I generally don’t write list posts, I’m more interested in telling stories about countries, people, and culture. Relating some of the experiences I have on the road is, in a way, akin to keeping a journal. Yet, here I am, writing a list post on Bagan temples.
While most of Myanmar feels untouched, Bagan is the country’s tourist mecca. After days of interacting mostly with locals, and only seeing a couple fellow travellers, I went experienced a little culture shock in Bagan. Travellers, everywhere. It’s easy to understand why they have all converge, Bagan is home to more than 1,000 ancient temples, and photos of hot air balloons floating above the temples at sunrise is one of the more popular photos on the internet. Basically, Bagan is travel porn, it’s Mother Nature Gone Wild.
Buledi (Bulethi) Pagoda – My Favourite Temple in Bagan
There are a couple ways to spell this pagoda, the locals will usually use Bu Le Thi, Google maps has it as Bulethi, and Lonely Planet has it as Buledi, whatever the spelling may be, they are the same pagoda.
Sunrise in Bagan is serious business, it’s the one thing that every single traveller will do at least once during their stay. In many cases, people will get up for sunrise every morning – even after partying the night away. Getting up is the easy part, picking which temple or pagoda to view the sunrise is much harder as many of the bigger temples will have large crowds.
Buledi pagoda, being quite small, was my choice, and it was absolutely perfect. There were maybe 10 of us on the pagoda, and the view of the sun rising was superb. I recommend getting here earlier and staying until after the sunrise is complete, as you can get some spectacular shots of temples and the mountains, from the back of the pagoda.
Dhamma Yan Gyi Pahto (Dhammayangyi)
Built in the late 12th century, Dhamma Yan Gyi temple is said to be one of the largest temples in Bagan. While it’s not possible to explore the inner reaches of the temple (it’s closed off), you can explore the outer corridors. Visiting this temple a little after sunrise means there are very few travellers exploring, which means you will have the temple to yourself. Be sure to wander around inside (and try to ignore the smell of urine), paying close attention to the walls as many still have drawings that can be seen with the naked eye.
The Ananda temple was built at the beginning of the 12th century and is a mixture of Mon and Indian architectural styles. I love that Ananda doesn’t look like the other ancient temples in Bagan. Inside the temple, you will find four standing Buddha statues; North, South, East, and West.
This temple is quite popular and can become very busy, so I suggest an early morning visit. Shortly after sunrise, the vendors in the temple’s outer corridor are still setting up, a woman can be spotted at a side entrance, burning incense as she arranges flowers.
Sin Myar Shin Temple
A small temple, Sin Myar Shin is two storeys and has Buddha statues facing both east and west. While it doesn’t take a lot of time to explore this time, there are other temples very close by and I highly recommend visiting the ones behind this temple as well. Ride an e-bike here, then explore the surrounding temples. You will truly be off-the-beaten-path here.
Dhamma Ya Zitka Pagoda
Built towards the end of the 12th Century, Dhamma Ya Zitka is built in the shape of a pentagon, making the temple an interesting place to wander. If you’re a lover of history and architecture, there are plenty of fine details to discover and admire inside and outside. There are also several small pagodas and temples behind this one that you can explore.
If you’re looking for a quiet sunset spot, there is a pagoda behind Dhamma Ya Zitka with a square roof where you can watch the sunset. It’s hit and miss in terms of popularity. Sometimes a tour bus can show up, and other times it may be just you. Either way, bring a flashlight or headlamp with you so you can find your way back to the main road after dark.
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When travelling it’s important to observe local customs, especially when visiting sacred sites like temples. As there are over a thousand temples in Bagan, it’s easy to break the rules, as not every temple will have a local floating around. However, that doesn’t mean you should. Here are some etiquette tips for visiting temples in Bagan.
- No shoes or socks are to be worn on pagoda and temple grounds. Seriously, take them off. Yes, you will want to sanitise your feet for three hours after a day of exploring temples, but it’s the custom and if locals are around, they will make you take them off.
- No spaghetti strap tops, short shorts or short skirts. Again, this shows a sign of respect for the Burmese people and their beliefs. It won’t kill you to cover up for a day.
- Respect Buddha at all times. It can be tempting to take silly picture touching a Buddha statue, but this is highly offensive, do not do it.
- Your head should never be higher than Buddha. If the Buddha is laying down and low to the ground, you should kneel or sit to take your photo.
- Respect local worshippers. I get it, having someone worshipping in your photograph adds some context, but resist the urge to take a photo. This is their sacred time, and unless you have their permission, admire the scene with your eyes only.