Myanmar had only opened its doors to the rest of the world in 2003, but one of its cities has become a fast-growing tourism destination.
Bagan, also known as Pagan, is home to thousands of temples and pagodas encompassing an area of over 26 square miles. Built between 1057 and 1287, these Buddhist temples and pagodas comprise the Bagan Archaeological Zone, becoming the country’s leading tourist attraction.
Hundreds of these temples are still superbly preserved, with some having been restored with the help of UNESCO. Intricate Buddhist structures, statues, and carvings are found fully preserved inside the temples, offering intimate insights into Myanmar’s rich Buddhist history.
Exploring the Bagan Archaeological Zone by foot can be limited as the area is vast and the temples are located at far distances from each other. Some tourists can hire a car and driver, a horse-drawn cart, and for the more adventurous – some rent bikes to explore the grounds and the interiors of the temples and pagodas.
One of the best ways to view the expanse of the area is by hot air balloon, which has become popular for families and those who want to see the area in all its vastness glory.
The British company Balloons Over Bagan has been operating their exclusive hot air balloon business in the city for quite some time now, and their services include taking guests to the launch site aboard a romantic converted vintage bus and serving coffee or drinks while their professional crew and pilot set up the balloon.
Hot air balloon rides over the Bagan Archaeological Zones take roughly about 45 minutes, and guests experience glorious views of the temples and structures over canopies of trees, views of the Irrawaddy river, of distant mountains, and the rural communities that surround.
A range of budget to mid-range, to luxury hotels and resorts can be found around the city, but because Bagan has only recently achieved its popularity in the tourism map, hotel rooms can be a bit of a challenge if you don’t book in advance.
There are 3 areas in the city: Old Bagan, New Bagan, and Nyaung-U. Old Bagan hosts the city’s few number of luxury hotels, while the New Bagan is home to larger hotels and new establishments, while Nyaung-U hosts a mix of boutique hotels and local residences.
For one of the best views of the temples, the Aureum Palace Hotel and Resort is located within the Bagan Archaeological Zone, making the ancient temples an easy reach.
Aside from the temples, one of the more popular things to do and see in Bagan is Mount Popa. It’s an ancient, extinct volcano found around 50km from the city, and tourists can reach the summit by climbing its 777 steps. A monastery can be found here, as well as a number of souvenir shops that sell traditional Burmese art and crafts.
Considered to be as grand and as significant as Cambodia’s Angkor Wat or Peru’s Machu Picchu, the Bagan temples are a magnificent display of an empire that ruled over the country and parts of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia in ancient times.
Fast becoming one of Southeast Asia’s hottest tourist destinations, it won’t be long until Bagan becomes a must-visit in everyone’s Southeast Asian itinerary.