Discover Bagan’s Best Temples – Planning a trip to Bagan? Use this guide to help you discover the best temples to visit in Bagan.
Bagan is home to the highest density of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world. In its heyday, over 10,000 magnificent buildings stood amongst the Bagan plains, an ancient capital dating back to the 11th and 13th centuries. Spanning an area of 16 square miles (41 km²), just over 2,000 structure have survived the test of time and still remain standing today. Many of the main temples have been restored and ongoing restoration works are in place on many more.
It’s no longer possible to climb to the top of any temple in Bagan’s archeological zone. The government began restricting access to the temple tops back in 2017 and during our visit in late February 2019, it was completely banned. Bagan was finally listed as a UNSECO World Heritage Site in July 2019, twenty four years after its initial application. And due to its UNESCO listing, it’s hard to know if Bagan’s temple tops will ever open to tourists again. But don’t let that deter you! It’s still possible to get amazing views and enjoy this ancient wonderland.
So with thousands of ancient temples ready to be explored, which are the best ones to visit in Bagan? It would be impossible to visit every temple in just one visit. We had 3 days to discover the best temples in Bagan and these were our favourites:
We seriously fell in love with this 12th century temple. It is the biggest on the Bagan plains and visible from pretty much everywhere! It’s particularly pretty early in the morning as the sun emerges from behind the temple. And if the wind’s on your side, you’ll witness dozens of hot air balloons drift overhead as the sun rises. We came here to watch the sunset on our first & second night from the small mound in front of the temple. And the views of surrounding temples from here were just as impressive. All in all, it quickly became our favourite place to soak in the beauty of Bagan.
One of the most famous temples in Old Bagan, the beauty of Anada is like no other. Its striking white walls and gilded sikhara sets this temple apart from the others. The temple has been beautifully restored and houses four giant standing Buddhas, positioned inside each doorway. We recommend visiting this temple as early as possible as it becomes incredibly busy throughout the day. Think bus loads of package tour groups!
Ta Wet Hpaya
In our quest to find the perfect temple to watch the sunrise, we stumbled upon Ta Wet Hpaya. Cruising around in the dark near Sulamani Pahto, we took a dirt track which lead us to this gorgeous temple. At first we weren’t sure that it was going to provide the backdrop we had in mind. To be honest, we didn’t know exactly what that back drop was! But as the sky was lighting up fast, we were out of time to find an alternative! And before we knew it, the sun was up and balloons filled the sky around us! We ended up really loving this temple and were glad we spend a sunrise here.
At 100m tall, this beautiful white pyramid-style pagoda is the tallest in Bagan. A series of stairs leads past five terraces to the cylindrical stupa at the top. Although access to the terraces have been closed, the temple itself is beautiful to observe at any time of day. As this is also a well know temple in Old Bagan, it can get overwhelmingly busy.
Tha Beik Hmauk Gu Hpaya
Tha Beik Hmauk Gu Hpaya is by no means one of the main temples in Bagan. But it caught our eye as we drove by, so we stopped to have a look. We were the only people in sight and the whole area had a sense of calm. Although it lacks the wow factor of some of the bigger temples, we loved its quietness and character.
We drove past Dhammayazika Pagoda on our first morning in Bagan, whilst searching for a smaller temple where we could watch the sunrise. It’s golden dome (although undergoing restorations) really stood out. It’s not not one of the main temples and being located closer to New Bagan, there were no bus loads of tourists here. We came across just a few locals, giving us the opportunity to explore this beautiful pagoda in relative peace!
So we found this little temple whilst exploring the small tracks near Dhammayangyi Pahto. We don’t actually know its name, but really loved the aesthetic of it. There’s plenty of cool little temples dotted all over Bagan and in many cases, you will be the only people around to enjoy them! For us, these little unknown gems were some of the best temples to visit in Bagan.
Located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River stands an unusual looking pagoda. In Burmese, the word “bupaya” literally translates to ‘pumpkin pagoda’. And when you see the Bupaya Pagoda, its name makes sense! Sadly, the original was destroyed by the 1975 earthquake, which saw the ‘pumpkin’ break into pieces before crashing into the river. It was reconstructed between 1976-1978, replicating the original pagoda. Despite this, we think it is worthy of a visit due to its unique appearance which is completely different to any other pagoda or temple in Bagan!
We weren’t initially going to stop at Gawdawpalin Temple, but we’re glad we did. It’s incredibly picturesque with its weathered off-white walls and partially gilded sikhara. Standing at 55m tall, the two storey structure is the second tallest temple in Bagan and is similar in design to Thatbyinnyu temple. Its close proximity to Ananda, Thatbyinnyu and Bupaya Pagoda makes it easy to combine a quick (or long) visit.
A few more temples & pagodas
There’s a few other temples which make it into our best Bagan temples list:.
Sulamani Pahto’s name translates to ‘Crowning Jewel’ and it’s one of Bagan’s main temples. It’s a beautiful two-story, red bricked, pyramid-style temple, with five doorways, a gilded sikhara, frescos and buddhas. Its beauty and historic importance also makes it one of the most visited temples in all of Bagan. Similar in design to Htilominlo Temple, it’s one we didn’t really explore properly, but wish we had. Our visit seemed to align with every other tourist in Bagan and as a result, it was extremely busy. Not willing to fight the crowds, we didn’t stay very long. Sulamani Pahto’s located near one of the balloon launching sites and is within close proximity to both the sunrise and sunset hills. Therefore, it makes sense to combine a visit if you’re heading to one of the hills to see the sunrise or set. But bear in mind, many other people will have the same idea!
At 60 meters high, Thatbyinnyu temple is the tallest in Bagan. But it’s not the prettiest or the best-preserved temple in our opinion. However, it was undergoing some much needed restorations during our visit. Although not one of our favourite temples, it’s one of significance which makes it worth a quick visit.
This three-storied red brick temple is similar in design to Sulamani Pahto. The temple features a sikhara similar to that of Ananda, however it’s not gilded. Instead, a gilded hti, an umbrella shaped spire, sits on top of the sikhara. The temple houses four large gilded Buddha images and contains beautiful murals and frescoes. Like Sulamani Pahto, our visit here was crowded, therefore rather short!
Shwezigon Pagoda is considered to be the most important pagodas in all of Bagan. At 50m tall, this golden beauty is said to house a tooth and bone of Gautama Buddha. Its location in Nyaung U Town puts it further away from all of the other temples we visited. And as a result, we didn’t have enough battery left on our e-bike to make the return trip! We highly recommend planning a temple route using map.me or google maps in order to maximise how many temples you can visit in Bagan on a full e-bike battery! This pagoda should be on your itinerary is it looks beautiful!
This rounds off our list of the best temples to visit in Bagan. If you’re planning a trip to Myanmar, make sure you spend a few days in Bagan… you won’t be disappointed!!
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