice :)
Posted on: Oct 31, 2011
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Flood water pours in through the H…
Flood water pours in through the …
Typical Burmese truck plodding thr…
Typical Burmese truck plodding th…
Sunset at Tayoke Pye Paya in Bagan
Sunset at Tayoke Pye Paya in Bagan
Temple carvings at Leik Paya
Temple carvings at Leik Paya
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Giant Buddha at Manuha Paya in Ba…
Giant Buddha at Naga Yo Paya
Giant Buddha at Naga Yo Paya
Ananda Pahto in Bagan
Ananda Pahto in Bagan
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Sunset at Pyatthada Paya
Sunset at Pyatthada Paya
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Sunrise at Sein Nyet Pagoda in Ba…
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Pagan Hostels review
Silver Moon Guesthouse – Bagan, Myanmar The Silver Moon Guesthouse in New Bagan is a very nice, friendly place down a small dirt road off of… read entire review
photo by: lrecht