Thousands of ancient Buddhist temples and structures of various grandeur and state of disrepair were scattered across Bagan’s scenic riverside plains.
Here are the temples I visited during my four day trip to Bagan, my favorite destination in Myanmar (Burma).
Getting around Bagan temples
We thought it best to start our tour of Bagan by visiting the far off temples first, preferably by horse cart, then work our way towards the nearer temples, which were easily reached by bicycle.
Me and new travel buddies, I met on bus from Yangon, teamed up and hired horse carts on our first two days. A horse cart with local driver, who also served as our guide, cost 15,000 Myanmar Kyats for the whole day.
Wandering around Bagan by bicycle was my favorite means of exploring the temples. Renting a bicycle was cheap at just K1,000 per day. It goes without saying that you will be needing protection from the sun and dust. We rented bicycles on our third and fourth days.
Areas of Bagan
Get handy maps of Bagan at any of the large hotels for free.
Myinkaba and New Bagan
Since our hostel was near Nyaung-U town, we first explored the temples located far south of Old Bagan, around Myinkaba village and New Bagan.
Mingalar Zedi Pagoda
Many of the larger pagodas in Bagan had multi-level terraces, which were possible to climb by going up steep stairs. The top most terrace of the Mingalar Zedi had one of the best overlooking views of major temples in Old Bagan and Myinkaba. We went there around mid-afternoon. I reckon, sunset view here should also be amazing.
Mingalar Zedi Pagoda was located south of Old Bagan and north of Myinkaba; Built in A.D 1277.
Main structure of the pagoda was beautiful but paled in comparison to the Shwezigon and Shwesandaw Pagodaw. Main draw of this temples was the pillar with inscriptions written in four languages – Pyu, Mon, Old Burmese and Pali.
Myazedi Pagoda was located near Gubyaukgyi Myinkaba Temple; Built during the 12th century.
Inside the temple were one of the best preserved wall paintings I’ve seen in Bagan. The interiors were dimly lit, which made it hard to fully appreciate the paintings. Photography was also not allowed inside.
Gubyaukgyi temple was located north of Myinkaba Paya; Built in A.D 1113.
A temple that made a lasting impression.
Giant sitting Buddhas and one reclining Buddha were built into small enclosures inside the Manuha Temple. Their uncomfortable and cramped positions are said to represent the stressful life of the king from Thaton, who built this temple and was held captive in Bagan.
Stairs led to the upper level where visitors could see a big smile on the sitting Buddha, symbolizing that death was the only release from the captive king’s suffering.
One of the more interesting temples in Myinkaba village. The central sanctuary had excellent bas relief figures of the four-faced Hindu god Brahma.
The Nanpaya temple was located near Manuha; Built during the 11th century.
Abe Yadanar / Abeyadana Temple
Like Gubyauki temple, well-preserved wall paintings adorn the interiors of Abeyadana. Images of Hindu gods (Indra, Shiva and Vishnu) are present on the frescoes. Photography was also not allowed inside.
Abeyadana temple was located north of Minnanthu village; Built in A.D 1102.
Interiors of the temple had elaborate frescoes depicting scenes of the life of Buddha. Many niches, each containing a sitting Buddha statue, were spread across the walls of the inner corridors.
Nagayon Temple was located south of Nanpaya; Built during the 12th Century.
Sein Yet Ana and Nyima Pagodas
Two large brick pagodas built side by side. At the back was the Seinnyet Nyima, the more interesting pagoda, which had decorative rings encircling the upper half of the main spire.
Seinnyet Ana and Nyima pagodas were located north of Bagan Myothit; Built during the 11th Century.
The large gold-painted pagoda offered stunning views of the Ayertarwady River.
Lawkananda Pagoda was located within the riverside of New Bagan;Built in A.D 1059.
Petleik Ashe & Anauk (East-West) Pagodas
Unimpressive when seen from the outside, these pagodas housed many Jataka plaques depicting the life of the Buddha.
The front gates of both pagodas were locked during our visit. We were able to see the inside from wall openings. Many plaques were either missing or in disrepair.
Petleik Ashe & Anauk were located north of Lawkanandar Pagoda; Built during the 11th Century.
Outskirts of Old Bagan
Temples that were located southeast and east of Old Bagan’s fort walls. Included here are some of Bagan’s most impressive ancient monuments.
Shwe Sandaw Pagoda
First pagoda we visited after our early morning arrival in Bagan.
From our hostel near Ngaung-U, we hired a horse cart to get to Shwe Sandaw Pagoda before sunrise for K5,000 (whole cart; round trip). Sunrise started around 5:30am.
Stairs led up to the topmost terrace, where we got to see a breathtaking panoramic view of Bagan.
Since it was the most popular vantage point during sunrise and sunset. We had to share the space with lots of other tourists.
Shwe Sandaw Pagoda was located northeast of Old Bagan; Built in 1057.
Dhammayan Gyi Temple
The largest of all temples, and my personal favorite temple in Bagan.
Dhammayan Gyi Temple had complex inner passageways, which were fun to get lost in. There were a lot of faded murals and a couple of interesting / odd looking Buddha statues. Including, its signature twin sitting Buddhas.
We went up hidden stairs leading to the windows on the second level. Views were not particularly spectacular but interesting nonetheless. These stairs should go all the way to the highest terraces that were off limits to visitors, as far as I’ve read.
Another massive temple situated east of Dhammayan Gyi. The overall design looked like a more elaborate version of Htilominlo.
Decorative brickwork on the exteriors were remarkably beautiful.
There were lots of interesting frescoes inside.
Tha Beik Hmauk Pahto
Smaller temple beside Sulamani. Detailed stucco decorations on the main entryway.
A stone carving of what appeared to be a pink-colored horse with a big nose particularly caught my attention. It looked like a unicorn from afar.
Ananda Temple was one of the bigger structures in Old Bagan. Beautiful inside and out.
The Ananda, revered as the holiest and best preserved temple in Bagan, was filled with local devotees, foreign tourists, and lots of souvenir vendors.
The main attraction were the 9.5 meter tall standing Buddhas facing outward on each of the four sides of the central hall. Represented were the four Buddhas who have attained nirvana.
The most interesting among then was the south facing Buddha, Kassapa. If glanced from afar his face seemed happy but seen closer, he looked sad.
Ananda temple was located southeast of Tharabar Gate; Built in A.D 1105.
Inside Old Bagan Fort Walls
Many of the major temples were also found within the fort walls of Old Bagan.
Tharabar Gate is the main gate of the east wall of Old Bagan. All horse carts should pass through this gate if coming from Bagan-Nyaung-U road.
It is the only surviving gate (out of 12) that surrounds the old city built by King Pyinbya.
One of my favorite Bagan temples because of its massive centuries-old wooden doors with beautiful and intricate carvings. The lighting during my afternoon visit was simply wonderful, great for a few souvenir self-portrait photos.
It also had decorative doorways and an upper terrace, which offered an excellent panorama of Old Bagan temples.
Shwegugyi Temple was located in front of the Bagan Palace; Built in the 11th century.
A smaller replica of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India.
We enjoyed taking pictures of its western wall during the late afternoon, around 4:45pm.
Mahabidhi Temple was located north of Shwegugyi; Built during the 12th Century.
Probably, the tallest temple in Bagan. We only got to explore the hallways of the ground level, which did not look as spectacular as the other major temples in Old Bagan.
I was not aware the Thatbyinnyu temple had stairways that led to the upper, potentially more interesting terraces.
Thatbyinnyu was located east of Gadawtpalin Temple; Built during the 11th Century.
We did not visit this temple but it was visibly prominent because of its white-washed walls and massive size.
Other potentially interesting sights in Old Bagan that we skipped: Buphaya Pagoda (riverside views), Lawkahteikpan Temple (exceptional wall paintings), Myoe Daung Monastery (wooden monastery), Nathlaung Kyaung (only Hindu temple in Bagan), Pahtothamya Temple (views on upper terrace)
Bagan Thirizayabumi Golden Palace (touristy sightseeing)
Eastern outskirts of Old Bagan
Wooden Monastery in Taung Bi Village
An abandoned wooden monastery with large beautifully decorated stone steps. We found this easily missed spot at Taung Bi Village, near the Tharabar Gate.
Paya Nga Zu Group
A set of white-washed pagodas we encountered after following a dirt road branching south from the Nyaung U – Old Bagan road.
Not much tourist activity around those parts
Htilo Minlo Temple
Htilo Minlo Temple was surrounded by high walls on all corners. The arched gates provided an excellent frame to photograph the main structure.
The large temple was similar, yet less elaborate, in design compared to Sulamani.
Lots of intricate plaster carvings and glazed sandstone decorations on the exteriors and beautiful carved reliefs at the doorways.
Most of the murals in the interiors had already faded away. Four gold-painted buddhas sit on each side facing cardinal directions.
A couple of meters outside the west gate (turn right after the main entrance), was a smaller temple with a good view of the Htilo Minlo temple
Htilo Minlo Temple was located south of Bagan Nyaung-U Main Road, Old Bagan; Built in A.D 1218; 46-metre-high.
Small ordination hall with bright red and green colored, albeit slightly faded, wall paintings. Taking photos inside the structure was not allowed.
Upali Thein was located along Nyaung U-Old Bagan Road, across Htilominlo Temple; Built during the mid 13th Century.
Khay Min Gha Temple Group
I saw this group of temples surrounded by many small stupas while cycling around the roads behind Sulamani.
One of the temples had stairs that led to an upper terrace with a good sunset view. Though, I reckon, the view should be better during sunrise.
Group of minor temples off the Nyaung U-Old Bagan road. Nothing too remarkable.
Bu Le Thi Temple Group
Two pagodas offering excellent sunrise and sunset views of Bagan temple tops.
The shorter 2-level pagoda was a steep and potentially dangerous climb, while the 3-level one was an easier climb but the upper levels were fenced off. We resorted to “sidestepping” around the fence so we could access the top most terrace.
Bu Le Thi Temple Group was located several meters from from Anawratha Road. It was located south of Htilo Minlo Temple.
Thagya Pone Temple
One of the temples that was nearest to our hostel. The sitting Buddha inside was interesting because it held a small Buddha head on its left hand.
This temple and another one nearby had stairs that led to upper terraces.
Thagya Pone Temple was located west of Wetkyi-In Village, near Nyaung U.
Thagya Hit Temple
One of the minor temples that was also near our hostel. Inside was a large and rather mean looking sitting Buddha.
Shwe Laik Too Temple
Very accessible to reach, especially during sunrise since it was only a 20-minute walk away from Winner Guest House.
The upper terrace had awesome sunrise views of Old Bagan temple tops.
Shwe Leik Too Temple was located northeast of Htilominlo Temple, along Nyaung U-Old Bagan road; Built during the 13th Century.
Temples in Nyaung U, which were easily accessed by bicycle from our hostel.
The one of the most beautiful pagodas in Bagan. The gold-painted main structure of the Shwe Zi Gon Pagoda had three terraces, which were closed off to visitors, unfortunately.
Wood carvings on one of the pavilions, occupied much of our time there. There were a few scenes that were supposed to depict tragic stories, which seemed strangely comical to us.
Large flocks of pigeons hovered around the temple complex.
She Myet Hna
Found across the entrance hall of Shwezigon Pagoda in Nyaung U town center
Mount Popa Temple
Picturesque temple built on top of a towering rock outcrop.
Our trip to Mount Popa took half a day. The view of the temple from afar and the overlooking views from the summit were stunning.
Though, We thought the temple itself and long climb passing by nat shrines were not that spectacular.
Hiring a private van to Mount Popa costs K30,000 (round trip). There were four of us who split the van rental, so we paid K7,500 each.