Bagan is located in the heart of Central Myanmar, on the banks of the Irrawaddy river to the south of the city of Mandalay. These days its comprises of a small rural village that has grown over recent years as tourists have started visiting, with modern hotels, souvenir shops and restaurants ranging from budget to luxury burgeoning it into a small town. It is famous for the ruins of a vast city that surround it. The city of Pagan was at its zenith in the 11th to the 13th centuries, when it became the centre of the first civilization to unify the lands in modern day Myanmar.
During this period it’s estimated that there were over 4,000 Buddhist pagodas, temples and shrines in the city, and it is these that have survived the test of time, many earthquakes and the rainy seasons of centuries. Over 2,200 have been recorded, from temples that are still in use today, to others that are covered in vegetation and in a state of ruin. When you visit today you can visit working temples, such as the Ananda Temple, complete with praying monks and devout worshipers making their offerings. Or the Bupaya Pagoda, one of the oldest monuments in Bagan, dating from the ninth century and repaired and restored to its former glory.
One of the best ways to explore Bagan is by bike. The main sites are linked by modern tarmac roads, good to get the package tourists from the airport to the main sites, but the huge site (the official archaeological site is 13 x 8 kilometres) is criss crossed by tracks used by the local farmers and villagers and footpaths. It gives a real feel of atmosphere to come across ruined pagodas in forest of fields, goats grazing the weeds from their staircases, or long dry reservoirs.
The most popular time to visit is November through until March, when there is little or no rainfall, but you can go year-round. The popular dry season makes it more crowded, with flights full and most hotels full. Other times of year the rain comes in tropical downpours rather than constant rain so there is plenty of time of sightseeing. Roads can get damaged however and be careful when climbing on the outlying monuments which can be slippery.