Bagan, Wonder of Asia

Explore Bagan by hot air balloon Gay Bagan Tour

Ancient temples, as far as the eye can see! Bagan is one of the most important places to visit in Asia. 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.

Bagan (formerly known as 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. 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.

Day One: Myanmar's Angkor Wat

Arrive in Bagan from Yangon or Mandalay.

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.

A local farmer grinding grain with ox power 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.  Wizened caretakers use bare light bulbs to illuminate fragile yet vibrant murals. Worn stairways transport you a step or two closer to heaven. You may gasp at panoramic vistas of breathtaking wonder.

As the sun slips ever lower towards the distant mountains, your guide will help you find a tranquil spot high above the plain to witness the fading sun cast a brilliant spotlight on ancient spires. Imagine the city as it once stood, a shimmering vision of paradise.

Day Two: A Village Market, a Monastery, and the World's Finest Lacquerware

Day break is an ideal time to photograph the ruins. There is no better way to do that than by hot air balloon. This part is optional but it could absolutely be one of the best things you do in Myanmar.

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.

Bagan offers panoramic vistas of magnificent ruins 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 At Mount Popa

You really need two full days to see Bagan--three days if you also include Mount Popa. Most of our guests tell us that they regretted rushing through Bagan and that it was worth much more time.

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.

Next, why not continue your adventure in Royal Mandalay or Inle Lake ?

Purple Dragon  pioneered LGBTQ travel to Myanmar, but everyone is welcome on our tours!

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Photos: Aung Ruangprakorn, Allen Shores