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Bagan, formerly known as Pagan, is an ancient city in Myanmar's Mandalay region. Famed for its incredible number of well-preserved Buddhist temples, monasteries, and stupas, Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom during its height from the 9th to the 13th centuries. Over 2,200 pagodas and religious sites still exist in the area known as the Bagan Archaeological Zone today, which also contains the 4 main settlements of the region. In addition to its wealth of religious sites, Bagan is also the center of the Burmese lacquerware industry, and one of the most unique things to do in Bagan is hunt for beautifully made lacquer pieces or watch a demonstration of the artform.
The Bagan Archaeological Zone encompasses the ancient temples of Bagan as well as 4 main settlements: New Bagan, Old Bagan, Myinkaba, and Nyaung U. Visitors are required to purchase an entry pass to access the archaeological zone.
Old Bagan - Old Bagan is the core of the archaeological zone, located within the remains of the ancient capital's original city walls. The area contains many of Bagan's most important temples and structures, including the beautiful Ananda Pagoda and Tharabar Gate.
Myinkaba - Just south of Old Bagan is the village of Myinkaba. The village is famous for tis Mon-style lacquerware, a tradition that dates back to the time of King Manuha in the 11th century. The Gubyaukgyi Temple, built in 1113 AD and famous for its well-preserved Jataka murals that depict the stories of Buddha's previous lives, is also located in Myinkaba.
Nyaung U - Nyaung U serves as the transportation hub of the region, being home to the bus terminal, train station, and airport by which most visitors arrive in Bagan. The colonial architecture of the town gives it unique character. Nyaung U is home to the majestic and golden Shwezigon Pagoda as well as temples like Htilominlo Pagoda and Ahlodawpyae Pagoda.
New Bagan - Built in the 1990s, New Bagan is the furthest south of Bagan's main settlements and its most modern in flavor. The town offers a range of visitor-friendly accommodations and eateries, and the historic sites of Bagan are within easy access.
Bagan is known for its sheer volume of stupas and religious sites, all of which represent incredible artistry and architecture. The most famous of its temples include the Ananda Pagoda, which combines Mon and Indian architectural styles and houses 4 standing Buddha statues that face the cardinal directions, and the Dhammayangyi Temple, the largest of all of Bagan's temples and built by King Narathu in the 12th century. Bagan's amazing sites are easily explored by bike, and hot air balloon rides give you a breathtaking overview of the astonishing number of temples in the region.
The thousands of temples spread across Bagan are its main draw, as together they form one of the richest archaeological sites in Asia and the world. The temples are best explored by bike, which gives you an intimate experience of each stupa's astounding detail, while horse cart rides offer a more romantic way to travel. Along with the iconic Ananda Pagoda, some of the most popular sites to visit include the Gawdawpalin Temple—the second tallest temple in Bagan built in the hollow gu style that's used for meditation—and the Thatbyinnyu Temple, which is Bagan's tallest monument at 197 feet (60 m). The Shwesandaw and Pyathada Pagodas, which feature open terraces with 360-degree views of the surrounding scenery, are popular spots at sunrise and sunset.
A short distance from Bagan stands Mount Popa, an extinct volcano that juts out over the surrounding plains. Atop one of its rocky peaks sits the Popa Taungkalat monastery, famous for being home to 37 important Nats, or Burmese spirits, that are represented by detailed statues at the base of the outcrop. The mountain hosts the annual Mount Popa Nat Festival, during which pilgrims from across Myanmar gather to honor the Nats of the monastery. Other festivals held around Bagan include the Ananda Pagoda Festival, where local farmers visit the temple in decorated bullock carts to camp for several days, and the Shwezigon Pagoda Festival, which marks the end of the monsoon season with a bustling market and traditional plays set up on the pagoda grounds.