Myanmar / Burma Travel Update
Since I was there, the situation in Myanmar/Burma has changed a lot. In February 2021, a military coup sparked widespread civil unrest and armed conflict.
The U.S. State Department currently advises: "Do not travel to Burma due to civil unrest and armed conflict." You can find their full travel advisory and security alerts here. And you can find the British Foreign Office's travel advice for Myanmar / Burma here.
Dating back to the 12th century, Dhammayangyi Temple is the largest temple in Bagan. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the most impressive. It was never fully finished, and it hasn’t received the same restoration attention as many of the other large temples (which might be a good thing, depending on your perspective). Its tower is partially in ruins, and what remains looks much like a pyramid.
It shares many similarities with the more famous–and much more visited–Ananda Temple. Like the Ananda Temple, the base of Dhammayan-Gyi is shaped like a giant cross, with four entrance halls, each facing a cardinal direction and each of equal size. Inside, two concentric rings run around the core, but for some reason the innermost chambers were permanently sealed up from the beginning–archeologists aren’t sure why–so you can only access some of the interior.
One of the pillars of the temple features an inscription that dates to 1165 or 1166 which records the donations a princess made on her mother’s behalf. It wasn’t some simple cash donation–it includes female singer and dancer slaves, gardens, paddy fields, and cattle. There are a few other inscriptions throughout that date to the early 13th century.
Over the subsequent centuries, some paintings were added to the walls. They’re in various states of disrepair now and aren’t as ornate as some you’ll find in other temples. But the red brick work is worth looking closely at–it’s especially good and renowned for the fine precision in how the bricks fit together without any visible mortar. The oft-repeated claim is that the masons were instructed to build it so that a pin could not pass between any two bricks. You’ll also find a reclining Buddha partially covered with tabs of gold leaf, a distinctive pair of Buddha statues, and in one corner of the compound are the ruins of a two-story monastery.
Photos of Dhammayangyi Temple
What to Know Before You Go
- As with most Burmese names, you’ll see it rendered in English in different ways, including Dhammayan Gyi and Dhammayan-Gyi Phaya.
- Take a flashlight (torch). It’s dark inside.
- It’s close to Old Bagan and the Ananda Temple.
- Mind the bats! (And take care not to come into contact with them or their droppings if at all possible.)