Bagan is a beautiful ancient city in Myanmar. From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later become modern Myanmar. Somewhere between 11th and 13th centuries 10,000+ pagodas, temples and monasteries were built. A little over 2,000 temples still stand today.
A few fun facts about Bagan from our travel bff, Wikipedia.org:
- One of the meanings of the name Bagan is in reference to its extremely dry climate.
- Bagan, located in an active earthquake zone, has suffered from many earthquakes over the ages, with over 400 recorded earthquakes between 1904 and 1975.
- Many of the earthquake damaged pagodas underwent restorations in the 1990s by the military government, which sought to make Bagan an international tourist destination.
- The restoration efforts drew widespread criticism from art historians and preservationists worldwide. Critics were upset that the restorations paid little attention to original architectural styles, and used modern materials, and that the government also established a golf course (which is incredibly silly in this heat), a paved highway, and built a 61-meter (200-foot) watchtower.
You can get here by airplane, train, bus or a car. As “flashpackers“, we chose the bus as it’s more comfortable than the train but also just as cheap!
The easiest thing to do is to hop on a bus either from Yangon (where we were coming from) or from Mandalay. It is an overnight bus which departs Yangon at around 8pm and arrives in Bagan at 4am (it’s not clear to me why the buses don’t just leave at 10pm so people do not have to arrive at the bus station in the middle of the night, but I digress).
As previously mentioned in the post about Yangon, we used JJ Express as our “go to” bus service and we were pretty impressed by the luxury of the buses, the entertainment system and the overall comfort and safety.
One drawback on a long bus journey is the lack of toilets and the less than pleasant bathroom stops. During one such stop, I had the pleasure of meeting Abbie and Adam who kindly gave me 10 cents to use the toilet while Kieran was asleep with the wallet under his butt (more about those guys later).
When you arrive at the bus station (half asleep), you are immediately accosted by 20 or so guys yelling at you to utilize their taxi service. Some do not expressly point out that their taxi is actually a horse and carriage! We played hardball and negotiated them down to half their opening offering which was still a great price for them.
One of the most popular things to do in Bagan is to catch a sunrise atop a temple. As we were up so early already, we had the taxi (car, not horse!) take us to the best sunrise viewpoint en route to our hotel. The taxi driver waited well over an hour for us without any complaint and it sure was worth it especially as it meant we didn’t have to get up early the next day to do it!
When you enter the city, you have to pay a $20/person tourist fee – a small annoyance which I am glad that Kieran was aware of. If you pay in the local currency, you are charged more – oh, the joys of being a tourist!
Although very sleepy, watching the sunrise was well worth it!
We climbed to the top of the pagoda … Once at the top, you get to watch the most stunning scenery unfold in front of you . . .
WHERE TO STAY:
Bagan is fairly small and divided into three towns: New Bagan, Old Bagan and Nyaung U. It doesn’t really matter where you stay as you will find a temple or a pagoda within a few steps.
Arthawka Hotel: Being that this was low season, we were able to get a pretty good deal on what looked like a nice hotel with a pool. After our sunrise trip, we were driven to Arthawka hotel in New Bagan.
After a 3 hour nap and changing rooms on a few different occasions (dirty sheets, cockroaches, etc.), we decided to leave the hotel. Pictures of said cockroaches were taken as proof in case Booking.com wanted to charge us a cancellation fee – they didn’t and the hotel was very gracious and even got us a taxi to move to a different resort.We immediately booked into our second choice hotel called the Amazing Bagan Resort. As fate would have it, we encountered my middle of the night bathroom rescuers – Abbie and Adam – our travel partners in crime, on and off, for the next 5 weeks. Abbie is American and Adam is Danish and they have also been traveling for about 6 months after finishing their PhD’s.
I wouldn’t say that the Amazing Bagan Resort was AMAZING, but it was for sure an upgrade from where we started and the added bonus of having nice people to socialize with was a huge plus.
The water was too warm to swim in. Something to do with unrelenting 100F sunshine!
The hotel did have very beautiful green surroundings as it is located right by the Golf Course of Bagan – as mentioned above, I really didn’t understand the point of the golf course as the heat is unbearable.
This is the easy part! Bagan is GORGEOUS – everywhere you go and look, it feels as if you have stepped into the 12th century.
First, rent an e-bike which are widely available and are super cheap ($5 for the day)! Everything works on a “trust” system where you just take the bike which you promise to bring back (no deposit, no names, no passports, no hotel information is taken)!
Kieran was forced to share the bike with me as I did not trust my e-biking skills (pretty sure this is what caused the battery to die much sooner than expected).
As we were riding these bad ass bikes, this theme song came to mind. Beep Beep!Second, go watch a sunrise – it is well worth it!
Third, go watch a sunset and do it a few times if you can. Just choose from one of the 2000+ temples to climb! Lastly, go e-bike around and get lost for a bit. Just don’t go too far or you will be doing the e-bike walk of shame! FOOD:
We usually do like to venture out and to be somewhat adventurous. But the food in Bagan did not impress us too much (or maybe we didn’t give it enough of a chance); so, for the 4 days that we were there, we went back to the same place for lunch and dinner and it was YUMMY and did our stomachs good! When in Bagan check out Weather Spoon for some delicious Asian and International cuisine. And for those with a chocolate craving (all four of us were really dying for some good chocolate), try their Belgian chocolate crepes and a brownie in chocolate sauce – NOM NOM NOM!Next up, a 7 hour day time bus ride to Inle Lake!
Here are a few ladies hanging at the bus station at 7am…
What the start of a long bus journey looks like…
What the end of a long bus journey looks like…
The bathroom break stop . . .we weren’t sure which we were: the “usual person” or the “tourist”…
See you all on Inle Lake!