The Ancient, Secret City of Bagan: The Most Zen Place in the World

·Editor at Large

On the banks of the Irrawaddy River, several hundred miles north of Yangon in Myanmar, lies Bagan — a once secret and all-but-abandoned city, dedicated to Buddha. Covering an area of 40 miles are endless temples and stupas in varying degrees of disarray and decay.

Bagan is an ancient city that is perhaps the embodiment of one of the biggest lessons in history — all things must come to an end.

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You may not have heard about Bagan, but you’ll want to put it on your bucket list. (Andrew Rothschild)

While some locals claim that the city was officially founded in the 2nd century A.D., it didn’t come to prominence until the 7th century. From 1044 to 1287, it became a seat of power, and more than 10,000 religious buildings were erected – many by wealthier citizens hoping to get in good with the Buddha. The theory was that if you built a big stupa or temple, you wouldn’t be reincarnated again; you would go straight to nirvana.

Fun Fact: Stupas are solid, and you cannot go inside, while temples are open and have interior rooms for praying.


Make sure to take some time to explore. (Andrew Rothschild)

Bagan kept chugging along as an empire until the 14th century. By the 19th century, however, it was almost barren, with only a few families living around the temples. Today, some of those families still farm there, but due to preservation attempts, they have all been moved to “new Bagan” 10 miles away.

One of the most spectacular things you can do in Bagan is to take a hot air balloon ride over the area for sunrise and sunset.

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During the day, I highly recommend you spend your time walking around and exploring like Indiana Jones, although take note: If you are going up a dark staircase, make a loud noise as snakes tend to hide there. Also note: No shoes are allowed inside the temples, so your feet can get pretty dirty.


Visiting the Bagan temples is a meditative solo experience. (Andrew Rothschild)

Make sure to spend some time alone in this city. I found it to be one of the most Zen-like, spiritual places I have ever traveled to.

Who to Book With: Jacada Travel has the best guides in the area and gets a great rate at the Bagan Lodge, one of the most luxurious resorts in the country.

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