Bagan is the land of ancient temples – these stone spires dot the dusty landscape of what is called the Bagan Plains. We are visiting in the middle of winter, yet the temperatures are very warm during the day and pleasant at night; apparently rain has not fallen here for weeks. Coming from Inle Lake, some 6 hours away by bus we were startled by the dramatic difference in landscape. Inle Lake has plenty of water – in fact villages are built above water at the edges of the lake – we saw numerous rice fields and the vegetation was noticeably green and thriving. But Bagan is dry this time of year – without all the lakes or waterways like at Inle Lake. What look to be thorn trees dot the dusty flat landscape; the terrain reminds me of parts of Eastern Africa.
Visitors to Bagan can stay in a number of areas in the region including New Bagan and the community spread out to the northeast of Old Bagan along Anawrahta Road. Regardless of where you book your hotel in either areas, you won’t be to far from all the comforts that a visitor needs (restaurants, transportation, tour operators etc).
In a new twist for me – I spotted electric bikes for rent right next to our guesthouse (Shwe Na Di Guest House) – and because it was already mid morning we were able to bargain the price down to $3 for an all day bike rental. Assured they would not run out of charge (same size as a regular scooter) we soon took off exploring dusty roads and small pagodas (of which there are more then 2000 still standing in the region – down from about 10,000 in the 1100’s).
One is not allowed to climb up the outside of the pagodas (other then a very few exceptions) but we found one in the middle of nowhere with narrow steep steps leading up to the second floor. We made our way up for picturesque 360 degree views. We wanted to come back here for sunrise – combined with hundreds of hot air balloons, the visual in the early am is ethereal. The alarm clock went off but sleep overtook the ringing annoyance and we never made it for sunrise.
And speaking of hot air balloons, a ride in one usually lasts 45 minutes to an hour and if you have the budget for it, will probably be the most expensive activity you participate in while visiting Myanmar. During our visit rides were running $350 to $450 per person – we noticed a number of the balloon companies we researched are headquartered overseas. As tourism develops hopefully more will be owned by Myanmar companies.
However we did experience a gorgeous sunrise from a hill in the middle of the Bagan Plains.
A must visit is the Ananda Temple – first constructed in the year 1105. This is a very popular site accessed via a dirt road. Four impressive Buddhas are located inside the temple.
Bupaya Pagoda next to the banks of the Irrawaddy River looks new – and it is – but in actuality until fairly recently (1975) it was one of the oldest structures in the area having been built around the year 850. A major earthquake destroyed this in 1975. Unfortunately another major earthquake in 2016 destroyed 400 temples in the region.
And for beautiful views of the Irrawaddy River come to the King Sithu Restaurant near the city of Bagan – with optimal time to visit in the early evening just before the sun sets over the river.
Mt. Popa is a temple located on the top of a prominent mountain which while not tall, as you approach it you see that it towers over the nearby landscape and local villages. This is a half day trip from Bagan and numerous Bagan based tour operators offer this side excursion as part of a shared mini van ride.
The temple is reached via a long set of 777 steps – I made it to the top in about 8 minutes – running most of the way. One needs to remove their shoes near the bottom – on the way up one passes numerous people with brooms in hand continuously sweeping the steps. Several levels are located at the top as are waiting monkeys ready to strip any sort of food item from your hand. Look at them in the eyes and they will think you want to give them food and they may jump on you.
A friend recently visited San Francisco and told me about her time eating at the Burma Superstar Restaurant. So imagine my surprise when I spotted a marble plaque etched with “Burma Superstar Restaurant, San Francisco, 2012”. The world is a small one sometimes.
The views from the top are nice – but the views from the village across from the temple are even more impressive.