Bagan, the magic of Myanmar
The plain of pagodas in Bagan (formerly Pagan) is probably one of the most famous images of Myanmar, and for a good reason: it is simply mesmerising, especially at sunrise and sunset. There is something about hundreds of years old ruins (that actually have not made it on the UNESCO World Heritage list!) scattered in thousands on a plain, in a country that until recently was under a heavy military regime…
What it is referred to as Bagan today is, in fact, made up of 3 places: Nyaung U (where “the action” takes place and where most independent accommodation is found), Old Bagan (with more upscale hotels and where most big tours “camp” as it is where the temples are) and New Bagan (mostly mid range accommodation choices and where most locals have been moved in order to protect the heritage site). They are all nearby and easily reachable by bike (including plenty of e-bikes), car, horse cart (yes!) and even walking.
A map of the region includes the most significant temples (even with details such as “popular for sunset” for instance) which is very helpful not only for finding them if you are on your own on a bike let’s say, but also to be able to “tick” them off. After a while you tend to forget which ones you have seen and which one you haven’t….regardless of your memory or “temple intake” endurance 🙂 .
In addition to the above mentioned means of transportation (although walking is really not recommended in that heat) there is also the hot air balloon flight, which of course I had to take and it was AMAZING! It does indeed come with a price ( 320$ for 45 minutes flight at the time of writing this) but well worth it from my perspective.
And off we go to catch that special sunrise over the plains
….and at landing…
I spent a little over 3 days in Bagan, which was perfect, giving me enough time to see as many temples as I wanted to, take a day trip to Mount Popa as well as spending some well deserved breaks by the pool (cause my hotel had one 😉 )
Now, Mount Popa in itself is something I could have done without, definitely when I think about all those nasty monkeys, however the few hours “pit stop” on the way at the Popa Mountain Resort was definitely worth the trip. The views from the pool are gorgeous and it could also be nice to spend a night there, especially if one gets “templed-out” at some point. Of course for me the name itself was a big draw as I don’t know any other mountains or resorts having my family name 😉 .
If staying in Nyaung U, one just needs to go on the main restaurant strip to find plenty of choices geared of course towards tourists, as the vast majority of the restaurants in the area are. Some are more popular than others but I tend to believe that it does not always have to do with the food but rather with the WIFI connection 😉 . Do not expect late nights or anything similar in Bagan: people need to wake up very early for sightseeing before the heat becomes unbearable.
Some of the most popular spots on the Nyaung U main strip are:
- Weather Spoon – one of the liveliest spots day and night….well…as lively as Bagan can get
- Little Bagan – fast WIFI connection and the food was not too bad either. Tea leaves salad is highly recommended!
- Aroma2 – a very popular Indian restaurant with a decent wine menu
- Black bamboo – set in a lovely garden with higher prices than similar restaurants and which also come with NO WIFI connection and poor wine. Otherwise….lovely garden!
- HTI – the only “bar” in town but of course it is more of a restaurant with a bigger drinks menu and the best cocktails in town (so they say). Personally I found the food very disappointing
I stayed at Zfreeti hotel which was one of the most upscale hotels in Nyaung U. What attracted me the most when I chose this hotel was the claim to see the hot air balloons from the rooftop terrace where breakfast was served. Of course I could not say no to that! And while that was not untrue, there was not that much too see in the end as the balloons were quite far away and were flying in the opposite direction. However the pool was definitely a big asset in that heat. Overall I was satisfied with my choice.
Sunset and sunrise are the best times to truly enjoy the beauty of the plains and there are a few popular (and very crowded!!) places where you have to go at least an hour in advance in order to “secure” your place.
I hired a horse cart for a sunrise tour which I found by far the best option, as the drivers are able to bring you to less crowded and a bit “off the bitten track” temples where there is no other soul in sight, especially at the very early hours of the morning. The only downside is that you might need to climb alone in the dark using scary corridors and staircases many of them inhabitted by bats. Definitely not my favorite part!
Another very valuable source of information are the little boys selling sandpaintings at the temples. Not only can they tell you about beautiful temples with beautiful views where you have everything just for yourself, but they can also help you climb through secret staircases and doorways whose little gate keepers they have become.
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