Bagan: The Magic of Myanmar
At this point, we've been to Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan. We still have another week left with Kalaw and our trek to Inle Lake and then back to Yangon for another day and a half. Myanmar is already one of the top 3 places I've visited in the world. Bagan is undoubtedly the highlight of the trip and one of the most magical place I've ever been to. Bagan is now classified as an archaeological zone. There are around 3,000 temples spread across a 26 square mile radius. They were built around the 11th and 12th century. With so much to see and explore, you could spend a week here and still not see everything.
The area is divided into 3 towns, Old Bagan, New Bagan, Nyaung-U. We stayed in Nyaung-U since it has the cheapest hotels and largest variety of restaurants. Our hotel was $23 a night and included our own bathroom (plenty of hot water for a shower) and breakfast. We were pretty impressed with breakfast. It included tea or coffee, fresh fruit juice (we had watermelon, orange and melon), fresh fruit (watermelon and banana), toast and eggs or pancakes.
The first night, we settled into our hotel, grabbed dinner and started getting a plan for the next 3 days. We knew we had a lot of ground to cover so we wanted to map out the best temples and pick a mode of transportation that would allow us to explore Bagan off the beaten path. There are several ways to get around Bagan; taxi, bicycle, horse and carriage, or E-Bike (electric bike/scooter). We did see a few tour buses but they were pretty limited to the main roads. We thought the E-Bike option would be the most economical, functional and fun! It's only 5,000 kyats to rent for the whole day. That's about $3.50!!! It's electric so it's super quiet and easy to operate.
The next morning, we set out around 9am and picked up our scooter. Blake didn't even need a test drive. He was a pro. Our scooter topped out at 40km per hour so we were really cruisin! :) We stuck to the main road in the morning and hit up some of the larger temples. Bagan is an absolute dream. The weather is perfect during the day, hot in the sun but cool in the shade and a nice in between for riding on a scooter. There'es barely a cloud in the sky. There are temples around every turn in the road and every view makes for a perfect picture. Not all of the temples are open to the public, as there has been earthquake damage over the years and natural circumstances that have made them unsafe. They are working on restoring many of them.
We took a break at 12:30. Lunch was quite a treat! We met up with Florie and her husband, Florent, from France. I lived with Florie's mom and brother when I studied abroad in France back in 2008. (She was away at school). Florie and I met a few times back then and she even took a few of us out with her friends one night. We have kept in touch via Facebook. She found out that we were in Myanmar and let me know that she was also coming to Myanmar. Our itineraries matched up in Bagan! It was wonderful seeing her again and catching up. Hopefully I can see her mom again someday too!
We went back to our hotel to take a break from the heat and then headed out again for sunset. We rode home on our scooter and sang Christmas carols the whole way. What an amazing day!
Sunrise and sunset are really a treat. The various colors from the sun cast magnificient light and shadows over the temples around Bagan. Blake and I both enjoyed sunrise the most. We got up at 5am on two of the days and made our way to a different temple each day to enjoy a different view point. The sun starts to rise around 6:15 but the best part is when the hot air balloons also start to rise! I've never seen anything like it!
We rented a scooter all three days and just explored! Every temple is different from the next and a variety of shapes and sizes! The real treat is finding the ones that have stairs leading up to other levels. Some of these stairwells are hard to find, but we learned that if you ask the locals, they will show you! Climbing up the temples gives you a breathtaking view of Bagan and all the surrounding temples. I think we made it to all the most popular temples, but we had the most fun just riding around and going down random dirt roads to see where they led. We came across tons of temples, just ready to be discovered.
Because Myanmar is still new to tourism, it feels like we're part of a secret. There aren't nearly as many tourists as other places we've been. Everything is still super cheap, the sites are pretty unregulated, and the locals are as kind as can be. A woman showed us around a temple and took us up to show us a view that we wouldn't have found on our own. She even took our picture for us. We tried to give her a small tip (about 25 cents in USD) and she wouldn't take it. She simply wanted us to come to her shop nearby and buy something instead. They prefer to do business this way, rather than work for tips. We've been giving 10% tips at restaurants as well, and they always try to hand us the money back. We assure them it's a tip for the service and they are always very thankful. I can't imagine what this place will be like in 10 years; when the tours buses are piling in, entrance fee's and strict regulations are put in place, and the locals become aggressive.
Go to Myanmar now! It was incredible!