The best three structures in Bagan
*** Ananda Pahto (pahto = temple), this 11th century temple is the finest, most beautifully balanced in Bagan, with added interior interest from varied, meaningful buddhas and ceramic plaques.
***Shwezigon Paya (paya = stupa/pagoda that is basically solid), an elegant, 12thC bell-shaped design, near the new town of Nyang-U.
**Thatbyinnyu Pahto, this 12thC temple is the tallest in Pagan but sadly climbing it is not currently permitted, nor is entry.
Ananda Temple, built in 1090. Photo by Francisco Anzola.
The most interesting of Bagan’s many religious structures is the massive Ananda Temple, a double-terrace pagoda that represents the infinite wisdom of Buddha. King Kyanzittha was so delighted with the temple design that he had the architect executed to avoid any possibility of competition. The building is laid out in the shape of a Greek cross and decorated with 1, 424 different statues of Buddha.
The south-facing Buddha in Ananda Temple, one of the two original buddhas there. All four buddhas are made from solid teak wood. Photo by Gerd Eichmann.
Among many other statues in Ananda are four large standing Buddhas facing the four points of the compass and representing nirvana. The south facing one pictured looks sad from close up but cheerful from a distance. Lower sections of Ananda are decorated with hundreds of glazed tiles depicting scenes from Jataka, tales of Buddha’s previous lives in India.
Being Bagan’s primary attraction Ananda also attracts the pushiest of the region’s hawkers and plenty of them. They tend to congregate on the north side, the direction from where most tourists approach, so if possible approach and enter the temple from the east side.
Thatbyinnyu Temple, 61m (201ft) high, the tallest building in Bagan. Photo by Gerd Eichmann.
The 12thC Thatbyinnyu Pahto is the tallest temple in Bagan but climbing it is not currently permitted. Its three terraces are bordered with spires and lead to a gold-spearpoint 207ft high. The structure is impressive and only 500m (1500ft) from Ananda so it’s worth a stroll to look it over from close up, but there’s nothing to see inside. Move along now.
Shwezigon Pagoda complex
Shwezigon Buddhist Pagoda complex, near the Irrawaddy River and Nyaung-U new town. Photo by Gerd Eichmann.
The Shwezigon Paya, finished in 1102 but damaged and repaired many times since by earthquakes is Bagan’s second favourite tourist attraction, features dramatic and dazzling terraces, a stupa covered with 30,000 copper plates gilded with gold leaf and a mass of small temples, shrines, statues of Buddhas and nats, traditional guardian spirits.
Carvings of Buddha tales and nats in the Shwezigon Pagoda complex. Photo by Gerd Eichmann. Locals believe that bones and a tooth of Gautama Buddha are contained within the pagoda.
December-January, the Ananda Festival, when thousands of monks and locals gather for a huge pagoda festival. Three days at the full moon.
The full moon time around May-June and November-December. Two big spiritual festivals (Nat Pwes) are held at Mt. Popa.