Nagayon Temple, about half a mile south of Myinkaba Village, gets its name from the large serpent mouths that arch over the statue of The Buddha in the main shrine. Naga refers to the serpents, or king cobras, that you see stylized around the place, often protecting the entrances to wats and pagodas.
Inside is dark, but there are dim corridors with rows of niches, each with (or at least once with) statues.
In the tall main shrine area, a few small skylights in the ceiling let in the only natural light, and if you’re there at the right time of day you can see them line up with the face of the main statue.
Not everything you see here is original. In fact, much of it is the result of various restorations. The spire that appears in very good condition was rebuilt after the 1975 earthquake. The inner sanctum was refurbished sometime around the late-18th or early-19th century (probably; the dating is unclear).
The temple does feature some very old and impressive frescoes, but they’re currently in poor condition, require a torch to see, as well as some patience to hunt for them. I had a hard time finding them and a harder time trying to photograph them.
Photos of Nagayon Temple
What to Know Before You Go
Take a flashlight (torch)–it’s dark inside.
As with many Burmese names, it has been transliterated into English in various ways. You’ll also see it written as Naga Yon Hpaya.
Nagayon Temple is about half a mile south of Myinkaba Village, close to Apeyadana Temple. If you’re heading down the Bagan-Chauk Road, it’s on the same side of the road as the morning market and opposite side of the road from Manuha Temple.
It’s sometimes locked up, but it’s worth trying again some other time because you might be lucky and find it open.
- Donald M. Stadtner, Ancient Pagan: Buddhist Plain of Merit (Bangkok: River Books, 2013) p.180-85. ↩
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Traveling to Bagan?
Very few of the temples, pagodas, or stupas in the Bagan Archeological Zone have any information about them on site. And with literally thousands of sites to choose from, it's handy to go armed with information on what to see and where to start--especially for independent travelers without a guide.
If you're looking for something that goes beyond the patchy information in the standard guide books, I've found these to be good:
David Raezer and Jennifer Raezer, Myanmar (Burma): Temples of Bagan
Approach Guides, 2017
With maps, diagrams, and pictures, it's pitched as a "travel guidebook for the ultra curious." It offers detailed profiles of 21 of the major sites. It's an especially good option if you traveling with a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone and don't want to take up any space in your luggage or deal with the extra weight of a hard copy.
David M. Stadtner, Ancient Pagan: Buddhist Plain of Merit
Bangkok: River Books, 2013
Written by a former professor of Art History who has authored many books on Indian and Burmese art, this book offers authoritative and detailed information on not just the architecture and art of the temples of Bagan but also the history of the region. It focuses on 33 of the major sites. Its photos by Michael Freeman are a standout feature. It's only available in paperback.
Ma Thanegi, Bagan Mystique
Yangon: Tanintaye Sarpay, 2011
Ma Thanegi is a Burmese writer and journalist. The book doesn't offer the level of detail of the other two and is harder to find in the West, but it still offers useful summaries of a number of the major sites. It's available in paperback only (when you can find it).
Director of Archaeological Survey (Burma), A Pictorial Guide to Pagan
Rangoon: Ministry of Union Culture, 2nd rev. ed. 1963
This is a guide compiled under the auspices of the Burmese government in the mid-1950s and early-1960s. Despite being quite outdated, it has its own value with background on a number of pagodas and temples as well as fascinating historical photos of how the monuments looked in the middle of 20th century--sometimes quite different to how they appear today after being renovated. It's long out of print and hard to find, but I've scanned it and posted it here.
Maps: When you get to Bagan, there are good local maps available for free at the hotels that show many of the major sites.