Bagan is an ode to Buddhism: 3,000 terracotta temples across a vast plain, built in a game of spiritual one-upmanship in the 11th to 13th centuries. This is the zenith of Myanmar’s golden age and our favourite spot in the whole country.
Picture this: a vast scorched earth plain, and as far as you can see, terracotta temples, thousands of them, reaching for the sky. Welcome to Bagan: one of the most spectacular landscapes in Asia.
Bagan is to Myanmar as Angkor is to Cambodia, the heartland of the country's most glorious civilisation and an archaeological wonder. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it dates back to the zenith of Burmese culture in the 11th to 13th centuries, when the Pagan Kingdom united the regions that form today’s Myanmar for the first time in history.
The beauty of Bagan is in the full sweep. Of the original 4,500 temples, pagodas and monasteries, 3,000 remain on a site eight times bigger than the estate of Versailles. Some pagodas are intricately carved, others have evocative frescoes, while more are graceful in their simplicity. Whichever stupa you look at, you’ll see a thousand more over its shoulder.
You can explore Bagan on foot, by bike or ox and cart but a bird’s eye view adds a new dimension. That’s where hot air ballooning comes in. Soar over the Irrawaddy and float past the temples for one of the most spectacular rides in the world. Down below, between the pagodas, pastures are tended by farmers with straw hats and scythes, while burgundy-robed monks form a long line to receive alms.