These are the most popular temples and pagodas recommended by all tourist maps and agencies:
Ananda Temple – Bagan’s holiest temple, built by the third king, Kyan-zit-tha in 1091. Ananda comes from the Pali word “anantapannya”, which means “boundless wisdom”. The temple houses four Buddhas facing the cardinal directions, which represent the four Buddhas who have attained Nirvana. The fifth, Maitreya, is yet to appear. This is the most important temple in all of Bagan. Location: Left side on the southern stretch of the Bagan-Nyaung Oo Rd. just before the road heads to Tharaba Gate of Old Bagan.
Shwesandaw Temple, This is the “sunset temple”, where foreign and Burmese tourists alike gather every evening to view the spectacular Bagan sunset. Get here early, as the top levels are small and space is scarce. There are many peddlers around the temple selling T-shirts, drinks and souvenirs. The climb up is a reasonably easy 5 minute walk up a flight of stairs, but the steps get narrower and steeper near the top. Not recommended for those with vertigo, but if you can make the climb, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking sunset as the the temples and landscape are set ablaze in golden sunrays. A good compromise is to climb to the 3rd or 2nd highest level, where the steps are much more manageable than the topmost level, is less crowded, and the view is just as good. It starts getting crowded here as early as 4:30pm, so consider taking a view from the Shwe-Gu-Gyi temple nearby instead (easily passable if on bike).
Shwezigon Temple – This gourd-stupaed golden pagoda is the first and prototype monument (including for the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon) built in Myanmar style in 1087. Careful on the stall vendors, they are the pros employing hard sell psycho tactics. Location: Heading south, right side on the northern stretch of the Bagan-Nyaung Rd. after passing the bus station. A long covered walkway with souvenir stalls starts from the road to the compound.
Thatbyinnyu Temple – The tallest pagoda measuring 66 meters built in the 12th century. Location: Left side after entering the Tharaba Gate of Old Bagan, the second road.
Shwegugyi Temple – Commissioned by King Alaunsithu in 1131, one of the most intact temples in the site that needs a little less of imagination to appreciate Bagan’s olden days. Nearby the Shwe-San-Daw pagoda, this temple is just as good for watching the sunset and far less crowded; a great alternative for an astounding view. Location: This temple sits closely in front of Thatbyinnyu Temple.
Manuhar Pagoda – This complex has some attached drama into it. It was built by King Manuhar from the nearby kingdom of Thaton, a POW of King Anawratha. He sold his jewelry and poured out his pent up sentiments by constructing this temple. Location: The last major Temple at the southern end of Myinkaba Village along Bagan-Chauk Rd. and marked by a towering free-standing column.
Dhamma Yangyi Temple – Another complex with an attached drama, this was commissioned by King Narathu to atone for his sins of assassinating his father, brother, and wife. The eccentricity of this king is reflected in the building’s finely set brickwork (it was noted that he executed a bricklayer for his not too perfect masonry work – gaps are too wide) and its unfinished construction (work abandoned after he himself was assassinated). These generate so many riddles and mysteries that lead to be known as ghost haunted temple for some inhabitants. From estimates, there were roughly 6 million pieces of bricks used in the construction of this temple.
Sulamani Pahto – Nearby Dhamma Yangyi, but even more impressive since of the same architectural style but even better preserved. The decreasing six terraces and the main structure resemble the plan of a pyramidal shape. It was the copy of Ananda temple, and has two corridors inside constructed in a plan in perfect Greek cross. But the interior passage has been closed by bricks for unknown reason. The masonry job of this temple is so remarkable that even a needle can’t penetrate between two bricks. Besides, the complicated architectural style of this temple creates the arguments on the number of floors and on the completion of the building. Location: A kilometer southeast off the southern stretch of Anawratha Rd.
Gawdaw Palin Temple – A fusion of Myanmarese and Indian styles, this temple has a beautiful courtyard with a medium-sized stupa and interesting bell hangers. Location: Inside Old Bagan, just north of the Archeological Museum.
Bupaya Stupa – This lone golden gourd-shaped structure is sitting on a complex temple by the river. Location: Inside Old Bagan, a north bound road leading to it branches out from the main road as it turns south, the stupa is visible from the outside and not necessary to explore the temple complex.
Shwezigon Pagoda – on the North bank of Nyaung U, this is one of the most important pagodas in all of Myanmar that was built 11th century and served as the original model for the pagoda of the same name in Yangon.
Kyan Ma Ba – small pagoda across the road (south) from magnificent Gawdaw Palin – the pagoda itself is not much, but you can climb to the roof to have a better perspective on larger surrounding ones. Also lady that sell paintings inside spoke a fairly good English and was able to answer some questions on history and religion. (Wikitravel)