Travel Tuesday: Bagan

Article by: Caitlin Russell

Photo by Caitlin Russell

Photo by Caitlin Russell

An untouched ancient city in Myanmar, Bagan is home to thousands upon thousands of temples spanning centuries of construction. In the summer months you can hot air balloon over the temples at sunset and sunrise, hire horse carts to drive you through the new and ancient parts of the city and visit millennial old excavation sites.

Our bus dropped us at a station just outside the city, so it’s necessary to either pre-arrange a hotel transfer or a taxi. There is an entrance fee into the city of 26000 kyat (£13) which may seem steep when combined with your Myanmar Visa ($70) – but trust me, it’s worth it. The temples and surrounding roads are immaculate. It’s important to remember that Myanmar was only opened up to tourists three years ago, and the country is trying to get back on its feet financially.

Our hotel, Bagan Princess Hotel, was located in the outskirts of New Bagan. After a few hours of sleep in a proper bed, we had breakfast in the hotel and discussed the layout of the town with the receptionists. We rented two bikes from the hotel around noon. The front desk gave us a map, recommended which temples to visit and told us where to go for the best sunset view.

The land is, for the most part, totally flat, so cycling was easy, even in the 27-degree heat. If you don’t want to cycle, it’s possible to rent mopeds or tuk tuks, and taxis and horse carts can be hired for the day. After less than two minutes of cycling we were surrounded by temples of all shapes and sizes. We came across farmers with dogs, goats, horses and cows, going about their daily lives as we admired their stunning surroundings. It’s fascinating to see how nonchalant locals are about their homes while we, tourists, spend hours analyzing, photographing and admiring them. Apart from locals and a handful of other tourists, the entire city is quiet. Perhaps this is because of the time of year, but I’m glad we were able to see it so tranquil, smothered in rain.

Photos by Caitlin Russell

The temples themselves are exquisite and it’s unbelievable how intact so many of them remain considering their age. Their terracotta color contrasts beautifully with the bright green foliage that surrounds them; their bases comprised of rigid lines, that as you follow upwards curve to create their recognizable pagoda roofs. Immense detail covers the exteriors of the temples; skilled carvings still evident centuries later. Inside, inscriptions can be read on the ancient walls and narrow stairwells that lead from the lower floors to the roofs above, giving extraordinary views of the entire city. Although it is a city of ancient temples, each rooftop gives a completely unique perspective.

At each of the temples there are locals showing tourists around and selling souvenirs. What they have to say about the history of the city is fascinating and we learned a lot from listening to them. One young boy in particular spoke endlessly about each of the most significant temples visible from his own. When we asked him about himself, he told us he worked each weekend at the pagoda to pay himself through school, showing us his books and telling us about Alexander Fleming and Sir Alex Ferguson when he found out we were from Scotland.

There was an Italian restaurant, The Food Library, directly next door to our hotel that’s rated 5th in the city on Trip Advisor. After some reading online I realized it had been set up to train local teenagers in hospitality and improve their English, thus helping them with future work. We saw this a lot in smaller towns across East Asia over the course of our trip, and it was undoubtedly the best meal we had eaten since leaving home.

The weather while we were in Bagan was unbelievably awful; torrential rain for most of our time there. That being said, on our second day we hired two more bikes and stopped at all the temples we failed to visit the day before as well as revisited our favorites. The rain was actually a plus as there were so few people everywhere we went.

Having seen cities and rural areas alike, Bagan was undoubtedly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. What makes it all the more impressive is that you can weave through the temples unsupervised, and look at whatever you want for however long you want. The lack of restriction is liberating and made the experience so much more enjoyable. It was nothing short of a privilege to visit somewhere so stunning and unique – there really is nowhere like it on earth.

Photo by Caitlin Russell

Photo by Caitlin Russell

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