Pictorial Guide to Pagan (Bagan)

This guide was produced by the Burmese Ministry of Union Culture in 1963 and contains fascinating historical photographs as well as useful, unique information on the pagodas and temples of Bagan.

Pictorial Guide to Pagan (1963)
Pictorial Guide to Pagan (1963)

This is a guide to temples and pagodas of Bagan that was compiled by the Director of Archaeological Survey, Burma, in the mid-1950s and revised in 1963. It was published in Rangoon by the Union Cultural Council, Ministry of Union Culture, Revolutionary Government of the Union of Burma.

I picked up a copy some time ago. I’ve scanned it and am reproducing it here for a few reasons.1

Firstly, it’s well and truly out of print now and hard to find copies. So in posting it I hope someone finds it of use.

Secondly, while some of the information is now outdated, it’s still rich with unique information. There are newer, better guides now available (see below), but they don’t always cover everything in this one.

And thirdly, the photos, of which there are many, are fascinating historical records of how the monuments looked over half a century ago before waves of renovations and upgrades were performed and before modern tourism moved in. You can see how the Dhammayazika Pagoda looked before it was given a facelift and gleaming gold stupa, for example (see p.60 below).

There are also some very interesting maps and diagrams.


The booklet includes a large fold-out map. Click on the image for a lager version:

PDF Version

I’m posting it here in two formats–feel free to use whichever you prefer. First, here’s the PDF version:

Pictorial Guide to Pagan

JPG Version

And here are the individual pages as JPGs:

  1. To the best of my knowledge, The Pictorial Guide to Pagan isn’t (or, at the least, is no longer) protected under U.S. Copyright. 

Where to Next?

Travel Advice for Myanmar (Burma)

You can find the latest U.S. Department of State travel advisories and information for Myanmar (Burma) (such as entry visa requirements and vaccination requirements) here.

The British and Australian governments offer their own country-specific travel information. You can find the British Government's travel advice for Myanmar (Burma) here and the Australian Government's here.

Health & Vaccinations

The CDC makes country-specific recommendations for vaccinations and health for travelers. You can find their latest information for Myanmar (Burma) here.

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.

by David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my gear reviews and tips here. More »