Good morning, Bagan.
It was just past 6am, the sky already well lit. We’ve arrived, bleary-eyed, via coach to Bagan Myanmar, from Yangon. The morning was quiet, the sounds of a horse carriage going “klip klop” pleasantly past us on the road, its driver calling out asking if we need their service. No we don’t.
After a shower and short rest at the hotel (Oasis Hotel), our car driver sent us for breakfast nearby, and we were greeted by a splendid array of dishes. There was also rice and soup and some other things, and of course, strong coffee to wake us up for the day. My Burmese friend told us that if there’re any dishes we’re not interested in eating, simply tell the staff and they’ll bring it back.
Hello Bagan, I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.
First, to the Market
You can’t get any more local than this – the first program we had was to a local market (I’ve no idea why). I watched the hawkers squatting/sitting on the ground selling their veggies and wares. Traditional clothes were what they were wearing, thanaka face powder applied on their cheeks and face, as everyone does in Bagan. My camera was in my hand, yet I took no photo at this lively area of the market, it would have felt too invasive. We were simply sharing a moment of the locals’ everyday life. A few stall-owners were excited to sell us longyis – the traditional long skirts of Myanmar, but we had already bought ours at our breakfast place, so we could only turn them down.
A little girl who barely looked past 10 years old approached us Chinese girls, wanting us to buy something from her. When we don’t, she passed us what looked like a small bar of soap, saying it’s a gift, promptly walking away. Nothing we could have expected, so my Burmese friend returned the items to the girl firmly.
Dear Bagan, what other surprises would you have for us?
Those temples and landscapes I’ve seen from Instagram
All I had known prior was, the temples look amazing in Bagan’s landscape. I would be contented just taking photos like that. Now, I’m finally seeing them with my own eyes.
With over 2,000 temples/pagodas scattered all over Bagan, it might feel overwhelming for a short trip to Bagan. We were careful to not get templed-out too fast (the truth was we only had 2 days in Bagan), visiting them at a good pace, taking breaks along the way.
Bagan had been hit by a large earthquake in 2016. Many temples were ruined, some with their tips falling off, some temples currently being closed off due to being unstable. As we drove around in Bagan, I noticed many of the temples were undergoing repair. My Burmese friend had expressed the heartache they felt. These pagodas are very old and mean a lot to the Burmese people.
I had no idea what’s inside Bagan’s temples.
Have you ever wondered? Thought I’ll show you.
This particular temple was full of bats flying overhead. We didn’t stay too long.
Travel tip: If you ever make your way to Bagan, be sure to research on recommended temples before your trip, as some of them are very famous with distinct stories behind.
It got very warm during the afternoons, so we stopped for a break of tea snacks. As primitive as the setup may look, this place is gorgeous. Certainly a different kind of atmosphere for afternoon tea, don’t you think?
Visiting the Locals’ Village
In the drizzle, we arrived at a locals’ village. A lady showed us around, telling us about their lifestyle in the village. My camera had just stopped working for no reason, making me feeling really grouchy. I was wondering why we’re at a village, the gloomy weather wasn’t helping much. Then I turned and noticed this skinny cow staring at me. Despite my camera being down, the mindfulness aspect in me wanted to absorb this present moment in the village. My friends walked ahead, I almost lost sight of them as I was taking photos with my handphone.
An elderly lady was sitting on the floor, rolling a kind of cigar in the shape that reminds me of a carrot. My friends took turns to try the handmade cigar. I looked around, noting the details of this family house, faded photos hung up in frames. The bedroom very much reminded me of very old houses in Malaysia. I tried to imagine how the nights are like here in this village.
It strikes me how easy the Burmese locals always chat with one another.
Bagan’s Art & Craft
Lacquerware is very much a part of Bagan. In the modern city, we’re so used to commercial products, I was very sure everything is produced by machinery in factories, never thinking about how much work goes behind. We went to a lacquerware ‘factory ‘and a lady gave us an introduction to how lacquerware is made. For lacquerware, it would take months for one product.
These ladies were carving decorations onto the lacquerware with much attention and effort. Can you imagine this being your office and this being your daily job?
Magical Sunsets of Bagan
Sunrises and sunsets are famously the most magical moments of Bagan. We were met with rainy mornings, so there goes chances catching Bagan’s magnificent sunrises. I still had sunsets though. We went up Shwesandow Temple to await sunset.
You’ll need to climb steep steps.
Thankfully, I don’t have a fear of heights.
Alternatively, you could cycle/ride/drive up a hill, or pay visitor fee to go up Bagan Viewing Tower, an odd-looking tower that looks displaced amidst the rawness of Bagan’s temples. (The header and first landscape photo in this post were taken at Bagan Viewing Tower.)
Bagan, you’re the most unique countryside I’ve seen in Asia.
Have you been to Bagan in Myanmar?
Are you thinking to visit soon?
Other Tips for Visiting Bagan!
How to get to Bagan:
We took an overnight coach (Elite Express) from Yangon to Bagan, taking 9 hours in total, reaching Bagan at 6.30am. Comfortable seats, comes with small personal screen for movies, USB port (bring your cable to charge your phone!), blanket, water, snacks, toothbrush & toothpaste distributed during break. Always have a small torchlight – blackouts occur often and at random, even at toilets during bus breaks along the way.
Where to stay in Bagan:
Our choice was Oasis Hotel and we had a comfortable stay. Simple buffet breakfast was included.
Fees for Bagan
Bagan Archaeological Zone: Foreigners need to pay 25,000 kyats to obtain a [flimpsy] card pass used to explore the Bagan Archaeological Zone. This pass is valid for 5 days. Keep it close by when you’re in Bagan, authorities might ask to check it, especially at the bigger temples.
Shoes and socks are not allowed in pagodas; everyone will be barefooted. Keep your shoulders and knees covered as a form of respect. Don’t wear translucent or revealing clothes.
Hot-Air Balloon Rides
Rides are available by season only, typically from mid-October to mid-March, due to weather.
Getting around in Bagan
E-bikes are very popular among foreigners in Bagan, or bicycles. Roads in Bagan could also refer to sand paths, so take note! My local friend rented a MPV car with a driver to send us around.
Majority of the Buddhist monuments have banned people from climbing them. Add to the recent earthquake in 2016 which did more damages, climbing is prohibited more than ever. We climbed up a steep staircase of Shwesandow Temple for the sunset.