New Bagan (Myothit)
Considered to be one of the most impressive areas in Myanmar, Bagan lies in the middle of the country, 700km north of Yangon and 290km south west of Mandalay. Encompassing Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyang U, this area boasts thousands of ancient temples, pagodas and monasteries that were built during the 11th - 13th Century. At the height of its rule there were over 10,000 important sites built, however only around 2200 remain in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors to Bagan have to pay a $10 visitor fee to enter the region and although it is purported to go to the maintenance of the area, there are big question marks over this claim.
On the eastern part of the Bagan archeological site, you will find the ‘Bagan Viewing Tower’, officially named “Nann Myint”, which means ‘the high palace’ in Burmese language. Locals sometimes call the structure “government surveillance tower” and Tay Za, one of Burma’s most prominent government cronies, built a 5-Star Hotel at the bottom of it. Tourists can climb the tower and look at the wonders of Bagan for a $10 entrance fee.
The busiest town in the Bagan region is Nyaung U, which is the main port of call for tourists visiting the area with good guesthouses and major transportation links. The wide dusty streets boast tea shops, restaurants, bars and would be considered the best spot to meet other travelers and organise onward travel be it via air, boat or bus. Old Bagan is located 4 km to the west of Nyaung U and has only few affordable eating or sleeping options. A number of beautiful handicraft shops selling locally produced laquerware and woodcarvings are dotted around the area, along with some interesting archaeological sites such as city walls, temples, and impressive Irrawaddy River views. New Bagan was established in the 1990's and residents of Old Bagan were forced to pack up and settle in New Bagan. This sleepy, dusty town offers a number of sleeping and eating options with some great spots to be found on the riverside.
A trip to Bagan would not be complete without a tour of the incredible temples, monasteries, stupas and pagodas in the area. With over 2200 temples in the 40 kilometer archaeological region, there are plenty to choose from. The best way to explore the temples is by organising a horse cart to take you around which allows some shade from the searing heat that plagues the plains of Bagan. Exploring by bicycle is a cheaper option, although it is difficult to cover much distance this way. The most impressive temples in the Bagan area include;
* Dhammayangi Temple – Built in 1170, this is the largest temple in Bagan. It is popular for the complicated architectural style used in the building;
* Ananda Pahto - Built in 1091 and considered to be one of the holiest in the area. This picture-perfect temple is one of the best preserved but also the most revered and houses 4 Buddhas that face the four cardinal directions.
* Shwesandaw Paya – Stunning at sunset, this stunning white pagoda that was built in 1057 is a very popular spot for capturing that perfect Bagan sunset picture. Although crowded at sunset, it is quiet during the day and worth looking through if you have the time.
* Shwezigon Paya – A superb spot to capture the essence of past and present religion in Bagan, this working temple houses 4 massive bronze Buddhas and 37 nat (spirit) which herald back to the pre-Buddhist times. This temple has the oldest freestanding statue of the king of the nat, Thagyamin, in Myanmar.
* Popa Taungkalat – Located 50km south east of Bagan, this wonderful castle-like complex stands proudly and precariously on top of craggy outcrop 1500m above sea level. There are 777 excruciating monkey-pee covered steps to climb up to the summit, but once there visitors are greeted with fresh cool breezes, breathtaking views and an eclectic mix of stupas and shines that cling to the rocks.