Among all the cities in Myanmar, Bagan is the most ideal destination for tourists to visit regardless of the time of the year. Bagan is one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites, a sight to rival Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat but – for the time being at least – without the visitors.
Bagan (formerly spelled as Pagan) is an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region, on the banks of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River and is home to the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world, many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries.
From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the kingdom’s heyday, between the 11th and 13th centuries, Bagan was the capital as well as the political, economic and cultural nerve center of the Pagan Empire. More than 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in an area of 104 km2 in the Bagan plains; which are hailed to be a precious heritage and epitome of ancient Burmese architectures and art, embodying the wisdom and creativity of the Burmese working class. The prosperous city grew in size and grandeur, and became a cosmopolitan center for religious and secular studies. The city attracted monks and students from as far as India, Ceylon and the Khmer Empire. Strong Irrawaddy River has washed away nearly half of the original city area, and thieves in search of treasures have torn apart many temples, while earthquakes and the ravages of time have reduced hundreds of other temples to piles of crumbling stones. The more than 2,000 pagodas and stupas still left standing on the site are of various shapes, colors and architectural styles.
Bagan is fondly known as the 'sea of temples'. Nowadays the city has been roughly divided into the 'New Bagan', where the less than one million citizens mainly reside, and the 'Old Bagan', where the centre part of the Bagan plains is preserved, which is also named the Bagan Archaeological Zone, and extends an area of a little more than 100km2.
The Bagan Archaeological Zone is a main draw for the country's nascent tourism industry. Most are superbly preserved or have been restored by UNESCO, among others, and many contain frescoes and carvings and statues of Buddha, big and small. Only a handful are regularly visited, and though tourist numbers are increasing and the hawkers are beginning to appear, this is still, by the standards of sites of a similar beauty and stature, a gloriously unsullied destination.
Unlike cities in the lower part of Myanmar, Bagan does not experience a rainy season and it is the perfect climate of Bagan that enables tourists to discover and explore the ancient city with ease all year round.
In general, Bagan is one of the cheapest tourist destinations. If you love photography, old sites, and religion, the only alternative as good as Angkor Wat in Cambodia is Bagan in Myanmar.