Under its former name, which was spelt as Pagan, you would imagine that the citizens were a bunch of heathens with little or no religion, but nothing could be further from the truth from those who lived in Bagan during its heyday from the 9th to 13th centuries.
In those days, Bagan was the biggest city in the country we now know as Myanmar, or Burma. In fact it was a very religious city. Staunchly Buddhist, whose citizens built over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries. Of course, time is a great leveller, and now only about 2,200 remain. They are still very impressive, and very much worth visiting.
Bagan is situated on the eastern bank of the mighty Ayeryarwady (Irrawaddy) River, almost in the middle of the country. It is 290 kilometres (180 mi) southwest of Mandalay and 700 kilometres (430 mi) north of another former capital, Yangon.
These magnificent monuments cover a large area measuring 13 kilometres by eight kilometres. It was originally established as a walled city, with twelve gates and a moat, by King Pyinbya in 849. It grew to become the capital of the Pagan Empire for about 250 years, and it was during this period that many of the buildings were constructed by the adherents of Theravada Buddhism.
There are a great number of important temples which are open to visitors, but in order to get a better understanding of the history and the meanings of the various temples it is recommended that you get a guide.
Because it is one of the main destinations for tourists in Myanmar, getting to Bagan is reasonably easy, and your choice of transportation may be decided by the amount of time you have in the country.
There are regular flights from Yangon and Mandalay. If you have more time to enjoy the country, trains offer a good alternative. There are overnight trains from Yangon and regular services from Mandalay. The trains can get very crowded with locals if you travel in the cheapest classes, but first class is still reasonably comfortable.
The Ayeryarwady (Irrawaddy) River is one of the world’s great rivers, and it is possible to enjoy a cruise from Mandalay on board a comfortable boat, but the river can be very wide in places so views may not be exactly as you anticipate.
Because Myanmar has a policy of encouraging international tourism there are a spate of hotels and restaurants in Bagan, with more being planned to open. At present Bagan is not overcrowded with tourists, but that may change in the coming years.