In central Burma, a picturesque landscape is the stuff of a photographer's dreams: thousands of peaks spiral upward from 26 miles of flat greenery, framed by the Irrawaddy river and a wall of distant mountains. The ancient city of Bagan stretches as far as the eye can see, with pyramid-stacked red stones, gold domes, and reaching spires of more than 2,200 scattered temples and pagodas comprising the largest collection of Buddhist structures in the world.
After half a century of rule by a military junta that shunned the outside world, Burma’s elections in 2012, plus a recent lifting of international sanctions, have paved the way for long-sought democracy and begun to open up the country. Previously host to only the most intrepid of travelers, Bagan is beginning to attract a new wave of tourists who are taking note of the untouched Asian nation rife with unbeatable scenery—arguably the most beautiful being the mystical, temple-studded region of Bagan.
Originally the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the area was once host to between 4,000 and 10,000 temples built between the 11th and 13th centuries. A smitten Marco Polo described it as “a gilded city, alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sounds of monks’ robes,” and declared it “one of the finest sights in the world.” The gild has faded and the metropolis is gone, but monks’ robes still swish through the thousands of structures that remain in one of the world’s greatest archeological sites.