After spending 3 wet soggy days in Yangon, it was such a pleasure to find dry heat upon arrival at the Nyaung U (NYU) airport near Bagan. We were met at the airport by Guide Minthu who helped us gather our luggage, pay the $15 Archeological Zone visitors’ fee and load us into a van for the short ride to the Kumudra Hotel, on the edge of New Bagan.
The area generically called “Bagan” is actually made up of 3 areas; Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung-U (or Nyaung Oo). Nyaung-U is the home of the (NYU) airport serving the area. It is about a 15-20 minute drive from either Old Bagan or New Bagan. Old Bagan is relatively built up while there are still wide open spaces of New Bagan.
Bagan has long been one of the most important cities in the region and is still referred to on some maps by the old name Pagan. From the 9th into the 13th centuries, Pagan was the capital of the area that now makes up Myanmar. During the height of its influence over 10,000 religious monuments were constructed in the area.
We heard estimates that today there are anywhere from 2200 to over 3000 temples, pagodas and stupas still remaining in Bagan. In fact, it is nearly impossible to look in any direction and not see these structures. As we drove along both the paved roads in the towns as well as on the dirt paths through farm land we passed one after another on the left and the right. As we lounged in the pool, we could see them literally on the edge of the hotel property. And when we climbed to the top of some of the larger temples, they were spread across the wide plain for as far as the eye could see.
Bagan is situated in the middle of an earthquake zone and through history has seen damage from them. With each quake, damage was done to the ancient religious sites. Some have been reconstructed while others were left in disrepair. The most recent significant quake was in 1975. In the 1990’s some major renovations were undertaken by the military to less than overwhelming approval by historians. We saw multiple examples where modern materials and techniques had been used (like a metal security gate, which was fixed to a doorway with large metal bolts that were splitting the original stone arch support) and were not only inaccurate from a preservation point of view but were actually causing new damage.
While hearing some descriptions and seeing examples of some of these poorly executed restorations, I remember thinking at the time that the military is really better suited to destroying than repairing and the reconstruction might be better left to preservationists.
As a result of these and other inaccuracies in style, despite the obvious historical and archeological importance of the region, Bagan has currently not received designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Abayadana Temple (with mural painting)
- Alanpaya (originally a Hindu temple with Brahma figures)
- Manuha Temple (large sitting Buddha and long reclining Buddha images)
- Shwegugyi Temple (climbed to top to see panoramic views of Bagan)
- Shwesandaw Pagoda (for Sunset)
- Taung Bi village walking tour
- Nat Thaunt Monastery (beautiful teak wood carvings)
- Soya Bean Paste Factory
- Nyaung Oo Market
- Shwe Myanmar Restaurant (see restaurant review)
- Hotel break after lunch
- Phawe Saw Village (industrious villagers)
- Ananda Temple (Most beautiful temple in Bagan with 4 standing Buddha images)
- North Guni Temple