Visiting The 2,229 Mystical Temples of Bagan, Myanmar

We spent one week this June in Myanmar, first Yangon and then Bagan. Being closed off from the rest of the world for most of the 20th century and nearly all of this century has led to many strange and wonderful cultural differences in Myanmar. It also means that, compared to almost every other beautiful spot in the world—from Paris to Chiang Mai—it’s relatively untouched by tourism.


Relatively free from the cheap souvenir shops lining the streets of most other major cities (though there are plenty of locals outside of temples hawking clothes and postcards), free from the “adventure tourism” traps we saw in other places like Thailand. In fact, Bagan is so breathtaking that Olivier said it was the favorite tourist destination he’s ever visited in the world (a bit hyperbolic…but still saying something, since we are both lucky to have visited some pretty incredible places).

cows in front of a temple in Bagan Myanmar

Over the course of the 11th to 13th centuries, the people went on a building spree, constructing an estimated 10,000 temples and pagodas in Bagan over 40 square miles, when the city was the center of the Pagan Empire. And then building suddenly stopped in the 13th century when the Mongols attacked. Many of the temples crumbled over the years, but many remained–all lined up in varying sizes with walls facing north-south-east-west, with Buddhas on each cardinal direction for people to worship.

woman praying at Buddha in Bagan Myanmar

We stayed at the Hotel at Tharabar Gate for three nights and loved it ($70 a night for a gorgeous brick house room, huge pool and good restaurant where we spent every day from 12-4 pm, when it was too hot for tourism). Most visitors to Bagan (including us) rent an electric bike or moped and jet around between temples ($10 a day, no license or collateral required!).

riding motorbikes in Bagan Myanmar

As we zipped around, I felt like I was in the Wizard of Oz, following dusty trail after trail to an awesome Oz-like temple…and, of course, Indiana Jones. Olivier pictured himself in a video game, with “missions” of hitting every temple in a certain amount of time (between 8 am and 12pm, before you melt in the heat!), and where mythical Buddha creatures pop out of the tops of temples to come destroy the bad guys. From the sunsets to the faded paintings decorating the walls of the temples, a truly mythical place:

arial view of Bagan Myanmar

sunset in Bagan Myanmar

painting on temple in Bagan Myanmar

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