Good morning! It’s 6am and we are packed, excited and ready to hop on a bus from Mandalay to Bagan. Bagan was a former capital of Myanmar during the 9th to 13th century, previously known as “Pagan” and boasts around 2000 Buddhist temples, Monasteries and Pagodas constructed between the 11th and 13th Century. Making it an ideal destination for anyone looking to take a step back in time!
The bus cost us ~9000 Kyat and took around 5 hours, negotiating dirt roads, passing desolate but beautiful scenery and small villages. Be prepared for a hot bumpy ride as with most adventures, allowing yourself to slow down and take the surroundings of what feels like a country 20 years in the past.
On arrival at Bagan around midday we quickly found our accommodation, threw our backpacks in the room and rented an electric scooter from the hostel. Electric scooters are the only type of vehicle allowed within the Temple area of Bagan, both providing an eco-friendly transportation option and maintaining the peace and quiet of the area.
After paying the preservation fee of 25,000 KYAT (which allows you multiple days of visits) we entered the stunning area of Old Bagan. Our jaws dropped and eyes widened as soon as we set our eyes on the first Pagoda.
Traveling along brick-red dust track roads you are greeted to a maze of small Pagodas and larger Temples scattered across the landscape. Every turn, direction, angle is a photographer’s dream shot, too much to take in at once! As the first day was ending, we parked up at a small Pagoda to relax enjoying the reddening sky during sunset and the sea of temples in the distance, an appetiser for tomorrow’s adventures.
After enjoying delicious coffee and pancakes at the hostel we set out on our day, this time heading to sample some of the more famous Temples that Old Bagan has to offer. First on the menu, Ananda Temple, which is the holiest Temple in Bagan built during the reign of King Kyanzittha in 1105 AD. With its stunning cruciform architecture, layers of terraces culminating in a small pagoda with a ‘hti’, umbrella at the top it must not be missed!!
Next up was the Gawdawpalin Temple, built in the 12th Century by King Narapatisithu, who was considered the be the last important King of ‘Pagan’. On entering we noticed the archways were lined with intricately carved designs and a sudden drop in temperature as the air flowed through ancient stone passageways.
However, my favourite Temple in Bagan has got to be the Dhammayangyi Temple, the largest in Bagan. To me it has a kind of Aztec feel to its design and looks spectacular with a symmetrical design, layers of terraces and brick-red stone. Standing from afar you can view the entire temple with a backdrop of dusty fields and a scattering of trees. Stepping inside feels like stepping into the past, with elaborately carved designs and giant Budda statues.
To top off the day we decided to take in the full spectacle that is Old Bagan during the sunset. The skies were clear so we were in luck for a stunner, tootling along in silence on our motorbike, negotiating the dust paths, we found a quiet hill to sit down, take a deep breath watch the sun disappear behind an awe inspiring collage of hundreds of Temples and Pagodas peppering the landscape.
On our third and final day in Bagan, Myanmar, we decided to wander around the local markets and historical museum. Walking though the markets is a sensual experience of colours, sounds and smells. The clothing stalls sold every kind of material in a variety of vibrant colours, of particular interest were the ‘Longyi’ which is a traditional cloth sheet sewn in a cylindrical shape and worn a little like a skirt. The food stalls were a culinary adventure of sweet and savoury dishes, perfect for lunch, my favourite dish being the green tomato salad. And gift stalls with an endless array of hand-crafted items for decoration or jewellery.
Our final stop was at the Bagan Archaeological Museum, costing ~25,000 KYAT, but in my opinion well worth a visit. Providing visitors within depth depiction of Bagan’s rich history, rooms filled with old scripture, artefacts excavated from the Temples and information about the culture and daily lifestyle of locals in the past. Along with some much needed aircon after a hot day on the bike.
As the sun was setting and we both prepared for the long night bus which would take us to our next destination, Inle Lake, I contemplated my time spent in Bagan which will never be forgotten. Memories of adventure with my partner in this special place are priceless and I encourage all to go if they have the chance to visit this beautiful snap shot of the past.