Located 100 mi/160 km southwest of Mandalay, Bagan, Myanmar, is a must-see. Now a sleepy village, it was founded in AD 849 and became the center of an empire that reached north to Tibet and south to Bangkok. The ruins of more than 4,000 temples are scattered across 16 sq mi/41 sq km of fields surrounding the village. The effect is surreal, especially when seen from above in a plane.

Most of the temples were built during the heyday of the empire (mid-11th century to mid-13th century). Although numerous earthquakes have taken their toll over the years, an unbelievable number of temples remain standing. Although they may appear somewhat deteriorated on the outside, the interiors are fascinating. We recommend that you rent a bicycle and explore some of those off the main road.

One of the finest examples, the Ananda Temple, was recently restored; stop by to admire the glazed tiles and the newly gilded spires. In the evening, be sure to climb one of the larger temples (only a few can actually be climbed—most have their stairways blocked) and enjoy a view of the sun setting over the Ayeyarwady. The entire site takes on a completely different look at dusk, as the light makes the temples change from orange-brown to a deep red-violet.

For an even more spectacular view, take the leisurely low-altitude balloon ride over the ruins that's offered by Balloons Over Bagan. If time permits, take a taxi or rent a bicycle and travel the short distance up the main road to the village of Nyaung-Oo to see the golden-roofed Shwezigon Pagoda, built by King Anawrahta in 1057. Just 30 mi/50 km away is Mount Popa. Two full days (if not three) could easily be spent in Bagan.

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