Bagan is the reason most people travel to Myanmar and I was no exception. Over 2000 temples dating back to the 11th C dotted over a small area. It is flat, so in any direction the skyline is punctuated with stupas, some glittering and others stone, rising up to the sky. They are everywhere and the area isn’t particularly built up, so it is easy to feel like you are off on your own on, discovering an ancient civilization.
There are two Bagans: Old and New. The Old Bagan is in the archeological zone and the New Bagan is a small city, where most of the hostels, hotels, and commercial stuff is. I decided to stay in Old Bagan because I liked the idea that I was steps away from the wonders I traveled there to see. I will say though that there are only a handful of hotels in Old Bagan, they are a bit expensive (by Myanmar standards), and there is nothing to do in the evening, so as a solo traveler it may not have been the best choice, but my hotel was so lovely that I didn’t mind.
I stayed at the Bagan Thande Hotel, which is really like a collection of cottages on beautiful treed grounds along the river. The room wasn’t special but the setting was. The night I checked in, I sat at the outdoor bar and restaurant and smoked cigars in the dark, while live music was played. Very nice.
But that first night I also had to make plans for the next day to see the temples. One has options for visiting the temples. You can walk to some, but they are spread out so some sort of conveyance is needed. The options are: taxi, tuk tuk, bicycle, ebike, and horse drawn carts. A taxi would be dull. A horse cart would be slow and bumpy. Bikes would be fun, but hot and exhausting. And I was initially nervous about the ebike, so I went with the tuk tuk. It was a good option. I didn’t really have to decide what to see; the driver just took me on a 10 hour trip around to see all of the best temples.
We started at 5:30am so I could climb up one of the temples to see the sun rise. A lot of other people had the same idea, so there was about 20 of us standing in the dark, cameras ready, watching the sky lighten. People are annoying, but I had some excellent 60s lounge exotica music that i listened to on my headphones, which set the mood. (Ultra Lounge Mondo Exotica to be precise. Cheesy and awesome.) I felt like handing out breath mints to the other sunrise chasers. A lot of bad breath first thing in the morning it seems. But that did nothing to dampen the beauty of watching the sky turn orange and seeing the temples revealed.
Wonderfully, as the sun came up, about 20 hot air balloons rose into the air, adding a certain whimsical aspect.
It was wonderful. But it got better.
The temples are incredible. They are big and small, gold, white, ochre, and stone. Each with Buddhas inside and some with elaborate interior paintings. Some were very busy with tourists and people praying. Others I had all to myself. Some were just off the main, paved road, and others were reached only down sandy and rocky paths.
They are all a bit similar, but I found each so enthralling that I didn’t tire of them. I loved the architecture and the decoration, the incense and offerings. They felt sacred, even when hosting dozens of camera happy visitors. (Me included.)
I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
We also visited a market in New Bagan…or maybe it was in Nyaung U (a small, nearby town). It was a really good market. Handicrafts, vegetables, candy, meat, and fish. I walked every row and walked away with a traditional tattoo device (basically a long, ornate, metal stabby thing) and a marionette head that is so creepy i’m not sure i can keep it in my home.
I walked down one row and came across an area where men and women were sorting the fermented tea leaves that form the basis for many of the delicious salads in Myanmar. They do eat tea here and it is great when mixed with sesame, ginger, garlic. I said to them how much I liked laphet thoke (pronounced la-pay toe), the main tea leaf salad. Or rather I said “Laphet thoke?” And when they smiled and nodded, I gave a thumbs up. My attempt at making a connection. I didn’t exactly learn much Burmese ahead of time. At that moment, a teenage girl eating a plate of tea leaf salad while working, stood up, brought her plate over to me, and popped her spoonful of tea leaves into my mouth. Now that’s hospitality.
More market wandering and then I was back on the temple trail.
My day was supposed to end with me watching the sun set from a temple but I was exhausted. Plus, I mean, I saw the sun rise. A sun set is basically the same thing in reverse, so I returned to my hotel in the gloaming and fell asleep while smoking a cigar in a chair by the river. An amazing day. The next would bring more temples as I set out on my own.