26 January 2015

Balloons over Bagan

Sunrise over Bagan
There's no way around Bagan if you're going to Myanmar. Well, of course you could avoid it, but you'd seriously miss something. Hundreds and thousands of ancient pagodas and stupas dotting brighly red a lush green landscape. Having spent four days there, we can only say it's absolutely worth it.

We arrived by minibus from Mandalay which took, surpisingly, only four and a half instead of the advertised six hours. Including a lunch break and a loop around Bagan to drop of all the other passengers. After a short search and a bit of negotating, we found a nice room for 25 USD (24 EUR) – yes, that's the price you pay if you want a decent room – in a guesthouse on the main road in Nyaung U. 
There are three areas with accommodation for tourists (guesthouses still need a special licence to host foreigners in Myanmar) in the Bagan archeological zone. Old Bagan, in the middle of the temples where the most upmarket options are (generally 100+ USD/80+ EUR), New Bagan, just south of the main temples where most of the mid-range hotels are (40-100 USD/32-80 EUR) and Nyaung U, where most of the locals live and all of the budget accommodation is.

Exploring the temples
Foreigners have to pay a fee of 30 USD (24 EUR) for the archeological zone, which you have to pay immediately upon arrival by boat, plane or bus. As we arrived in the early afternoon, we didn't do much on the first day, except walking around Nyaung U and checking out some restaurants on guesthouse road (main road) and on nearby restaurant lane.

The next day, we rented two e-scooters (foreigners are not allowed to rent real motorbikes in Bagan) to explore the huge area where the temples and pagodas are spread out. We didn't really feel like following any specific route as described in guidebooks and only occasionally consulted a map. We just drove around the temple area and whenever we saw something we liked, we stopped and went to visit it.

YAP - yet another pagoda
The best way to grasp the vastness of the area is to climb one of the higher temples and just enjoy the beautiful scenery with hundreds of pagodas dotting the landscape. Most tourists do that for sunrise and sunset. A beautiful sight. If you don't like big crowds, just pick one of the less famous temples and watch the sun rising or setting just by yourself.

We didn't spend too much time in the biggest temples, as they were incredibly busy with tour groups. But there are plenty of temples you can explore alone in peace, except for the odd local who will chat you up in order to sell something. We always simply told them that we're travelling for a long time and don't have any space in our luggage and
Bagan skyline
that was fine. In total, we spent two entire days driving around and exploring, including two sunsets and a sunrise. We have probably only saw a tiny fraction of the temples and stupas, but to see all of them (over 4000) you would need weeks.

Our evening we spent having dinner and hanging out with our friends from Mandalay, a nice german/dutch couple. If you have the possibility to visit Myanmar and Bagan soon, do it! The country is opening up very quickly and we feel that as Bagan is the biggest tourist attraction, it might soon be as overrun as other famous sites across South East Asia. So go NOW!

More pictures from Bagan

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