The kings of Bagan, the capital of the ancient Pagan empire, went on a three-century building spree that resulted in thousands of temples studding the plains. Today, this mystical town — with stupas and gu-style pagodas as far as the eye can see — is one of the most picturesque along Myanmar’s Irawaddy River.
What We Love
Lacquerware: This ancient craft involves weaving together bamboo reeds and applying intricate patterns and traditional designs with a needle over several layers of varnish. Pick up a bowl, vase, or a box — the sheer mastery of the workmanship is nothing short of impressive.
Best Known For
Temples: Bagan’s pagodas, stupas, and temples come in various shapes and sizes, with some housing revered relics or teak statues and others bursting with colorful murals. The highlights? The 12th-century Dhammayangyi is amongst the most well-preserved; the terraced Ananda, topped by an ornamental hti (umbrella); and the brick and stone Sulamani, which features stunning, intricate stucco work.
Shwezigon Paya: Built in the 12th century, this gem-studded gold pagoda glistens in the sunlight and is a significant religious shrine sheltering the bones of Buddha.
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Who It's Best For
Photographers: Whatever time of day, the temples of Bagan make for shots that will be sure to inspire likes on Instagram and Facebook (and all of the accompanying envy).
Romantics: There are so many dusk and dawn adventures here that couples can share — oxcart rides into the sunset, ballooning over misty temples, and scanning the dusty plains from the top of a terrace.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The Best Adventures Are at Sunrise: Some of the most jaw-dropping experiences happen bright and early. And we mean early. Get a good night's rest the day before. You’ll quickly get over your initial grumbling and grogginess once your hot air balloon rises over the temples.
Lisa Cheng is a New York-based writer for ShermansCruise who also writes for Travel + Leisure.