Bagan (some still call it "Pagan") is one of the must-see destinations of Southeast Asia, along with Angkor Wat and Borobudur. The sheer scale of this treasure of ancient civilization is almost beyond description. Spread across 40 square kilometers, Bagan seems even more stupendous than Angkor because none of it is hidden by jungle. Looking at the expanse dotted with towering stone and brick temples, one can imagine the once-teeming metropolis of exquisite wooden palaces, monasteries, shops and homes that existed before Kublai Khan conquered Bagan in 1287. Now, well-tended by a devout local population, Bagan's temples have weathered the centuries, invasions and earthquakes surprisingly well. Each structure is unique, all have stories to tell and surprises to be revealed to the careful observer.
One Day Tour
Arrive in Bagan from Yangon or Mandalay. Flying into this vast plain in the light of early morning will give you an idea of the immensity of this nearly-forgotten center of one of Asia's richest ancient empires.
Spend the morning exploring the main temples of the Bagan archeological zone where our guide will introduce you to some of the most awesome structures housing examples from the golden age of Myanmar arts and culture. Delicate sandstone carvings rest atop soaring archways supporting a celestial mountain of red brick. Sensual celadon tiles depicting devotional scenes from a lost empire captivate with age-worn textures. Cool and peaceful grand halls, guarded by lithe male angels, lead to shimmering gold visages that magically change expression as you approach. Wizened caretakers use bare light bulbs to illuminate fragile murals rendered in vibrant, fluid gestures. Worn stairways transport you a step or two closer to heaven where even the most jaded traveler will gasp at panoramic vistas of breathtaking wonder.
Your guide will recommend a shady place for lunch, just above the silver ribbon of the Irrawaddy River. Follow the local lead and take a break during the hottest part of the day.
As the sun slips ever lower towards the distant mountains, our guide will help you find a tranquil spot high above the plain from which to watch the golden light of the magic hour spill across this wondrous place. Imagine the city as it stood once-upon-a-time, a glorious mirage shimmering like a vision of paradise. Catch the late flight out back to Yangon as the final traces of the sunset linger on the spires of divinity.
There is so much to see that we strongly recommend a minimum of two days to experience Bagan adequately.
Two Day Trip
Overnight in Bagan and continue your exploration afresh in the cool of morning. Day break is an ideal time to photograph the ruins.
Begin your second day with a visit to the Bagan Archeological Museum for its fine collection of bronze, terracotta and tile work, plus gems and votive paintings once hidden inside Buddha images and now kept safe from thieves. You may also be interested to visit the nearby village market, with its throng of peddlers selling everything from ethnic folk crafts, to mountains of fresh produce from local farms. Hop onto a horse cart if you prefer a nostalgic tour of the village. Or, take a break at a tea house, always packed with chatting locals.
After lunch, visit the remains of an ancient wooden monastery overlooking the river. This small sanctuary shelters monks who tend to shady gardens and maintain an old chapel of beautifully carved teakwood. Its magical, multi-leveled pagoda decorated with surreal finials and folk art decor is a faint echo of the ephemeral artistic wonders that once graced this great city.
Bagan is also a good place to view famous Burmese lacquer ware in a nearby village of workshops specifically dedicated to this handicraft. Here you may observe the repetitive and careful layering of colored lacquer onto shapes carved from wood or woven from bamboo and horsehair. You may be surprised to see how well this ancient art has been adapted to thoroughly modern designs that would not be out of place in any sleek, contemporary environment.
Have Time? Spend an Extra Day
Most of our guests tell us that they regretted rushing through Bagan and that it was worth much more time. We agree. If you have more time it well worth staying an extra day, which you you might like to spend exploring nearby Mount Popa, one of Myanmar's most sacred spiritual centers and a monastery perched dramatically on top of an extinct volcanic cone. If you are not challenged by gravity you can actually climb to the top via a winding stairway. Or you can simply admire Bagan from the poolside restaurant of a nearby hotel.
Prices and Hotels
Prices depend on your choice of hotel and when you want to travel.
We offer several different hotels in Bagan, ranging from three to five stars. If you have a specific hotel in mind, please let us know. All of the hotels we use are carefully chosen for location, amenities, quality of service, security and value. We only use hotels that are gay-owned, gay-managed or gay-friendly. We inspect most hotels at least once a year.
To see prices and compare hotels please click on the "$" button on the left. If you have questions or suggestions about the hotels we use, please email us.
One-Day tour includes private guide, car and driver, Bagan "zone fee." Airfare is not included. Overnight Tour includes two days private guide, car and driver, one night accommodation with tax, service and breakfast, Bagan "zone fee," museum admission. Not included: airline transportation, admissions ($10/person on arrival at the airport, admission to individual temples), additional meals or drinks, gratuities, or items of a purely personal nature.