Many people dream of exploring Bagan, watching the sunrise over the temple plains & floating high above in a hot air balloon. The ancient city of Bagan is truly spectacular, with many people relating it to the Angkor Wat, however I feel the two experience are completely different. Angkor surrounds each temple with its own thick jungle, where each temple is revealed to you as you walk towards it. Bagan takes 10,000+ temples, stupas and monasteries and throws them all at you in a single glance, the grandeur is immediate.
I arrived by bus, coming from Inle Lake, and very quickly got stopped by authorities to make sure I purchased my ticket to the Bagan Archaeological Site. My bus dropped me off halfway between Nyaung U and Wetkyi-ln Village where I was approached (and as is normal in Asia, rather aggressively) by horse wagon drivers hoping to take you to your hotel/hostel. I had arrived without booking any accommodation or having made arrangements so after some quick research found accommodation at the Winner Guesthouse (21.185314, 94.886528) in Wetkyi-ln Village. It has a few older rooms which are desperately needing cleaning and fixing, but I managed to get myself a newly built room with shower & aircon which was perfect. The guesthouse hired out bicycles which became my favorite and only form of transport around Bagan… they let you explore off the beaten track and find those temples where the main tourist buses just do not go.
The 42sqr kilometers is scattered with small stupas to massive temples. You will need to get out and explore each and every one. Some of my top selections would have to be:
- Bulethi Pagoda – a medium sized pagoda that allows you to climb up onto it and is great for a quiet sunrise & sunset
- Shwe San Daw Phaya – which is rather large and great for both sunrise & sunset, but is very popular with tourist buses arriving none stop.
- Ananda Temple – Which is an active temple
- Gaw Daw Palin Phaya – is a beautfiully imposingly large temple, I suggest you find a nearby temple (number 1620) and climb it to view Gaw Daw Palin
- Minga Lar Zedi – has a full set of terra cotta tiles.
- Pya tha da Pagoda – far from most of the main roads this temple is also great for sunrise & sunset
- Nanda Mannya – Which is a temple that also includes a underground cave/monestry. I found a monk here meditating quietly.
One of the main attractions of Bagan is the Hot Air Balloon Trips. During my time there in August the weather was not right for the Balloons and so they were not flying at all. You can also do boat trips along the Ayeyarwady River. I kept my time in Bagan relatively simple sticking to the bicycle and exploring as many small dirt tracks and temples/stupas as possible. It was absolutely exhausting but totally worth the effort, and there is nothing quite like riding through the plains of Bagan during a misty morning and watching that mist dissipate as you watch the sunrise from atop a temple.
There are loads of eating options around New Bagan and Nyaung, but my absolute two favorite spots had to be ‘Wonderful Tasty’ (21.194016, 94.898975) on Thi Ri Pyitsaya 4St, not far from the Shwezigon Paya. Secondly ‘Be Kind to Animals The Moon Vegetarian Restaurant’ (21.173369, 94.867479) which is not far from the Ananda Temple. Make sure you get some after meal sweats from The Moon Restaurant
Whilst in Bagan, just try to slow down… enjoy the beauty, close your eyes, listen, sit quietly as the sun rises over the temples and think back to the thousands of years that it has taken for this amazing place to be built. Pack some food and have lunch on the lawns outside a majestic temple under a tree. Its not a place to be rushed, its a place to be absorbed.