We caught a mini bus from Magwe north to Bagan. I’d really been looking forward to this portion of the trip after seeing pictures of the area. Long ago Bagan was built up by kings commissioning over 4000 temples between 1040 and 1287 AD. It was a grand city at one point and now all that remains are the brick and stucco remnants with some buildings under restoration and others crumbling due to years of neglect, looting, earthquakes and erosion. Though some aspects of restoration are frowned upon by visitors because they are either destroying or covering up archaeological evidence of the styles of building techniques and the great paintings and works of art on the walls from hundreds of years ago.
Despite varying opinions on dilapidation, restoration and the ability of a person to move around the area to see the sites, Old Bagan is a site to behold no matter the walk of life you come from or your style of travel.
We opted to tour the area by bicycle. If you’re able bodied and not a total wimp I would recommend this route. There are other options like electric assist bicycles for less seasoned cyclists and even electric motor scooters for people with kids or the glam packer crowd. If you opt for any of these you will be going thru sand at some point and you will get dirty. You may even dump your bike. It’s part of the experience.
That being said, I might opt for flip flops over shoes as you should be removing them at all of the temples to walk through them. You will trash whatever footwear you bring here so choose wisely. Also white may not be the best color to wear, opt for tan or khaki as this place is a dusty plain in the dry season. Nothing says hilarious like a foreigner in full on safari get up.
Stake out a stupa or temple with stairs to climb to a higher vantage point at least an hour before sunset as at that point people will be coming out of the woodworks for that very purpose.
There are people with their pop up shops, pedaling their goods at every temple. Prices are highly inflated because you’re in a very touristy resort area so only bargain if you truly want something. If Bagan is your only fly in stop, sorry but you will be paying more than other areas like Yangon or Mandalay for pretty much everything (hotels, food, drinks, souvenirs). That’s just the way it is.
One bonus of bicycling is you can stick to the back roads and you’re on your own schedule versus taking a bus or truck with a bunch of other people. Bathrooms, especially ones in working condition are scarce so there’s many more opportunities to “wildcat” off the beaten path.
A few tips for visiting Bagan:
-(wo)Man up and rent a pedal bike. It might be the most strenuous but it’s also the most rewarding way to see the area. Harness your inner badass.
-Drink lots of water, bring a bottle with you and some snacks (bananas, peanuts)
-Stick to back roads, more water consumption means you may have to pee and there’s more opportunities to “wildcat” on the back roads.
-If you don’t mind trashing your Sperry Topsiders then wear them, otherwise I’d say opt for flip flops that you can rinse off at the end of the day.
-Sunscreen/toilet paper (for wildcatting)
-Take a lot of pictures, Bagan is a photographers paradise.
-If a local asks to take a picture with you say yes, you can then ask for one with them in return! They are just ask excited about smartphones and technology as we are, not to mention their country opening up to more travelers. If you are a young woman, local women and children are often very excited to see you and be photographed with you. Who knows, maybe you’ll be framed on someone’s mantel.
(Feel free to skip this anecdote if you don’t know us personally)
We spent two full days in Bagan exploring. We hit all the big main sights and touristy areas on day 1 and spent day two exploring the back roads and deserted areas which we preferred a lot more. During our exploration we actually found a grouping of stupas and temples down a dirt road and one had a mysterious hidden stairwell. We went for it and found you could climb all the way to the top. Woo hoo! We found our own personal sunset spot.
We left for the duration of the afternoon to do some more exploring. We found ourselves on a sand road in the middle of farm fields. We stopped to hydrate and I looked down and noticed the ground was littered with petrified wood EVERYWHERE. They sell it in the various rock shops at inflated rates but here I am picking up my own chunk from the earth. Way cool.
We made our way back to our desolate secret stupa for sunset and play our final round of our stupa tournament cribbage game. As the sun went down something completely unexpected and magical happened. Mr. Buzzing Traveler got down on one knee and asked me to be his Mrs. I don’t think there could’ve been a more perfect ending to this perfect day and our visit to this amazing area.
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