Bagan Photo Essay

Apr 2014

There is so much to see in the city, a Bagan photo essay is the best place to begin.  Landing in the early morning is like stepping into a fairy tale.  A slight haze is surrounding the temples which stretch as far as the eye can see.  Antiquity and mystery is scattered across the dry plains. Colors are completely different from Yangon, there is very little green and the countryside is not filled with the glistening gold of our first stop, but golden grasses and naturally colored brick temples of an ancient capital.

The morning was spent walking around the Min Nan village and exploring the stupas and temples of the area.  Each is more beautiful in it’s decay than the last.


The area is still home to over 2500 structures, so you can imagine how many must have filled the area in the 11th and 12th centuries.  Families created their own buildings as a sign of wealth and power, probably similar to the thought process behind all the McMansions that pop up around Boston, my home town.


The country is much more primitive here.  Many people rely on ox cart for transportation and the roads are often not paved.  It is a simple way of life.  The internet has arrived, but it is slow and painful. After a BIT of frustration, we found it was better to just turn off for a few days and take in all the countryside had to offer.


It was impressive to see the restoration work being done on the inside murals.  Many have all ready been restored to their former brilliant glory.  It is a slow, painstaking process of removing years and years of dirt and grim buildup, but the magic revealed underneath is pretty spectacular. Especially when you consider how old the original paintings are, and the natural materials they must have used for pigments.


We did have our fair share of gold leaf.  Shwe Zigone Pagoda is the most impressive local golden pagoda from 1090 AD.  It is said to house Buddah relics and introduced us to Myanmar’s unique Theravada Buddhism.  This intricate combination of animism, alchemy and worship of the Nat Gods, was fascinating to learn about. Modern day practice focuses more on the gentler side of Nat culture and ones favorite spirits are looked to bring success in everyday life.



The craft scene in Bagan is very active.  Well known for their parasols and laquerware, we were able to see demonstrations of the process of both. Bagan House Lacquer has a very comprehensive collection and demo area.  They sell a selection ranging  from small bowls to dining room tables.  And of course they ship worldwide.  In the back area is an impressive collection of antiques.



To get a taste of village life,  many horse carriage and ox cart rides are available.  Traveling inside the villages this way allowed you to really see a slice of everyday living away from all of the temples and pagodas. You’re up high enough to see over the walls, kids chase the carts, women are cooking and it’s a bumpy backstage pass to Bagan.



Sunset is one of the great joys of this area.  The temples outline the hills and for the moment all is peaceful and good in the world. Our wonderful guide made sure we saw it from a unique vantage point each night.


Ahh…..and the Bagan Lodge.  What a great spot to come back to and recharge when your mind is swimming  trying to process all of the sites of the day.  A pool to relax by and a fully stocked cocktail lounge.  Like I said, all is good in the world………

Part 2 will take you through the rest of our stay in Bagan.

  1. Karen Warren says:

    It really is another world! Lovely article and pictures.

  2. Lee Briggs says:

    This is an area of the world that has always held a fascination to me. Bagan looks like a nice place to “turn off” as you put it and relax while still being able to explore the 2500 structures in the area.

    • alison says:

      Lee-In Bagan, you don’t have much choice. Unless of course you just want to frustrate yourself! It was a freeing relief to not have to worry about the internet on one part of my journey!

  3. Great photos! I really loved my 3 days at Bagan, such a cool place to just jump on a bike and explore. It looks a lot greener than when I was there.

    • alison says:

      Jon, I think it gets a lot dryer and dusty at other times of the year. When I look at the photos again, it seems like it was a lot greener than I remember. Shaking out our clothes was the first thing we did when we got back to the hotel. Quite a change from tropical Yangon.

  4. Alison, haha I already mentioned this, but I love your lay-out! Great photo-essay of Myanmar. I may go there this summer so thanks for this article :)!

  5. noel says:

    that was a brilliant photo essay, it does look so accessible and still untapped with all the domestic animals running around those site, love this…i need to go before the building craze sets in

  6. Looks like a beautiful and rustic place to visit. The hot air balloon pictures looks fabulous!

    • alison says:

      Angela-Myanmar can handle all ends of the travel spectrum when it comes to hotels. With so many people visiting, you just have to make sure you make your arrangements early. The balloon ride was certainly a highlight for me.

  7. Lovely photos and article! How long did you spend in Myanmar in total?

    • alison says:

      Elena, I was there for 16 days, but a lot of that was travel time. I feel like I barely scratched the surface, and now of course want to go back for more!

  8. This looks amazing! I love the first photo. I never heard of Bagan before but it looks like a beautiful and lovely place to visit

  9. Myanmar is a part of the world that is particularly intriguing and for the most part unknown to me. I would love to experience Bagan after reading this excellent review.

    Your pictures are excellent and I love how you capture the reader in this photo essay approach. It just shows that pictures can truly tell a story with a minimum amount of words.

    • alison says:

      Going through my photos to put the essay together was like being there again. Although at times I just like to put the camera away and just experience a spot, that feeling doesn’t last long and out it comes again. I do love photography, so thanks.

  10. Jempi says:

    Waw Alison, I love your beautiful pictures! Bagan looks like a very interesting place to visit. Your article describes very good what’s going on there. Thanks a lot! Cheers, Jempi.

  11. What a fascinating place and your photographs bring it to life beautifully. I’ve never been further east than India but would love to explore Myanmar. There is still so much of the world I’ve yet to discover.

    • alison says:

      Kat, India is still my most favorite place, but Myanmar is high on the list. Being exposed to so much travel on social media makes me realize how much I still have to discover!

  12. Great photos, Alison! I especially like the first… I’m guessing that was taken from a hot air balloon??

    Myanmar is not somewhere I’ve made it to just yet but, if the opportunity ever arises, I think I’d jump at the chance.

    • alison says:

      Paul, you’re right it was indeed taken from my trip on Balloons Over Bagan. It was one of the highlights of the trip, and gave me such a different perspective. It was hard to imagine the landscape with over 6000 temples back in the 12th century. Looking from that vantage point, I could see what it must have been like. Highly recommend traveling to Myanmar if you get the chance.

  13. Great photos of Bagan! I haven’t visited it yet but it is definitely on my list! 😀

  14. ben says:

    Great article alison! 🙂 Even the photos were great.

  15. Your posts and photos on Bagan are making me want to visit more and more! Stunning photos and I would love to see Bagan in person.

  16. I went to began in 2013 and that trip was really enjoyable. This post is also very interesting. Great one thanks!