Bagan and Mount Popa
No doubt the Bagan area is one of the most important and most impressive archaeological sites in south east Asia. The ruins were once the capital of the First Burmese Empire. And Mount Popa is nearby. Both were build in the same time frame. Mount Popa contains a temple complex on the mountain and is still very active like some of the ruined or half ruined temples on the plains. Bagan is essential visiting in Myanmar and Mount Popa is just as essential.
The main area on the flatlands is about 42 square kilometers. Ruins contains stupas, pagodas, shrines, ordination halls and other monuments. There are still more then 1000 monuments left of the more then 4500 originally.
Many of the monuments disappeared in the Irrawaddy during the summer floods. Today, with UNESCO protection there are about 1000 left. Many have been rebuild or renovated and some are still used by the local people.
Most of the damage was caused by earthquakes, according to some sources there's a major earthquake every 200 years. This seems not too bad but it has taken its toll.
The most important monuments have been restored in more recent years and there are plans to restore another 287 ruins. Many more are in ruins and deserve more attention.
The temple ruins are a magic place, full of history and grandeur. I know, there will be always people who think it's just another temple and "seeing one is seeing them all". I met them everywhere, in Angkor, Borobudur and Prambanan complex in Indonesia, even in the temples of Khajuraho or Taj Mahal in India.
All I can say is that this place is a place of extreme beauty and like every place, you will see the real beauty if you open your mind and let your imagination go free.
If you do that, you might feel some of the magic and grandeur of old times passing you.
Some people say it's mad to go around on a bicycle because of the tropical heat on the plains. Bring plenty of water and a bicycle is the best way to go around. You can easily spend a few days cycling around and see the main sites.
As a cyclist and a lover of hot weather I had no problem with cycling in these flat lands along the Irrawaddy river. In fact, I love it. But if you don't like the heat, taxis are available to bring you to the main temples. Prices depend on how long and how many temples you want to visit.
A short history
Without wanting to be another Wikipedia, I still have to tell you some about ancient city.
More then 1000 years ago Bagan was the capital of the First Empire of Burma, 1044-1286 AD. There were people living in the area, confirmed to 107 AD, a group of 19 villages. It took the Burmese people 800 years to before the dynasty of the temple builders developed. They started building in 1044 and had 55 kings in total.
The most important period started with the 42nd king of Bagan Anawrahta who started the most flourishing period in Burmese history.
For most people the Ananda temple is the highlight of the Burmese architecture. The local museum is nearby and worth a visit too.
Bagan is almost 700 km north from Yangon (Rangoon). You can cycle to the area from Yangon (Rangoon) or you can visit first Mandalay and take a boat to the plains. This is particularly interesting as you see some of the life around the Irrawaddy river. This scenic trip takes a few hours and is worth the effort. Bicycle can be taken on board.
Mount Popa is not part of the Bagan area but it's not far from it either. At the top, 1518 meter there's a monastery. You can see from there some of the temples on the plains. It is said you can see about 60 km far if the weather is clear.
Mount Popa is an important place for the Burmese people for "nat" worshiping. The "nats" are spirits worshiped in Myanmar in conjunction with Buddhism. They are divided between the 37 Great Nats and all the rest (i.e., spirits of trees, water, etc).
Many Burmese pilgrims visit Mount. Popa every year, especially at Festival season on the full moon of Nayon (May/June) and the full moon of Nadaw (November/December). This festival is known as Taunghyon.
In ancient times it was a place for animal sacrifices though nowadays bringing meat, especially pork is enough. According to the belief one should not wear red or black as it could offend the resident nats.
Mount Popa is about 50km south east of the main ruin complex and it's certainly worth a visit.
The area around the hill is very green, there's a lot of water and fruit trees. Not surprisingly this has attracted many monkeys.
Accommodation in Bagan
Bagan has a wide selection of hotels available.
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Map of Myanmar
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