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The Khmer Empire was one of the greatest Southeast Asia has ever seen. It ruled across most of the region from its capital city, the world famous Angkor Wat. But there was a second great empire which hasn’t garnered as much fame, the Kingdom of Pagan. This ancient empire also ruled over huge swathes of Southeast Asia from its capital city. Equally as stunning as Angkor, but much less well known, it was the ancient city of Bagan.
Bagan lay’s on a plain next to the Irrawaddy River in central Myanmar (Burma), which is also why you may not have heard of it. Years of military rule and international embargoes have meant Myanmar hasn’t featured on your typical holiday to Southeast Asia, but as the country emerges from those shackles today, tourism is now encouraged and Bagan is an absolute must for any Myanmar experience. The city has been around forever, but was at its peak from the 9th to 13th centuries, when it was the capital city and home to up to 200,000 people. Kings and wealthy citizens of this time built thousands of temples, pagodas and monasteries to the gods. Like the Pharaohs and their Pyramids in Egypt, each king strived to outdo his predecessor by building taller and more ornate buildings. What we’re left with today is an absolutely stunning scene; over two thousand stupas of all shapes and sizes rise from the shrub covered plain, reaching for the sky.
The earlier structures are made of simple red brick, but latter examples can be white or a striking gold in colour. Sadly most of the original relics and frescos inside the structures have long been pillaged, but some pieces can be seen in museums in Mandalay and Yangon, plus some temples still in use have had the statues replaced. Despite this, one great privilege still allowed is that most of the taller buildings can be climbed, allowing the breath taking views over the rest of the plain. Another unforgettable way to see the site is in an early morning hot air balloon flight when you’ll see the stupas gradually appear as the mist burns away. And be sure to be atop a temple at sunset too, for yet more amazing photo opportunities.
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