How it ended Though various sources claim that this empire was founded in the 2nd century, this kingdom was not properly established till the 9th century when King Anawrahta united Myanmar under Theravada Buddhism and Bagan became his central seat of power. Over the next 250 years, while Europe lived in the dark ages, the city flourished as the centre of religious knowledge. The civilisation lasted until 1287 when Mongols conquered the kingdom. There are disputes as to whether the Mongols got as far as Bagan, but by then, three brothers had taken over to establish the Myinsaing Kingdom further up North.
What to see Although only around 2,200 temples remain from the original 13,000 in Bagan, the remains of the ancient city are still a marvel to behold. Many of the temples have been fully restored and a number of them feature gilded stupas, such as the grand Ananda Temple. As the temples are spread out over the flat Bagan plain, it’s possible to get great views from some of the taller pagodas – another popular activity is taking a hot air balloon ride over the area (Balloons Over Bagan is one of the more prominent companies offering tours).
How to get there There aren’t any international flights directly to Bagan, so the closest port of entry is Yangon. Jetstar (www.jetstar.com) flies to Yangon from $350 return; from there, Air Bagan (www.airbagan.com) has a special promotion to Bagan, which includes a two-night hotel stay and sight-seeing tour for $380 return.
How it ended Though this area was home to the first settlers as far back as 1 AD, emperors Bukka Raya I and Harihara I of the Sangama Dynasty established the Vijayanagara Empire in 1336 to prevent Muslim invasions. Hampi was named the capital for its location, as the hills which surrounded it protected the people from invaders. In 1565, after the golden age of King Krishna Deva Raya, the Empire eventually fell to the five Sultans of Deccan. The city was looted for six months and completely destroyed.
What to see Little of the empire remains, but the area still holds several notable Hindu temples and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Try climbing all 572 steps of the Hanuman Temple (located on Anjaneya Hill), which is supposedly the birthplace of the Hindu deity Hanuman, to gaze at the variety of temples which pepper the surrounding landscape. You can also venture to Pan Supari Street, where diamonds were sold during more prosperous times.
How to get there There’s no airport in Hampi, but Tiger Airways (www.tigerairways.com) flies to Bangalore from $250 return. From there, buses (from $4 return, www.mustseeindia.com) to Hampi take six to seven hours, or there’s the Bangalore Express overnight train, which takes ten hours ($16).
Plain of Jars, Laos
How it ended This valley in Xieng Khouang province in central Laos was first uncovered by French archaeologist Madeleine Colani in the 1930s. Dubbed the ‘Stonehenge of South-East Asia’, the many massive megalithic stone jars in the area have baffled both scholars and tourists alike. There are over 90 clusters with approximately 3,000 jars, which date back to the prehistoric Iron Age (500 BC to 500 AD) and may have been the basis for the earliest civilisation in Laos. Many experts believe that these stones were related to ancient burial practices, as excavations have revealed human remains buried beside them. There’s also the local Laos legend of the king of giants, Khun Cheung, who made many jars to store wine for his victory celebration after defeating his enemy, Chao Angka.
What to see There are several jar sites in the area, though the most accessible and most impressive is the first, Jar Site 1 (entry fee $1.50 for each site). Jar Site 3 is also recommended for its panoramic views of the valley. You can visit the site individually or with a tour guide, but tuk-tuks aren’t allowed to take tourists to the site. Bikes are available for rental in Phonsavan, the main gateway into the Plain of Jars; it takes about an hour to bike to the site – though the area was de-mined in 2007 (evidence of explosions are seen in bomb craters and cracked jars), make sure to stay on marked paths.
How to get there Vietnam Airlines (www.vietnamairlinestickets.com) flies to Vientiane from $400 return. From there, Lao Airlines (www.laoairlines.com) flies to Phonsavan from $170.