The temples of Bagan

Temples in Bagan, Myanmar are literally everywhere.

They're as common as the cattle on the fields, the motorbikes on the roads, and the spices on their food.  If you climb up one, you will see sprawling lands dotted with stupas, temples and pagodas of different shapes and sizes.  (There are over 2,000 named temples around the ancient city and hundreds more that remain nameless.)  Some look like they grew straight from the soils with their brownish red brickwork while others glitter and wink under the glaring sun with their golden casts.

We ended up visiting a total of 17 temples (way more than we intended)--a combination of the popular and less known ones.

My companions and I had our own favorites but I think we all gravitated towards the ones with the most interesting stories (Read:  twisted or tragic haha).  And here are a couple of them.  (I shortened the initial list because I'm afraid you'll get temple fatigue just by reading through this blog entry if I mention them all!)

Ananda Temple

This temple holds the title as the most beautiful and best preserved in Bagan.  Its spires, covered in gold, gleam gloriously under the sun. Inside are four Buddha statues that are said to represent the Buddhas that have attained nirvana.[1]

Stories have it--and this is the part I find most interesting--that after its construction, King Kyanzittha executed the architects to make sure that the temple's design remains unique.

Dhammayangyi Temple

If you have a fascination for creepy and haunting, then this temple's for you!

Its dark and grim history precedes this imposing structure.  Legend has it that the Dhammayangyi Temple was built by King Narathu who came to throne by assassinating his father and older brother.  Presumably, he built this temple to atone for his sins.[2]

Moreover, the sadistic king oversaw the construction of the temple himself and demanded that the brickwork fit together so tightly that if a pin could penetrate through the bricks, the masons or slaves would be killed.

Its construction, however, was never completed because King Narathu was assassinated in this very temple.[3]

(Talk about karma!)

Eerie-looking dolls in an eerie temple.
And to add to the creepiness of the moment (haha), my friends and I went up one of the very steep and narrow staircases to get a bird's eye view of the adjacent lands.

No damsels in distress here.

After scraping our knees and scaring ourselves s**t from the height, we were rewarded by a fantastic view of the Thatbyinnyu Temple.

Thatbyinnyu Temple

Now here's another imposing structure famous for being the highest temple in Bagan.

No creepy story here.  Just an interesting little fact:  The temple is visible from nearly every vantage point around Bagan and looks good no matter where you point your camera from ;)

Shwezigon Pagoda

This is another pagoda that looks good from all angles.  People often refer to it as Bagan's version of Yangon's popular Shwedagon Pagoda.  But according to history, this golden jewel was built way eairler by King Anawratha and practically became the prototype for the other pagodas around Myanmar.[4]

Inside one of the smaller pagodas inside Shwezigon.

Manuha Temple

This temple was named after the Mon king from Thaton, a town in Southern Myanmar,  who was held captive by King Anawratha in Bagan (Yes, the very same king who built the Shwezigon pagoda).  Legend says that King Manuha was allowed to build it in 1059 and he constructed it to portray his life a prisoner-of-war.  Hence the giant Buddhas which are too large for the cramped enclosures.[5]

Bupaya Pagoda

This one's rarely found on lists of popular temples and pagodas in Bagan but is quite notable because it's located on the brink of the Ayeyarwaddy River.

I personally like it because when you look down, you will see swatches of the daily Burmese life which include small food stalls that sell local street food.

The sunrise temples

Like I said in my previous post, watching the sunrise is a must when in Bagan.  We were lucky enough to experience that breathtaking moment twice.  The first one was at the Shwesandaw Pagoda while the second one was at the Shwe Laik Tu Temple.  We were so enamored by the sight of the orange hue of the sunrise enveloping the lands that I forgot to take photos of the actual temples we watched it from!

But, I think you would agree that their real significance lie on these views that their vantage points provide:

View from the Shwesandaw Pagoda.

View from the Shwe Laik Tu Temple.

Close encounter.  On our second sunrise, we were lucky that most of the hot air balloons passed over the Shwe Laik Tu Temple where we were waiting.

After our 17th temple, we actually had time to drop by at least three more but we decided to stop the temple-hopping there and just relish the experience we had going around, climbing up, and admiring the details of the ones we've already gone to.

And at the end of the day, no matter how beautiful or historic the temple you go to is, it's still best experienced with travel companions who appreciate the story behind it and the experience of being in the moment as much as you do :)

#TeamALAK is Abby, Leo, Arnie, Koryn.  (Photo taken from Abby's GoPro.)



  1. GORGEOUS...simply great...bringing back memories+ some dust ;-)))
    luv the last pic of you four! we had a guided biking tour with a fabulous guide, at the edn of the day I had a flat tire,
    but omg-was fun!
    btw I just visited one temple with you I did not see, the one with the lying Buddha;-))
    and so crazy, they say there are around 2000 temples there!!!

    1. So what happened after the flat tire?!

      I know! The temples there are like mushrooms popping out everywhere haha. But love it, right?
      The lying Buddha wasn't really part of our initial itinerary. We just found out about it during the trip so we decided to check it out :)

  2. Enchanting... Almost surreal! The Temples are amazing, and you photograph them well! I like the shot of you sitting in the Temple.

    1. Thank you! It's hard not to take nice photos is Bagan :)

  3. Grabe ang ganda ng mga ladscape shot mo Ms. Koryn. And those dolls were really creepy. Bawal yata mag pagabi jan kung ganyan lang naman,, Pero you brought the beauty out of it with your good angled shots.

    1. Salamat! Haha oo, super creepy! Narealize ko, dapat pala we went to the temples at night too. Pero baka magtatakbo lang kami sa takot haha!

  4. Thanks for your warm welcome words on my re-started blog :) Seems now it's working again.
    This is an unbelievable place and your foggy photos with temples are really great.
    I very like the film "Samsara" and I have already saw this beautiful place in this film. Did you see it?
    Take care!


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