Bagan, also spelled Pagan, on the banks of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, is home to the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world, many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. The shape and construction of each building is highly significant in Buddhism with each component taking on spiritual meaning.
When comparing this immense archaeological site to other archaeological gems of Southeast Asia, the Angkor sites, an analogy with food is apt: savouring the Angkor sites is like a Chinese Lauriat banquet where the temples are presented in grand and exquisite servings and takes a long time (about 10 to 15 minutes) to get from one to the next. Bagan is served up Spanish tapas-style, in small bite size servings, often in frequent intervals and near to each other.
What makes the temples look romantic is the process of graceful ageing. There are no windbreaks and occasional whirlwinds spawn loose dust particles that sandblast the temples. This has eroded the stucco coatings of the temples to reveal the underlying bricks, reddish, and golden brown when bathed in sunlight.
Erosion is a significant threat to this area, not only the wind chipping away the buildings' parging, but also water from the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River threatens the riverbanks. Strong river currents have already washed away half of the area of Old Bagan. It used to be a rectangular-shaped piece of enclave protected by a perimeter wall. Now the remaining triangular eastern half is exposed to the river.
Bagan has three main cities that draw the majority of tourists, New Bagan (southwest of the main sights), Nyaung U (northeast of the main sights) and Old Bagan (just northwest of the main sights).