A Day in the Life of a Bagan Guide

I hate to wake up early in the morning but I have to do so as I have to meet the visitors at Nyaung U Airport. I am a licensed tour guide stationed in Bagan, the ancient city in Central Myanmar. Unlike any other towns, Bagan-Nyaung-U is busy with the traffic in the early hours. Air conditioned saloon cars, microbuses & huge coaches roam the streets fetching the tour guides, tour operators or the hotel staff to transport them to and from the airport.

In a few minutes after a quick breakfast,I leave for airport as I am among the Bagan tour guides holding the placards of the names of the clients who are going to arrive from Yangon, in the airport lounge. No guides know whom, they will have to meet-an inquisitive German lady, a jolly Italian man or a joking American young man. Who-so-ever, we, the guides, are to meet, the best we have to do is to present Bagan history, architecture, archeology & arts to the visitors. Why stationed in Bagan, and not in Yangon or Mandalay? My love for Bagan, the most wonderous site in South East Asia, is great. Imagine, the situation of nearly 3000 monuments within 40 square kilometres of Bagan Archeological Zone!!! In every direction you will see the ruins of all sizes different from each other. That is why, we often refer to Bagan as “the open-air museum”. Another significant thing with Bagan is that all the ancient monuments in South East Asia, like Bororbudor in Indonesia or Angkor Wat in Cambodia are all built of stones while the temples and pagodas in Bagan are made of red-bricks. Needless to say that Bagan is the highlight of the classical tour for a visitor to Myanmar.

visitors ready for taking pictures of sunset in Bagan


After obtaining the reserved rooms for the visitors at a luxurious, cool and quiet hotel with a view of the Ayeyarwaddy River or the pagodas and temples of Bagan, the first place a Bagan guide sends his clients to is the Nyaung-U Market. This market is different from other markets in Myanmar and one fifth of the market area is occupied by tourists attracted by souvenirs and antiques shops. You can get bronze statues of the ancient ladies of Bagan, old lacquer ware, paintings copied from the original frescoes in the Bagan temple and hand woven clothes among others.

The guides never miss to show their visitors the four most important monuments in Bagan. They are -Ananda Temple-the finest, Damayangyi Temple- the biggest, Thatbyinu Temple- the tallest and Shwezigon Pagoda – the holiest in Bagan.

Shwezigon Pagoda, the first monument that the Bagan guides show after Nyaung-U Market, is the prototype of all Myanmar Stupas built after the rule of king Anawratha. It was built as the most important reliquary shrine in Bagan. It is believed that the Buddha’s collar bone and a copy of the Buddha’s tooth were enshrined in this pagoda. The visitors to Bagan should not miss to see Kyanzithab Cave situated just near Shwezigon Pagoda. It is a narrow cave with dark corridors which are embellished with frescos from 11th to 13th Centuries. The significance with the paintings in this cave is the depiction of the Mongol soldiers who occupied Bagan in the late 13th century.

We used to say that-if you have not been to Ananada Temple, you can’t say that you have been to Bagan. Indeed, Ananda Temple is one of the finest, largest, best preserved and most revered of the Bagan Temples. The four 9.5 metres high standing Buddhas facing outwards from the centre of the temple is most attractive. There are altogether one thousand niches in which the Buddha statues or the sculptures of Buddha’s life stories are placed.

viewers of the sulggish Ayeyarwaddy River and its environs


Lunch is normally served at a convenient restaurant on the bank of Ayeyarwaddy River overlooking the Tantgyi hillock. To avoid the heat of the afternoon Bagan sun and to take some nap, one or two hours rest for the visitors is essential. After the break and not to fed up with the temples and pagodas, the Bagan guide takes his tourist to the farmer’s house in Minanthu Village. The farmers of Minanthu grow maize, sesame and peanuts. The oil press using the bullock to grind the peanuts to produce cooking oil is highly attracted by the foreign visitors to Minanthu Village. Another option is the visit to the lacquer ware workshop where one can see the process of lacquer ware making stage by stage; how the lacquer ware is kept in the underground cellar or how the lacquer ware boxes, tables, trays and paintings are done in detail.

Shwesandaw Pagoda built by king Anawratha after his conquest of Thaton in the 11th Century, now become an international rendezvous in Bagan. The tourists who spent the day visiting the temple & pagodas use to meet at this pagodas, the reason is that Shwesandaw became a very popular sunset viewing spot.

The guide is a generalist and not a specialist, and the guide stationed in Bagan must know almost everything about the history, architecture, arts etc. of Bagan. He is jack of all trades and master of none. He can’t tell the visitors everything he knows. It depends on the nature and interest of the visitor. I had met Alessardro Orlando of Switzerland who was interested only in his camera and photography and did not want to know anything about Bagan; on the other hand Nancy Lingley of California. She is a Ph.D in Buddhist Architecture and I had learnt a lot from her.

Tourists prefer dinner at the restaurants in Bagan, where they have complimentary puppet show or variety of dances. The Bagan guide returns home late at night. He does not want to wake up early in the morning but he has to do so as he is to meet an other batch of visitor at Nyaung U Airport.

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