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Bagan and exploring Myanmar History

What to do in Bagan? > Make a day tour

Myanmar  Burma 
Bagan Temple
Yangon Myanmar
Ananda Temple
Shwezigon Pagoda
Bagan Architecture
Mural Painting
Irrawaddy Cruise
Bagan History
Bagan History in short from a Holiday Travel point of view
It tells a story of culture and violence over more than thousand five hundred years. Around two thousand religious edifices and ruins still stand from that time in the dusty plains of central Myanmar just beside the Irrawaddy or Ayeyarwady river.

Long time ago there were over 4000 of them but, decay, flooding and several earthquakes made them crumble and been washed away. Wars and in fights within the dynasties and families took its toll. But it still shows a great culture who was able to continue over such a long period of time. The actual end to Myanmar Kings and dynasties came when the British conquered the country. Here are some Bagan temple and pagoda photos.

A brief summary of important events in the past.

About four millenniums ago nomads of the
Australoide type came into the area this were probably the ancestors of the Mon of today. When browsing the pages be aware that often the same names are used at different locations.

1. to 4 Century: The feudal state of the Pyu around Peikthano was formed.

in the Srikshetra Museum at Pyay

A sitting Buddha sculpture in the Srikshetra Museum at Pyay about 6th Century.

Zoom out

5. to 7 Century: The Mon kingdoms of Thaton and Pegu / Bago and Dvaravati (Thailand) were founded.

Myanmar war with Thailand
Myanmar attack at Thailand

Several wars between the two countries went on between the 16th and 19th century, the last ended with the destruction of the then capital Ayutthaya in 1766. After
this the city was moved further south and Bangkok was created, as a matter of fact the Burmese were the aggressors almost every time. It seems to be a similar relationship as with the German and the French. The picture below were made in the Bangkok National Museum and the one above in a Ayutthaya Wat.

Burmese Thai War at Ayutthaya
The Burmese &Thai War at Ayutthaya

5th Century to 830: The Pyu kingdom of Thayekhetaya was founded and temples and pagodas were built plus some Buddhist art in form of sculptures and reliefs in terracotta and stone technique.

849 to 1044: Founding of Bagan in 849 and the attempt to create the first bigger state with the city as
center was started, first monument construction started.

1044 to 1077: The ruling dynasty was formed by King Anuruddha. The kingdom was expanded and subjugation of the Mons empire. The ruler brought
Buddhist scriptures or Tripitaka and relics back from Thaton after some battle with the Mon. Theravada Buddhism became the official religion and the traditional Nat cult was integrated into the local Buddhism.

1082 to 1112: Assassination of King
Sawla a son of Anuruddha, after his younger son Kyanzittha became the boss. To improve Buddhism Kyanzittha made some cooperation with the Sinhalese.

Mandalay became the capital and

the British came, took over the country and exiled the King and Queen to India, at that time the country was on a level with the Meiji Dynasty in Japan at Mandalay they even had the first Streetcar in Asia.

British Army in Burma
British Army kill local people

The British colonialists destroyed a lot, stole plenty and looted the country since they wanted to keep it as
a a place to deliver raw material only, such as wood, simple textiles and other. At that time old Bagan was already of no importance. Only by the mid of the last century the area got a "weak up call" when the first tourist came in on a culture trip. Some of the first were historians from Russia, before USSR and East Germany.

With two thousand pagodas & temples on the Irrawaddy River east side, this old city is a historic treasure. Many years of waste and decay have gone by,
still unforgettable views are here. The monuments are spread over around forty square miles on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwady - river eastwards.

This city was the capital from 1044-1286 A.D. when the empire, so to speak, reached the zenith of its power for the first time. Actually the founding of the city (a group of 19 villages) took place quite early in the dim past (about 107 A.D.), but the illustrious dynasty of temple builders, which made the city strong and famous, started only in 1044 A.D. (i.e. 22 years before the Battle of Hastings in Britain). The story of the city may be told in two parts, before King Anawrahta and after.

Rome, or any other city, wasn’t built in a day and for this city to come into being, it had taken a long time to receive the tradition and influence of three former dynasties, Tagaung,
Thaton and Tharekhittaya. At the start (107 A.D.) at Yone-hut kyun it might just have been a fortress or garrison town.

The founder King Thamodarit, paid tribute to his Pyu descent by giving his fortress city the name Paukkan or Pyu Gama (which simply means a Pyu Village.) In everyday usage, the name changed to Bagan.

Two thousand pagodas & temples beside the Irrawaddy River
Two thousand pagodas & temples beside the Irrawaddy River

History is closely connected with King Anawrahta who made Kyaukse the granary of northern Myanmar. He made administrative reforms, dividing the kingdom into districts and appointing officers to look after all affairs and to collect fair revenue. For security, he established 45
out-posts along the border of his kingdom.

In religion and culture, Anawrahta did not encourage the shabby customs of Aris, nor the popular celebrations of
nat-pwe's. He looked for a true faith and, in 1056 A.D.

Anawrahta's Kingdom of Bagan.

It was this King who made the city breathing and famous. Very important was that Mon craftsmen,
artistes and skilled workers numbering about 30,000 were also brought to the city. Anyway, destiny seemed to have sacrificed Thaton for the coming greatness of Bagan and also for the emergence of Myanmar as a leading Buddhist country today. Shin Arahan, the scriptures, Mon craftsmen and Anawrahta, with his people together started building the city.

Anawrahtas Palace depicted in a mural

During Anawrahta’s reign and after, people became so well-versed in the scriptures that, it is said, even village girls could discuss metaphysics with the learned monks from a
Bagan monastery. Then there appeared exceptionally learned persons among the leisurely royal class King Kyaswa, Princess Thanbyin, etc. who held regular classes teaching monks in Pali and Sanskrit
texts !

With walls and Tharabar Gate as seen today was one of the cities built during the reign of King Pyinbyu in 849 A.D. He was the 34th. king of the Bagan dynasty and started to prosper with commercial relations with Shans, Indian and Chinese in the east, Assam and Manipur in the west and the land of Pyus and Mons in the south.

As regards religion, people of early times, with some Pyus and other natives of the north mixed up, had diverse interests. Horse-riding Aris (monks) with pugilistic habits and other malpractices had migrated from N.W. India and they gained considerable sway over common people.

Then during the reign of Thin-ie-kyaung (344-384 A.D.), the 7th. king of the dynasty, Mahagiri Nats came to Mount Popa and nat-worshipping was popular among all classes. Mount Popa is the abode of the Nats a interesting day trip destination

Mount Popa and the nats
The city started to decline before the Mongols came in 1287 because all daily life was dedicated to pagoda building. Since that areas were exempted from taxes income and revenues went down dwindled and weakening the state because not much money left for public service.
This was only in economic terms, monument building still went on as ever and also in the same quality, the same aesthetic and quality of craftsmanship, this went on into the mid of the next century. The arrival of the Mongols had no much effect in the lives of locals, the place remained the cultural center for several more hundreds of years until the power shifted north to Ava and Mandalay.

The Mongols.

They where just ignored and embraced, the exotic Mongol warriors were rather a matter of curiosity but not fiends. When the Mongols came in 1287 the city didn't really “fall” to them, naturally the local regime was politically and economically destabilized, tribute and booty must have been paid but nothing really changed well into the 14th century.

Monastery scriptures

Monastic land ownership still increased and temple and pagoda complexes continued to be built and lavishly decorated. Much has changed until now with this high level of devastation over time and treasure hunting hordes. Monasteries kept historical data in scripture chests, among other.

A bit of History

Below is a useful Bagan map which can easily be enlarged. Some more with illustrations and ads about what currently is up in Bagan the hotels are distributing. This smaller paper map is quite useful because they have the most current information.  

How to travel

The guys who had "something" used an elephant for the ride, in resent days they use the 8 cylinder car elephant.
Bagan (Pagan) was once the capital of the First Empire
This old town has a special place in the history but it was the British who brought Bagan on the modern travel map when they were in Burma. But the period from the 11th to the 13th century is, as chronicles and other sources indicate, Myanmar‘s Golden Age.

This were the "Hay Days" of that time by any means, but especially of culture and art. Now travel and day trips are on the agenda, tourists are the new invaders and they are welcomed by almost everyone since they bring what all people like money and work.

Only narrow-minded English and US politicians who can't get rid of the colonial times pattern always blocked the attempt in the past to declare the town as a cultural heritage by UNESCO. For lousy political reasons since the old and the new colonialists don’t like when others don't do what they command.

An expensive Shrine construction
  1. Buddhist shrine interior Bagan
  2. Buddhist shrine stone window Bagan
  3. Bagan people working
  4. shrines built to gain merit
  5. a Buddha shrine with a big statue
  6. Oxcarts in Bagan
  7. Bagan People in the 18th century
  8. Big Bagan Buddha Statue

Lacquer Shopping

Going exotic shopping people buying handicrafts, lacquerware, ceramics.

Other items are produced in the lacquer cottage industry which is well known and appreciated for their beautiful creations.

On top of it the driver usually also functions as a tourist guide showing scenes along the road via a short side trip a foreigner will never see since many of the interesting places are not listed in any guide book. Such a journey is not made every day for many this is a once in a lifetime event.This old town has a special place in the history but it was the British who brought Bagan on the modern travel map when they were in Burma. But the period from the 11th to the 13th century is, as chronicles and other sources indicate, Myanmar‘s Golden Age.

They were the "Hay Days" of that time by any means, especially of culture and art. Only narrow-minded English and US politicians who can’t get rid of the colonial times pattern always blocked the attempt in the past to declare the town as a cultural heritage by UNESCO. For lousy political reasons since the old and the new colonialists don’t like when others don't do what they command.

Lacquer shopping in Bagan
Going shopping people sell their goods, handicrafts, lacquer-ware, ceramics and other items and services there are plenty of them specially the lacquer cottage industry is well known and appreciated for their beautiful creations read more
On top of it the driver usually also functions as a tourist guide showing scenes along the road via a short side trip a foreigner will never see since many of the interesting places are not listed in any guide book. Such a journey is not made every day for many this is a once in a lifetime event.
Marching nuns
Buddhist nuns, monks and novices are constantly "in the picture" they enrich the colorful countryside and have plenty of other mostly social function some are not real nuns but they wear the robe because they live in a monastery style environment read more
People are very poor and many have no place to go.
No easy living
There is no easy living in the city unless you have plenty of money the whole infrastructure and living conditions for local people is not good at all since salaries are real low, that means around $ 100,- for a normal job and who can live from that read more.
The top hotels are charging this per night and they make good profit. Nevertheless people come from everywhere because compared to other places in the country even that is better. This is one of the reasons why there are so many monks and novices since they cant survive otherwise. Monasteries have a high level of social function they look after the people who have no chance including kids and the old.

This sacred structures are very impressive and in this way nowhere in the whole world also Angkor Wat cant match that although they have some places such as Phnom Chisor with very similar buildings also made from bricks.
Bagan Myanmar Pagoda and Temple City
One of the architectural masterpieces is the Dhammayangyi Monument a beautiful and massive pyramidal structure.
The silhouettes of the pagodas and temples are very similar but in details is quite a difference visible this is especially with the temples because the pagoda form is very dogmatic there is no space for variants. All are built with bricks, real stone structures from the quarry are very rare since the material was not easy to carry at that time, read more.
Now what to do in Bagan the main Myanmar travel destination.

Bagan Golf Hotel
Which is a must see destination, other attractive trip possibilities are many browse our website to discover them.
The hotel spectrum is wide cheap and medium price range plus high end luxury the main difference with them is do they have a UPS or not since power break downs are still normal every day although the government is working on it to bring a sustainable solution read more.
There are luxury ones, cheap ones, everything is available and some are just beside the Irrawaddy river. To get an idea what's there just have a look at the pictures.

How to build a Temple
Here is a description how to build a temple in the 13th Century, It's also a bit of the philosophy behind, the material used and the environment. Understandable only very wealthy people were able to do this and it often went on for many year. Finally so many people very involved in creating this monuments that the whole kingdom declined since they neglected all other activities, read more.

Since there are already enough websites listed on Google who have just the same tour programs, hotel listing and dozens of monuments listed we do it different, we tell you also about the time and how Burma's people lived.

Why to build a pagoda
Why build one? This is somehow a interesting subject worth to look into it. It is similar as to ask this days why someone buys a Mercedes, well, why? Because they want to show their wealth and in the old days this was one of the real reasons why they did it. Everyone is telling that was to gain merit, but this is only part of the story, read more.
What is the next best to a balloon tour? Fly a drone but be careful since this is a rather exotic stuff there the authorities will become suspicious and you get problems.

Lokananda Pagoda on the Irrawaddy
The Lokananda is just beside the Bupaya and it is a interesting place to watch the life on the river, it seems there was no change in the last few hundred years. But the buildings are very impressive indeed. Other stupas are closer to the Irrawaddy River which makes a marvelous image, read more.

The river also influences the weather in Bagan.

Bagan Myanmar and temples
Holiday travel in Myanmar has always a culture element although beaches and high mountains are plenty elsewhere and a trip very diverse if someone likes read more.
Central Myanmar's and Bagan weather is very similar and that means dry, only from August until October the monsoon floods come down but the temperature is still in the high twenties. The positive effect is that the whole area turns from brown into green and stays like that until late January which means that's the best time to visit.

Some of the most impressive monuments are the Shwezigon Pagoda and the Ananda Temple, visiting this places are highlights on every trip.

Monumental temples and pagodas.
To visit Buddhist shrines and explore Buddha images (mainly murals) is what most of the visitors come for the monuments form a surrealistic landscape in the dry and flat area read more .
Old Bagan and IrrawaddyAt sunrise and at sunset great visual impressions are around in particular in composition with the Irrawaddy or Ayeyarwady river behind. The old inhabitants have set plenty of monuments into the plains. A reason to built them is is a usual way to accumulate merit in the current life to be in a better position in the next life, most people pray to Buddha, .

Thatbyinnyu Temple
One of the largest monuments is the Thatbyinnyu Temple, a colossal structure which was not finished in the interior which wont matter anyway the outside image will definitely do it watch it above read more.
Bagan Mural Paintings Art and Sculptures
Here three versions of Myanmar art come together and form an impressive symbiosis this is painting (usually in form of mural or wall paintings) sculptures ( Buddha related) and architecture (usually temples and pagodas) read more.
This is not very visible in the very early period but from the 12th century onward this arts become more and more inter dependent. Bagan has a special place in the history of Myanmar; this period was the “Hay Days” of the country by every means and especially in culture and art.

The monuments withstood monsoon floods.

Some even earthquake but not many monastic complexes resist the teeth of time, the reason is they were built from wood and fires erased them from time to time. The monuments where made from bricks now those are the remains of the glorious hay days of the city.

This place has long been abandoned as a capital, only the monuments remained, the place was also called Arimaddhapura or Pukam and was once the center of a huge state whose territory stretched over the borders of today.

Bagan Monuments
The count of Monuments is still around 2000 and the extent and size of buildings and monuments brings the city "au par" with the biggest cities of the Middle Age. The number were extremely exaggeration in some chronicles, some even write about 5 million temples which is simply impossible the total area of around 40 skm this would allow 8 – 10 sqm for each temple and they would have to build around 50 buildings per day, sometimes they talk about 5000 buildings which is also an exaggerated count.

Bagan Temples
In the 13th Century the number of buildings were probably about 4000, among them stupas and temples, between the 11th and 13th century the main pagoda building period saw both small and gigantic structures.

Even today most temples still have magnificent mural paintings and Buddha sculptures.

Reclining Buddha Sculpture
How, why and when this unique complex of several thousand buildings come into being? Where people lived, who constructed the temple and prayed in it? What was their everyday life beside of pagoda building? Was there any basic idea of the urban buildings related to the environs Since plenty of research went into these subjects today we have a good picture of the formation and evolution of the city.

Bagan Chronicles in a monastery
Chronicles date the founding of the city in the year 850 when a ruler had the city encircled with a wall the town had a square layout and a very favorable position by any means read more

The trading road from India to Indochina ran from west to east through the city. Since at 832 the Pyu kingdom (today Prome od Pyay) and its capital Thayekhetaya was destroyed by troops of the northern neighbor Nan Chao which belonged to the Khmer empire, .

Stupas in the sun

This is Myanmar Travel at it's best.

Irrawaddy River at BaganThis road was revived by the British during colonial times as the Ledo Road but abandoned after WW2. Only recently, in 2012, the prime minister of India and the president of Myanmar agreed to open this road again by 2016, which is a Hercules task since around 80 bridges must be rebuilt and the road extended since right now 2012, this is only a better dirt road.

A day trip on the Irrawaddy River in Bagan with small boats every traveler to the city should make it's easy just hire a boat at the Bupaya Stupa and to a up and down trip. It is low priced and present a new perspective if you have some money left make a balloon tour it could be the real highlight at your days in central Burma, read more.
The Irrawaddy is the north – south waterway.

It also functions as a natural wall, towards the plains an approaching enemy could be seen from the 10 km Touwa Hills to the south already far away.

The streams from the northern mountains also created a favorable climate in the area allowed growing millet and peanuts, to cultivate palms and rear cattle. There also was plenty of clay around for making bricks used as building material. Teak came down from the north using large rafts, actually many teak trunks were fixed to bamboo rafts since teak without cutting the sap wood and leaving them to dry at location is too heavy to float, read more.
Monastery made from Teak Wood

Originally, this town was not a large one, total barely around 1.5 skm but the fortification was gigantic. The thickness of the walls reached almost 4m and even 9m high at certain places.

Who founded the city?

Maybe Pyu, maybe Mon or local people nobody know for sure. What is known is at the turn of 10th to the 11th Century it was already in the hands of the Burmese and famous far over the country's borders.
Bagan Monumental Buildings are pagodas and temples
But until the mid-11th Century the creation of monumental buildings not exceed the construction of fortifications, and temple building was rather minor.

Around the middle of the 11th century Bagan was an ordinary a feudal city under the protection of brick walls and moat, surrounded by villages with agricultural orientation.

King Anawrahta on an official tour
The data specified in the chronicles of the kingdom, 1044, fall together with the year of the coronation of King Anawrahta, who transformation of the small state into a mighty one.
The economic base of the empire were agriculture, domestic as and also by trading with other countries as well. A well-organized system of irrigation whose preservation was one of the main duties of the king in peacetime rendered twice rice crops per year and rice farming was the main crop.
Bago or Pegu east of Yangon
Bago or Pegu east of Yangon was one of the busiest port and trading place in the past. Until the 17th Century all traders from the west such as Portuguese and other came here to barter for the treasures of the country, read more.
The wealth of the state and the port cities of Pegu, today Bago, in the Gulf of Martaban and Sittwe in Rakhine State on the Gulf of Bengal drove an extensive maritime trade with India and the countries of South and East Asia, the city was in the center of this important trade routes in Indochina, especially Cambodia. The chronicles say that the residents knew several languages and were known for their courtesy and business capabilities.
Bagan Empire
All this found its reflection in the cultural development, in a relative short time a Burmese script was created, which has strong similarities to India, a literature arose and achieved a respectable level.
In the time of the Bagan Empire Burmese contributed to the grammar of Pali and with comments on Holy Books of Buddhism.
By subjugating other areas wealth grew and the increasing number of prisoners of war, who were used as cheap labor forces increased and made the building boom possible. This reminds me to the building boom in Phuket and other places in southern Thailand which is mainly fueled by workforce from Myanmar, now it’s just the other way around as it was the last three hundred years thanks to lunatic communists and military.

The result of such prosperous time is always expressed by art and monumental architecture intimately connected with Buddhism. Today (2015) one more parameter is added and this is nightlife to spend money for pleasure.

Bagan Arts and Crafts
Arts and Crafts, here are wall or mural paintings plus images and statues from Buddha in other materials such as bricks and stones. Although most wall-paintings show some Buddhist related scenes some give an idea of the landscape, peoples and live in the palace, read read more.
The history could be divided into three periods.

The first part until the 12th Century, Then the time until the start of the 12th Century the first period. It is the time of the Union of Myanmar to integrate the influence of the Mon culture. The second period until the beginning of the last third of the 12th Century was to some degree a "time of troubles" in the history of the kingdom.
when in the provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim insurrection started and they were cruelly suppressed, raged as bitter power struggle between the King and the political opponents.

The King at an historic audience for foreigner it was also a time of growing wealth at the expense of the conquered provinces the period of assimilation by the traditions of the Mon-Burmese read more
History and the King of Bagan in the Throne HallThus, in the late 12th Century the Mon language in literature and epigraphy was completely ousted by the rulers. The third, the Burmese period began by the end of the 12th Century and lasted the entire 13th Century until the fall of the Empire. It was a time of a relative peaceful development of this feudal state with vast resources of men and material was particularly intensively developed during this time.
Myanmar history monuments in Arakan ArakanMyanmar Histort Rakhine
History seen at Rakhine's Mrauk-U, they charged the inhabitants of the conquered territories with taxes and duties to invest huge funds in the "faithful" temple and monastery. It is significant that the strengthened country, similar to ancient Rome, had no walls around, read more.
With the Romans the exception was the Hadrian Wall in England. In the 11th and 12 to the early 13th Century, it was so powerful that there was no danger of enemy armies, and it required no defenses.

Day trip on the Irrawaddy with big sailing ships
Day trip on the Irrawaddy with big sail ships and then, when the decline began, lacked the resources and people for the construction of defensive walls. The first signs of decline were already evident in the first half of the 13th Century. Centrifugal tendencies and separatism of the feudal elite plus a controversy between the king and the clergy began to smash the foundations of the state, read more.
Ananda Temple and Shwezigon Pagoda.
Ananda Temple
This two structures are probably the most impressive in appearance they easily can match the pyramid of Egypt, Boroboudor and what the Maya built, its a great exotic and monumental Buddhist environment. The monuments are optically very similar to Sukhothai and Ayutthaya in Thailand and a few places in Cambodia, but not Angkor Wat, that's more in the Hindu direction but the area is much larger, anyway check the pagoda pictures.
Shwezigon Pagoda Platform
Asking yourself what to do in Bagan? There is a a simple answer visit the Shwezigon Pagoda it's a splendid monumental impression because that's not only a stupa but a complete precinct on the platform with dozens of other other buildings and shops, read more.
The Shwezigon Pagoda is together with the Shwedagon in Yangon the most stunning implementation of a Buddhist shrine in the country. The building is incredibly impressive when you stand in front or looking from the Irrawaddy, its a great exotic and monumental environment read more.

The Shwesandaw Pagoda is another famous in the area, and one of the reason is, the building is perfectly situated to watch the sunset over the plains and the Irrawaddy >, it is allowed to climb up the pyramid. Every day dozens of tourist climb up shortly before sunset to watch beautiful tropical colors on the horizon. its a real "eye candy", it needs to come a bit more early since the crowd is dense, more.

Earthquakes (a major one every two hundred years) and the monsoon flood, have taken their toll on some of the most important monuments, but many have been restored to their original condition. People are continuously working to renovate more of the most historically important ruins.

Ananda Temple

Ancient History of Burma
The Ananda Temple is probably the most impressive Buddhist temple structure, its always impressive to see what the people long time ago created without all this technical equipment we are used to work with today, the monument can be seen already from far away.

Bagan Architecture is not a unique style similar structures are in Cambodia and Thailand.
History shows are great country destroyed by the English colonialists.
Hotels are plenty in every category.
Buddhist Monastery are many in the country.
Sculptures and Statues show the dedication to Buddhism.
Buddhist Temple are great monuments.
Bupaya Pagoda is one of the most impressive on the banks of the Irrawaddy.
How to build a temple have a look it's interesting.