On the beautiful banks of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, Bagan is a magical place of misty plains sprouting the largest concentration of Buddhist temples, stupas and pagodas in the world. This is an 'area', rather than a town, covering around 26 square miles, but the original village, now called Old Bagan, and the new centre, New Bagan, are the best places to stay in Bagan if you want to be right in amongst the magic of the monuments.
Some of Bagan's beautiful structures date from the 11th Century, with the area being added to over the decades. Photos of Bagan show many spires and domes - like inverted ice cream cones, but each monument is different with its own shape and significance to Buddhist thinking. Part of the magic of the place is the wonderful red of the temples, which is actually the exposed brick, visible now that much of the original stucco has eroded. So there's a feeling of graceful decay, added to by the plants growing in and out of the temples and squirrels scampering all over the place.
Bagan is often compared to Angkor, the main difference being that Bagan's monuments are spread out over a much greater area, though not hidden by jungle, so your view is always full of more great temples, stupas and pagodas.
Ananda Pahto, with its gold cladding, is one of the largest, at 170feet tall, and best preserved of Bagan's monuments. Dhammayangyi Pahto, is another of the largest, and best preserved temples, but this one is also famous for its grizzly history - workers who didn't produce masonry that fitted so perfectly that a pin could not pass between the stones supposedly had their arms amputated just inside the west entrance where there are arm shaped groves in the walls. Shwesandaw Paya is white, pyramid shaped pagoda worth visiting because it also offers one of the best views of the whole region.
New Bagan and Old Bagan are linked by good paved roads, but the area around them is littered with bumpy dirt tracks out to one or other of the temples, stumps or pagodas. Both centres are large villages, and aren't really set up for nightlife.
Our pick of the best places to stay in Bagan features properties in both New and Old Bagan, so there's something for everyone, wherever you choose to be.
Archeological Zone, Old Bagan
A picturesque hotel set in 27 acres of tropical gardens, right on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River – with a swimming pool and spa to boot.
Opened in 2013, this is one of the newest and best places to stay in the temple city. Great service and beautifully designed – this is a slick operation.
A charming, antique-filled bolthole tucked away on a quiet, dusty street in New Bagan. A peaceful place to put your feet up and relax after a day’s temple-hopping.