Nation's Ancient Capitals


Bagan is just 193 km south of Mandalay in Upper Myanmar. It is on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River. Known as the city of four million pagodas, Bagan is one of the richest archaeological sites in Asia. Bagan city covers an area of 42 There, one can find over 2,000 pagodas, temples and monasteries built during the Bagan Dynasty founded by King Anawrahta in 1044A.D.
After unifying the country, Anawrahta accomplished another noble deed for the country: he introduced Tharavada Buddhism into Myanmar with the help of Shin Arahan, a missionary monk from Thaton. It was Buddhism that influenced the rulers of Bagan Dynasty to build innumerable pagodas and temples in and around the city. The endless pagodas stand testimony to the rich cultural heritage of the Myanmars and also to the beauty and grandeur of ancient pagoda.

Economy and Industry

Anciant Bagan is indeed an interesting place to visit for scholars and tourists who have an interest in archaeology and architecture.
Visitors are required to pay US $ 10 for admission to the archaeological zone. US $ 3 is charged for every extra day exceeding 2 days and 2 nights.
Bagan is famous for its artistic handicrafts and lacquer wares. These are among the most popular souvenirs.

How to get there

From Yangon one can take a plane to Bagan. The trip just takes an hour. For one who loves to have a look at the countryside, there is also a motor-way. Bagan is accessible from Mandalay by road: Just a 3-hours' drive. There is also overnight cruise from Mandalay to Bagan for those who love riverine trip.


When taking a trip to Bagan, one should not miss, among others, Ananda Pagoda, Shwesandaw Pagoda, Shwegugyi Pagoda, Damayangyi Pagoda and Hti-lo-min-lo Pagoda.
Although Bagan is not the major population centre in the area, it is the tourist centre. There are lots of Lacquerware shops. Bagan is situated right on the bank of the Ayeyarwady. Boats will be passing by or pausing to unload goods, villagers will come down to the river with oxen carts to collect water. Bagan has an interesting market, close to the road.

Bagan Museum

An interesting small museum stands close to the Ananda Temple. It contains a large number of images and other fine works found in temples around Bagan.

Sarabha Gateway

The ruins of the main gate on the east wall, are all that remain of the old 9th century city. The gate is guarded by brother and sister nats, the male on the left, the female on the right. Traces of old stucco can still be seen on the gateway.

Ananda Temple

One of the finest, largest and best preserved of the Bagan temples, the Ananda suffered considerable damage in the earthquake and in 1979 reconstruction took place. Built in 1091 by Kyanzittha, the temple is said to represent the endless wisdom of the Buddha. The central square has sides of 53 metres (175 feet) and rises in terraces to a hti 51 metres (168 feet) above the ground. In the centre of the cube, four standing Buddhas, nine and a half metres (31 feet) high, represent the four Buddhas who have attained Nirvana. Only those facing north and south are original, the east and west facing images are replacements for the figures destroyed by fires. The base and the terraces are decorated with a great number of glazed tiles showing scenes from the Jataka. In the western sanctum, there are life size statues of the temple's founder and his Primate, while in the west porch there are two footprints of the Lord Buddha, on pedestals.

Shwezigon Pagoda

Its golden mass giving it an air of weight and stability, the Shwezigon derives its name from Jeyyabhumi, "Ground of Victory". Two great kings, noted for their patronage of the Religion, are associated with the Shwezigon: Anawrahta (1044-1077) and Kyansittha (1084-1113).
Tradition has it that the holy tooth, collar-bone and frontlet relics of the Buddha are enshrined in the Shwezigon, the tooth presented by the King of Ceylon, the frontlet obtained from Thayekhittaya near modern Prome. The chronicles relate that Anawrahta placed the frontlet relic on a jewelled white elephant and, making a solemn vow, said, "Let the white elephant kneel in the place where the holy relic is fain to rest!" And it was there, at the place where the white elephant knelt, that Anawrahta built the Shwezigon, although he was to finish only the three terraces before he died.
The chronicles go on to relate that on the accession of Kyansittha, the royal teacher Shin Arahan urged him to complete the Shwezigon. Kyansittha then marshalled all his people and quarried rock from Mount Tuywin in the east to build the pagoda. Marvellously, the pagoda was finished in seven months and seven days, and the chronicles record with some pride, "Shwezigon is famous in the world of men and the world of spirits as far as the world of Brahmas."

Shwegugyi Temple

Built by Alaungsithu in 1311, this temple is an early example of a transition in architectural styles which resulted in airy, lighter buildings. The temple is also notable for its fine stucco carvings and for the stone slabs in the inner wall which tell its history, including the fact that its construction took seven months.

Thatbyinnyut Temple

The highest temple in Bagan, the "omniscient" temple rises to 61 metres (200 feet) and was built by Alaungsithu around the mid-12th century. Repairs to earthquake damage were being completed in 1979. Slightly south-west of the Thatbyinnyu in a monastery compound there is stone supports which once held the temple's huge bronze bell. North-east of the temple stands a small "tally pagoda" which was built of one brick for every 10,000 bricks used in the main temple.

Pitakat Taik

Following the sack of Thaton, King Anawrahta carted off 30 elephant loads of Buddhist scriptures and built this library to house them in 1058. It was repaired in 1738. The architecture of the square building is notable for the perforated stone windows and the plaster carvings on the roof in imitation of Myanmar wood carvings.

Thandawgya Image

This six metre (19 feet) high stone image of the Buddha was built in 1284.

Sulamani Temple

Like the Htilominlo and the Gawdawpalin this is a prime example of later, more sophisticated temple style, with better internal lighting. It stands beyond the Dhammayangyi Temple and was built in 1181 by Narapatisithu. The interior was once painted with fine frescoes but only traces can be seen today.

Nathlaung Kyaung

Slightly to the east of the Thatbyinnyu this is the only Hindu temple remaining in Bagan. It was built in 931 by King Taungthugyi, this was about a century before the southern school of Buddhism came to Bagan following the conquest of Thaton. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and around the outside wall are figures of the "ten Avatars", Gautama Buddha was said to be the ninth. The central brick pillar supports the dome and crumbled sikhara and once had figures of Vishnu on each of the four sides. The temple may have been built by Indian settlers in Bagan -- possibly the skilled workers brought to construct other temples.

Gawdawpalin Temple

One of the largest and most imposing of the Bagan temples, the Gawdawpalin was built during the reign of Narapatisithu (1174-1211) but was very badly damaged by the earthquake in 1975. The reconstruction was started in early 1979. In plan it is somewhat similar to the Thatbyinnyu - cube shaped with Buddha images on the four sides of the ground floor. The top of the stupa, before it fell, reached 55 metres (180 feet) high. The top terrace is still an excellent place to catch the sun setting over the Ayeyarwady.

Pahtothamaya Temple

In this same temple crowded central area the Pahtothamaya was probably built during the reign of Kyanzittha (1084-1113). The interior of this single storey building is dimly lit, typical of this early type of Mon-influenced temple with its small, perforated stone windows.

Bupaya Pagoda

Right on the bank of the Ayeyarwady, this pagoda has been claimed to be the oldest in Bagan, dating from the 3rd century AD. It was completely destroyed when it tumbled into the river in the 1975 earthquake, but has been totally rebuilt.

Mahabodhi Pagoda

Modelled after Indian style temples, this pagoda is unique in Myanmar. It was built during the reign of Nantaungmya (1211-1234). The pyramidal spire, covered in niches each enclosing a seated Buddha figure, rises from a square block.

Shwesandaw Pagoda

Following his conquest of Thaton, this very graceful circular pagoda was built by Anawrahta in 1057. The five terraces once had terra-cotta plaques showing scenes from the Jataka. The pagoda bell rises from two octagonal bases which top the five square terraces. Close to the Shwesandaw stands the Lawkahteikpan Temple - small but interesting for its excellent frescoes and inscriptions in both Myanmar and Mon.


Situated right beside the Shwesandaw, this long, brick built, shed-like structure houses an 11th century, 18 metre (60 feet) long reclining Buddha.

Dhammayangyi Temple

Similar in plan to the Ananda, this later temple is much more massive looking. It was built by King Narathu (1160- 65). The interior of the temple is blocked by brickwork. The Dhammayangyi is the finest brickwork of Bagan.



Bago is just 80 km from Yangon, the capital of Myanmar. Apparently Mons were the first to settle at this site. The city was first founded by two Mon brothers Thamala and Wimala from Thaton about 825 A.D. In 13th century A.D. Bago was made the capital of the Mon Kingdom and it came to be known as Hansavati (Hanthawaddy). Bago today is the capital of Bago Division, one of the 14 States and Divisions that constitute the Union of Myanmar.

Economy and Industry

Bago is famous for its cheroot industry. Different brands of cheroot are available there. Other products are rice, salt, dried fish and various handicrafts.

How to get there

Bago can be reached by car or by train from Yangon. The journey takes just a couple of hours.


Famous pagodas worth visiting, among others, are the Shwemawdaw Pagoda, the Shwetha Lyaung Pagoda and the Mahasedi Pagoda. Visitors and devotees throng to the Shwemawdaw Pagoda Festival which is usually held in the month of April.
For people who wish to have a glimpse of the traditional way of Myanmar life, Bago is an ideal place to visit. People are seen going about their business in a simple and peaceful way - unspoiled by the urbanity of metropolitan life.



Mandalay was founded by King Mindon in 1857. Most of the monuments there including the palace, the city walls, pagodas and monasteries were built in that year or soon after. King Mindon planned the building of the new capital in 1857 and it was formally inaugurated in 1859.

The fortified city is in the form of a square, each side of which is ten furlongs in length, a battlemented wall of brick and mud mortar has a total height of 25 feet and is backed by an earthern rampart. There are 12 gates, three on each side, at equal distances from each other. They are surmounted by pyatthats or pavilions of wood. These total 48 in number. The moat surrounding the city is approximately 225 feet wide and 11 feet deep. Four bridges spanning the moat lead to the main gates. The palace thus occupied the central spot in the city.
The palace, with magnificent woodcarving embellishing it, was destroyed by fire during World War 11. However, the Lion Throne survived the war and is now exhibited at the national museum in Yangon.
Today, Myat-Nan-San-Kyaw Golden Palace in Mandalay has been reconstructed, a monument of historical value, the glory of the Myanmar people -- embellished and renovated -- is a testimony to the ancient culture.
The city was named after the Mandalay Hill which is situated at the north-east corner of the present city. The hill has for long been a holy mount and it is believed that Lord Buddha prophesied that a great city, metropolis of Buddhism, would be founded at its foot. It was King Mindon who fulfilled the prophesy.
Mandalay, as the centre of Myanmar culture, was outstanding in the past; it holds the stage now; and it will continue to be a place of pride in the future.


Mandalay is situated on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River in central Myanmar. It is the second largest city in Myanmar. Towards the east, there are the blue Shan mountain ranges which give the city a physical dignity. To the west there is Myanmar's lifestream, the mighty Ayeyarwady flowing by.

Economy and Industry

Mandalay is famous for traditional Myanmar arts and crafts. Two notable ancient crafts -- carving of stone images of the Buddha and the manufacture of gold leaf -- which continue to be pursued even today, should be of particular interest. To the south of Mandalay, in the neighbourhood of Mahamuni Pagoda, there is a whole street devoted to stone- carving.
Gold leaf manufacture is concentrated in the south-eastern part of the city. It is an occupation that is carried on as a cottage industry. Small bits of gold bullion are laboriously beaten out for days on end to get the required film-like thinness of the leaf. The beating is done by men and the piecing together of the films of gold leaves by girls at the approaches of pagodas. Gold leaf is sold in packets which the devotees buy for gilding the pagodas and the images.
Other notable arts and crafts in Mandalay include woodcarving, ivory carving and gold embroidery. People from Mandalay excel in these arts and crafts. These products are placed among the most popular souvenirs.
In the field of commerce and trade, Mandalay is the busiest trade centre in Upper Myanmar. Border trade from China, Thailand and India, as well as domestic trade from States and Divisions usually pass through Mandalay. The city is, thus, the hub of trade and commerce in Upper Myanmar.

How to get there

Mandalay is linked by air, rail, road and river with Yangon and other principal towns of Myanmar. One could choose any one of the four modes of transportation one prefers. It takes only an hour to fly from Yangon to Mandalay and if one travels by train or car, it takes 12 to 14 hours.


When in Mandalay, one should not miss, among others, the Myat-Nan-San-Kyaw Palace, the Mandalay Hill, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Eindawya Pagoda and Mahamuni Pagoda. One should also visit the recently-built Zay-gyo market and various department stores. Mandalay, while retaining its reputation as the home of ancient Myanmar culture and civilization is, today, fast moving to become a busy modern and industrial city as well.
Besides the Mandalay hill, the palace wall, and the palace which is newly built, many other places in Mandalay attract tourists. Visiting the Great Maha Muni Pagoda is among them a top priority, which lies to the south of Mandalay. This pagoda was so named after the holy image, "Maha Muni" housed therein. Originally, this holy image belonged to Myohaung (a town in Rakhine State, the western coastal region of Myanmar).

In 1784, King Bodawpaya (a son of King Alaungpaya who founded the Kon-Baung dynasty) got the image brought by his son to the then royal capital at Amarapura. It has been 210 years, therefore, since the holy image first arrived at the central Myanmar. To the Buddhists in Myanmar, this richly gilded Maha Muni image is not a mere representation of the Lord Buddha but is an icon which is regarded as sacred itself. And the image is also considered to be the greatest in Myanmar next to the Shwe Dagon.
Another celebrated pagoda is the Kyauk Tawgyi situated near the southern approach to the Mandalay hill. It was built in the reign of King Mindon. Also at this pagoda, there is a huge marble image of Buddha which was carved out of a single block of marble. Situated to the east is the Kuthodaw pagoda modelled on the Shwe Zigon at Nyaung Oo. In the precincts of this pagoda, there are 729 monoliths on which the entire teachings of Buddha can be seen as edited and approved by the fifth Buddhist Synod.
The Atumashi Kyaung (which literally means the inimitable monastery ) also is worth seeing. Actually, it is just the ruins partly survived the fire in 1890. However, the remains seen nowadays obviously show that the Atumashi Kyaung must have been indeed an inimitable one in former times.
Moreover,such places as the Eindawya pagoda, the Set Kya Thiha pagoda, the Shwe Nandaw monastery, the old Watch Tower, King Mindon's tomb, etc. should also be visited in Mandalay. In addition, the old royal capitals prior to the city of Mandalay (Amarapura, Innwa, Sagaing) should also be visited during your stay in Mandalay. And you should not either leave Pyin Oo Lwin (May Myo) unvisited, for it may well be the most pleasant place in Myanmar and even in South East Asia, perhaps. It is situated 69 km to the east of Mandalay, over 1,100 metres in elevation. In the colonial days, Pyin Oo Lwin used to be the summer resort of the Governor.

Last updated on Tue, 26 Oct 1999 03:29:52 GMT