Nyaung-U (green) is the main town in the north-east near the airport and bus-station, it is the central transportation hub for Bagan. The budget hotels, guest houses and restaurants are in the charming old town of Nyaung-U. For the evening out Nyaung-U (Nyaung-Oo) with its many restaurants is the place to be.
The busy north-south road from the market towards the airport and the monasteries can make Nyaung-U noisy; in some area's the monks wake up very early in the morning and diligently start their morning chanting. Nyaung-U has many guest houses and cheap hotels, and a few mid-range hotels.
If you want to use a GPS-map in Bagan the Open Street Map (OSM, see the map above) is much better than Google maps; because OSM shows the many footpaths as well as most of the small and tiny temples in Bagan. Open Street Map seems to show all of the 2200 stupas and temples in Bagan! For hotel locations however Google maps can be more accurate than OSM.
Bagan has introduced digital tickets on the 1st October 2018 but the checking of tickets remains a weak point; with the IT infrastructure in Myanmar it remains to be seen if digital tickets are an effective and efficient system, or money thrown at an expensive electronic system that a developing country does not need. Why re-invent the wheel if you can copy the perfectly operating Angkor Wat ticketing system?
If Myanmar wants to professionalize the Bagan ticketing system it needs to look at the Angkor Wat pricing and ticketing system. Bagan has a quite reasonable archeological zone fee of 25.000 kyat or 16 dollars; but a time limit of only three days. Angkor park has a ticket validity of 1, 3 or 7 days and a watertight validation system.
And do take note that the Angkor Archaeological Zone pricing system is set up to entice people to stay longer. The cost of the one-day Angkor pass is $37, while a week-long visit pass – valid over a one-month period – costs $72; which amounts to about 10 dollars per day.
Angkor Wat and Bagan visitor statistics compared
It is getting busier in Burma but it's all quite relative if we compare it to Cambodia. In 2016 Bagan welcomed 280.000 visitors but ... Angkor Wat had 2.2 million visitors; almost 8 times more. There are about 650 hotels in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) but less than 100 in Bagan. Around Christmas/New Year it can be busy in the small towns around Bagan or Inle lake; but most of Myanmar is not overrun with tourists - yet.
Graph: Angkor and Bagan visitor statistics compared (2011-2017).
If Myanmar wants to compete with the Angkor Wat tourism in Cambodia then they will need to improve their infrastructure significantly. Siem Reap has a large international airport, whereas Bagan (NYU) airport is a small airport which is only served by local flights. The building of new hotels is severely limited by the Bagan Archaeological Zone where new hotels are prohibited.
Promoting Bagan's sunset viewing.
The Shwesandaw Pagoda was always the favourite temple for sunset viewing. The five receding terraces used to be covered with hundreds of terracotta plaques depicting the scenes in several Jataka tales about the previous lives of Gautama Buddha. Unfortunately, during the restoration work in the 1990s these were removed or covered. Now the Shwesandaw is a rather plain, whitewashed temple.
The Shwesandaw Pagoda is a large "stepped" temple with quite steep stairs; but it is not fragile and very suitable for climbing. It is unlikely that visitors cause any damage. The small pagodas on the contrary are not suitable for climbing and should not be climbed. At the moment they are being climbed; they do get damaged and many of them are dangerous; there are no rails or good stairs and are not meant to be climbed. It may be a good idea to re-open the Shwesandaw for sunset viewing; for safety reasons and for a controlled viewing environment.
Bagan, 2017. Visitors clambering over a ledge at a small sunset pagoda;
using both hands and feet to try to avoid falling 7 meters down.
Note: Be careful climbing just any temple; most of the small pagoda's are not suitable for climbing and should not be climbed without permission. Several tourists have been wounded when climbing small temples, notably a 20-year-old American woman who fell to her death in November 2017 while trying to view the sunset from a 20-foot pagoda. au.news.yahoo.com
Sunset viewing sites - the end of pagoda climbing!
The sun has set over the sunset pagodas?
Following the earthquake the government has started to build four new sunset viewing platforms; in august 2017 the construction of these lookout sites was completed. Three of the viewpoints are near the Sulamani Temple. More on the new viewing sites: blog.sensasia.com
Once these platforms were finished, in the last few months of 2017, all the usual sunset pagodas were closed. At the end of 2017 the Bagan authorities have closed Shwesandaw Pagoda, albeit temporarily, and all major sunset temples. (source: www.irrawaddy.com ) Many tour buses drop their travelers at the viewing platforms, so it’s crowded. The viewing mounds are also rather low, so you really cannot see much from there.
The major sunrise/sunset pagodas were: Shwesandaw Pagoda, Pyathada (Pyathat Gyi/Pyathatgyi), North Guni, South Guni, Bulethi/Buledi, Lawkaoushaung and Mingalazedi temple.
There are a few alternatives for the sunset pagoda's: One possibility is using the viewing platforms, another is the Bagan Viewing tower or Nann Myint; which is actually an upmarket restaurant. Unfortunately the tower is a bit far away from the main temples near Old-Bagan so you need a zoom lens. If you go to the Bagan Viewing tower you are supporting the government; the viewing tower is owned by the Htoo Trading Company Ltd. which also operates the Aureum Palace Resort next to it.
Another possibility is the hot balloons trip, though it is quite expensive at 400 dollars for a flight of maximum one hour.
Sunset on the Pyathatgyi (PyathaDa/Pyathat Gyi), 2016.
BAGAN earthquake damage Map - May 2018
The map below is a new version modified by me; it has been cropped and improved and the names of major temples have been adjusted to modern spelling (e.g. Dhamma Yazika instead of Dhamma-ya-zi-ka). The major temple names are also in a large font.
The source of the “Accessibility Map” is by these agencies: the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, the Nyaung U General Administration Office, and the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, supported by JICA (the Japan International Cooperation Agency). They jointly prepared and released the “Accessibility Map” in late August 2016, showing the temples that are not accessible with red squares. Since august 2016 however many temples have been fixed and re-opened; though there is scaffolding and tarpaulin on many temple tops.
Rather surprisingly these ministries have not yet published an updated version of the map since august 2016. The map below is up-to-date as of april 2017.
Bagan tourist map (2018); showing the closed and accessible temples.
Plan touristique de Bagan, Touristenkarte, karte von Bagan
Open / Partially / Closed temples.
- OPEN means accessible but not climable. Some temples need restoration and have scaffolding or tarpaulin covering the top.
- Partially open means that you can only visit a part of the temple.
- Closed means seriously damaged and closed for restoration.
Temple accessibility - 2018.
On the 24th of august 2016 Myanmar was hit by a 6.8-magnitude earthquake. The epicenter was in Chauk in central Myanmar, which is close to Bagan, where more than 400 temples were damaged. Chauk is just 30km south of Bagan on the way to Saleh, which is also a tourism destination. The Sulamani, North Guni and Mingalazedi temples were seriously damaged; as were the lesser known Gubyaukgyi (Nr.298 in Wetkyi-in) , SitanaGyi and Tayoke Pyay. Visitors are prohibited from entering some temples and pagodas.
A peek at the Thambula temple Buddha, Januari 2017.
Open Temples (major temples).
- Ananda Pahto - open. Has had a 6 year restoration until 2018. (facebook.com/IndiaInMyanmar )
- Dhamma-yangyi - open
- Dhammayazika/Dhamma Yazika - open
- Gawdawpalin - open
- Htilominlo - open
- Pyathada (Pyathat Gyi/Pyathatgyi) - open. (a large square brick temple)
- Shwezigon Paya - open
- Sulamani - open, but under restoration.
Closed or partially open temples (major temples).
- Ananda OK Kyaung - closed (this is NOT the Ananda Pahto. A Kyaung is Burmese for stone monastery building)
- Bulethi/Buledi - closed as of January 2018 for sunset.
- Mingalazedi/Mingalar Zedi pagoda - closed, undergoing major repairs.
- Shwesandaw - closed (*Sunset temple) A solid brick temple so it can not be entered.
- Thatbyinnyu/That-Byin-Nyu - closed, restoration will start in 2018.
*]Note: Open means accessible but not ascendable. All sunset temples have been closed in 2017; read more below.
- Gubyaukgyi temple (Nr.298 in Wetkyi-in, near Nyaung-U) - Open
- Gubyaukgyi temple (Nr.1323 in Myinkaba village) - Open
- Lawkaoushaung/Law Ka Ou Shaung Pagoda - Open
- Loka Hteik Pan - closed
- North Guni/Myauk Guni - closed (*Sunset temple)
- South Guni/Taung Guni - Open (*Sunset temple)
- Tayok-pye/Tayoke Pyay - closed (In 2017 the name changed to Narathihapatae Paya)
- Thisa Wadi/Thitsarwadi - Open
- Thabeik Hmauk - closed
- Thambula/Tham Bula Paya - Open
- Upali Thein - Open
The sunset photo's after the 2016 earthquake: scaffolding on many temples.
The statistics - the number of damaged temples
There are an estimated 2200 temples in Bagan; many of these are small stupas or solid brick temples without entrance. There are perhaps only about a dozen "grand temples" like the Ananda Pahto, Dhamma Yazika and Sulamani temple that are on the must-see list of most visitors.
Of the 2200 temples 453 have had earthquake damage; it is usually the top that has been displaced or fallen off. The quake reduced 17 small temples and stupas to rubble. However most temples have just minor structural damage like brickwork damage and are still accessible. Therefore there is still plenty to see; for example the Sulamani will need extensive repairs but the Htilominlo temple looks strikingly similar - at least on the outside.
The quake damage includes 56 ancient buildings with murals or Jakata wall paintings (mmtimes.com). Many temple tops are scaffolded and partly covered for restoration work; unfortunately they use large orange, blue or green tarpaulins (plastic sheets) for this.
UNESCO Myanmar is now coordinating an international team to work on the monuments. The renovation of the first group of 41 “priority monuments” is expected to take around two years. A total refurbishment of the 453 damaged monuments may cost up to 12 million US-dollars. The famous Thatbyinnyu Pagoda in Bagan will be repaired as a priority: mmtimes.com
Structural damage in temple nr. 998, Januari 2017.
Earthquake damage to pagodas and stupa's.
The Dhamma Yazika / Dhammayazika pagoda has suffered damage to the front entrance; and to the top on the dome. The dome is covered in scaffolding but the temple is open to visitors.
The top of the Dhamma Yazika pagoda has been damaged, January 2017
The quake has destroyed or damaged many small buildings; but also revealed an unknown 11th century stupa which was covered by a more recent brick structure.
The quake has revealed an unknown 11th century stupa.
The Seinnyet sisters - temple or pagoda?
The Seinnyet temples are 2 temples located between Myinkaba and New Bagan, just north of New Bagan. The closest to the road is Seinnyet Ama Pahto which means elder sister; behind it is Seinnyet Nyima Paya, the younger sister. Pahto means temple and Paya means pagoda, so the 2 sisters are actualy one temple and one pagoda. The Ananda Pahto is therefore a temple and not a pagoda, and the same goes for Dhammayangyi Pahto (Dhammayangyi temple).
A temple has at least one entrance but usually 4, so a temple can be visited inside. A Burmese pagoda is a large massive conical shape which can be covered in gold; though it is usually made from cheaper metals like brass. Famous examples of pagoda's are the Shwezigon Paya and Dhammayazika Paya in Bagan, or the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon which is covered in real gold.
Seinnyet Ama was built by queen Seinnyet; Seinnyet Nyima is a pagoda built in the 12th century by her sister. The top is a stylized umbrella in the form of concentric rings. The foto below shows the typical damage the quake did to many temples: the top has been shaken and damaged, but it is fortunately still standing.
2016 Quake damage to Seinnyet Nyima pagoda
Alternative facts - the Phwa Saw brick monastery.
The Phwa Saw brick monastery is a long-standing error in the Tripadvisor reviews; it has been there for many years - from 2012 to 2017.
The Shwezigon pagoda is the golden pagoda in Nyaung U village; the Phwa Saw brick monastery is an obscure brick monastery not anywhere near Nyaung-U. Now someone foolishly put a photo of the Shwezigon pagoda as a thumbnail on the review of the Phwa Saw brick monastery in Tripadvisor. Because the Shwezigon thumbnail is just a few stupas (?) most people scroll down past it and mistakenly identify the golden pagoda they see as the Phwa Saw brick monastery ... which it clearly is not.
So ALL the Tripadvisor reviews of the Phwa Saw brick monastery are actually about the golden domed Shwezigon pagoda ... hilarious! And if you do an image-google on the Phwa Saw brick monastery you see images of ... the Shwezigon pagoda! Alternative facts can turn a dull brick monastery into a golden pagoda.
The real Phwa Saw brick monastery.
The serious quake damage inside Phwa Saw brick monastery.
Some visitors of Bagan unfortunately do not know the names of the temples they are visiting. The good news is that the real Shwezigon pagoda does get many more reviews than the rather peculiar brick monastery. Many people also confuse the the Ananda Ok Kyaung monastery with the large Ananda Temple, they are adjacent buildings but totally different.
The official name for the Phwa Saw brick monastery is Hsutaungpyi/Hsu-Taung-Pyi monastic complex (different from the Hsu Taung Pyi Pagoda). By the way, it seems the Phwa Saw brick monastery is so seriously damaged that even trying to support it with scaffolding is hazardous; it looks like the vault might collapse during the next monsoon.
UPDATE October 2017: After many years Tripadvisor has finally removed the Phwa Saw Brick Monastery from their reviews.
Links, Youtube and Wikipedia.
Some Youtube video's on Bagans' earthquake damage.
- youtube.com - Lasers and Drones Help Preserve Ancient Temples (Scientific American)
- youtube.com - Drone footage of the North Guni and Sulamani temple damage.
- aljazeera.com - A good explanation why some damage occurred.
Bagan on Wikipedia and other sites.
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Gordon Luce was one of the first researchers of Bagan; in his book now rare book "Old Burma - Early Pagan" (1969) he writes:
"Most of the famous pagodas of Burma have been repaired so often that one can say little for certain about the original shape of their upper parts."
Copyright © 2017 - 2018 R. Schierbeek.
About the author: aboutme.htm