If I’m honest, it was our next destination, Bagan – that has been behind my desire to visit Burma for so long.
Covering over 40 square kilometres, over 4000 temples, monasteries and stupas emerge from a blanket of forest. With the earliest dating back to the 11th century, and a myriad styles and colours all in various states of repair. Bagan is simply spectacular, and we decided we would need at least a couple of days to do it justice.
We were staying just north of the Bagan plains, in the cheap and cheerful town of Nyaung U. Popular with backpackers we stayed in the recommended Mar Lar Ka – however we couldn’t see why. It was, frankly, a bit of a dump. The staff were friendly enough though and the location pretty convenient, so on balance we couldn’t complain to much for $12 each a night. Which is about as cheap as you can hope to secure a room in a tourist area nowadays.
We grabbed a couple of bikes from the ridiculously smily guy next door (for a $1 a day) and set of for the Bagan plains.
We spent the whole day riding around the quiet tracks that link the various temples and stupas. Some of the smaller temples we would have entirely to ourselves, others would be quite crowded, with many locals pushing souvenirs – much of which was rubbish, however there were also some very skilled artists selling their works directly – we may have succumbed.
We grabbed lunch and cooled off in the excellent, albeit oddly named “Be Kind to Animals. The Moon.” A vegetarian restaurant set amongst the temples in old Bagan, before heading off to take in a few more of the sights, and find a temple we could climb up for sunset. We opted for a smaller temple (Buledi) which is a bit further out, just off the main road that runs through the eastern plains heading north. A great spot, albeit a little crowded, we sat atop the stupa for a couple of hours, watching the light change from shades of blue to pinks, then fiery reds and purples before slowly fading to black. Awesome.
The following morning we set out at 5:30 AM! This time on little electric scooters which we had arranged the night before (from the same smiley guy next door to the hotel) for about 4 times the cost of a regular bike. Complete with headlamps, disc brakes and large batteries (that only required a little pedalling now and again to maintain charge) we whizzed through the night back to our spot from last nights sunset to catch sunrise. Well that was the plan. Lou and her bike didn’t get along very well, especially when we left the main road and picked up the sandy dirt tracks…where we then got a bit lost. We still caught the tail end of sunrise however and we were rewarded for our efforts as we had the entire place to ourselves this time.
We spent the rest of the morning exploring the areas further south, including New Bagan and along the Ayeryarwady river. The electric bikes were great on the paved roads and meant we could cover much more ground, we visited several more temples before calling it a day and heading back to Nyaung U.
I think the best way to see Bagan is definitely by bike, with little or no itinerary to just explore the area and soak up the place at your own leisure. We found some of the nicest places to visit were the smaller, less frequented temples in the central plain. However the following larger temples are all definitely worth a visit;
Ananda Ok Kyaung
Next stop > Rangoon (Yangon)