Bagan, Myanmar: Ancient City of Temples
Bagan is an ancient city in Myanmar, that once contained over 10,000 temples (built over the course of 250 years- that’s almost one temple being built per week!). Now, there are around 2,000 temples that still remain on a very dusty plain, connected by tiny trails and dirt paths. Before going to Myanmar, I had heard Bagan compared to Angkor Wat, Cambodia (with most reviewers saying that after having visited Angkor Wat, the temples of Bagan pale by comparison). So, while I was excited to see Bagan on our trip to Myanmar this Lunar New Year, I didn’t expect to be wowed… (And boy, was I wrong!)
While I’m not sure anything compares to the vast and impressive complex of Angkor Wat, Bagan was extremely charming and although the temples were small (by comparison), there were many, seemingly strewn haphazardly across a vast desert-like plain. We saw temples everywhere we looked, as far as we could see. Our favorite part of Bagan was exploring the small paths between temples on our electronic bikes (e-bikes) that we rented from our hotel. The roads were bumpy but we managed to get around and see much of Bagan on our e-bikes (it sure beats manually peddling on a bicycle!). We were able to witness animal-powered farming (oxen pulled plows!), as well as explore the smaller temples only accessible by narrow bike paths.
One main difference between the temples in Bagan (and all of Myanmar for that matter) and the temples in other places, is that you have to take off your shoes (and socks) before you even step onto the temple complex, as a sign of respect. Therefore, our feet were perpetually dirty from walking around barefooted (luckily I carried around a pack of Wetwipes!) and we had to be careful where we were stepping.
On our first afternoon, we climbed the (very) steep steps of the Shwesandaw Paya temple to view the sunset (along with hundreds of other tourists with tripods and huge cameras).
On the second morning we were in Bagan, Alex rode a hot air balloon (with Balloons Over Bagan- highly recommended) and got a bird’s eye view of the city. I followed in a hired taxi, taking photos of the balloons floating over temples at sunrise (I felt a bit like a storm chaser!). Afterwards, we were driven 1.5 hours outside of Bagan to see Mount Popa, a volcanic plug with a large Buddhist monastery on top. Alex and I slowly climbed the 777 steps to get to the top (carefully dodging monkey poop). Halfway up, we ran into our friends from Seoul, Renee and David, who were on a tour of Myanmar with the Royal Asiatic Society of Korea! The view from the top wasn’t that great (it was hazy and there weren’t any sights to see), but Alex and I were glad to get our exercise in for the day. 🙂
We climbed up to the viewing platform of the Pyathada Paya temple for sunrise on our third morning, and were able to see dozens of hot air balloons float across the plains. We even saw a Burmese couple (dressed in white) having their wedding photos taken (see picture below).
Alex’s coworker Stephan was also in Bagan, so we were able to have dinner twice (one time along the Irrawaddy River- simply beautiful), as well as enjoy a sunset from a different temple.
Bagan was, in one word, magical. Alex and I could have spent weeks there, slowly exploring the temples on our e-bikes, map (and phone/camera) in hand. We highly recommend visiting this ancient city soon, before it’s overrun by tourists!