Pagan, Burma… an ancient city

| August 8, 2015

Keen to discover Burma’s heritage? Here we tell you why you should head to the ancient city of Pagan, as well as offer tips on what to see and do once you arrive.

Take a hot air balloon ride over Bagan at sunrise or sunset

Rising from a lush green plain, the spires of the stupas and temples that populate the ancient city of Pagan in Burma are a truly awe-inspiring sight. Remarkably, they have so far avoided being overrun by tourists – but for how long remains to be seen.

Today, we will introduce you to this wonderful destination, which is one of the most fascinating and memorable places to visit in Burma, giving you a little background into its history, as well as ideas of what to see and do while you're there.

Pagan: from past to present

Tucked away in central Burma, Pagan may be relatively little-known in comparison to archaeological sites such as Peru's Machu Picchu, but it is still one of the finest on the planet. This ancient city is a testament to a period of religious fervour that took hold when the nation transitioned from Hinduism to Theravada Buddhism, and today is one of the most remarkable sights in the country.

Several thousand temples and stupas have survived the passage of time, many of which have been remarkably well preserved. Strolling among them is an unforgettable experience rendered all the more magical by the fact that Pagan is still eluding the tourist crowds.

Farmer in Pagan

Yes, while a few of the better-known temples here occasionally welcome visitors in high numbers and street sellers have arrived at these to tout their wares, on the whole Pagan is a peaceful, almost tourist-free place – something that feels all the more remarkable when you consider how thronged the world's better-known archaeological sites are.

Of course, not all of Pagan's charm can be attributed to its as yet unspoiled nature. For many, the irresistible draw of Pagan lies in the sheer variety of temples and stupas to be found here, not just in terms of architectural style, but also the gems to be found inside.

How to make the most of your visit

Such is the beauty and heritage of Pagan that it really does merit special attention during your travels – so it is worth considering how you can make the most of your visit. Organising a hot air balloon ride over the site, which can either take place at sunrise or sunset, is among the most exhilarating and unforgettable options.

Hot air balloons over Pagan

It is also a good idea to think about how you would like to get around Pagan. Being quite large, the city is, arguably, best explored by either bicycle or horse and cart, which will allow you to get around swiftly enough to reach all the sites you want to, while still being able to take in all those fascinating little details the temples possess. A guide can help you discover the lesser-known sites, as well as give you plenty of information on Pagan's interesting history.

Temples and stupas not to miss

Ananda Temple
Above we mentioned that while much of Pagan is all but tourist-free, there are a few attractions that do draw crowds – and the Ananda Temple is one of these. Don't be put off by the fact that you're likely to come across a number of other travellers here though, as this beautiful temple is a must-see.

Ananda temple, Pagan

Believed to date back to the late 11th and early 12th centuries, Ananda has wonderful terraces that feature glazed tiles depicting Jataka scenes. Inside, it pays to take a particularly close look at some of the Buddha statues, which appear to have different expressions depending on where you look at them from.

Shwesandaw Paya
Watching the sunset over Pagan is a must, and there is one place that everyone visits to do so – Shwesandaw Paya. The circular stupa top here offers spectacular 360-degree views that are, indeed, utterly magical – though you will need to be prepared to share them with lots of other travellers, owing to the pagoda's fame.

Shwezigon Paya
Another popular place to visit, Shwezigon Paya is best viewed at dusk, when it is beautifully lit up. As well as being particularly beautiful, this pagoda is believed to contain Buddha relics, including a collar bone and tooth, while it also houses a series of 13 ft tall Buddha statues. It is perhaps best known for the 37 Nat, though – a small compound housing figures of the 37 nat (spirits) worshipped in pre-Buddhist times.

Shwezigon Paya, Pagan

Sulamani Temple
Also worthy of your time is the Sulamani Temple, which is one of the prettiest in Pagan. Pay particular attention to the beautiful brickwork, which is considered to be some of the finest in the city, as well as the wonderful receding terraces, which create a pyramid-like effect. Be sure to spend a little time perusing the inside as well, as you will find all kinds of wonderful decorative touches, such as carved stucco, which have been very well preserved.

Find out more about holidays to Burma >

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