Travel diaries in Myanmar — Bagan
Thursday, 13 of October 2016
After a long night in an uncomfortable bus we arrive in Bagan two hours past midnight. Indeed, at one moment the bus stops and a man separates the people in two different groups, he sends each group in a different minivan. So here we are, us, around 2:00 am in an unknown place on a gravel road. The driver leaves us front of our hotel. Well, actually our hotel for the next night. We ring the bell, nothing, we wait. Finally, the owner of the guesthouse, a Burmese guy arrives, lets us go in, we explain our situation, he understands, checks us in and he shows us the way to our room. Time to sleep.
We wake up, eat our breakfast and make the arrangements with the manager to rent our electric scooter; that in our opinion is the best way to discover Bagan. After driving 25 minutes we meet our friends in one of the main temples, we are not staying all in the same village, so we coordinate where to see each other.
Here, we need to give you some context: Bagan is an Archeological area with a crazy amount of Temples and Pagodas, that’s over 2000 of them! Bagan is to Myanmar what Angkor Wat is to Cambodia. The difference is that here there in not much control to enter the temples, the place is more wild and less touristic. During the night of our arrival we had to pay an entrance fee for the archaeological area. Keep your ticket during your visit, there are a few police controls that will ask you for proof that you paid.
The area is cut in three little villages. Our guest house is in Nyaung-U, while our friends are staying in the New Bagan area, a much bigger touristic and “trendy” town.
Let’s play Indiana Jones!
We don’t know the unpronounceable name of the temples and it’s for the best. We just make our own way and take little alleys and dirt roads between the grass, cactus and the trees, suddenly there it is, a new temple. We park our scooter, go inside or up the stairs, explore around, we take some photos and when we are done we just leave to find another one. We are so free. We enjoy so much. Time goes by quickly, and before the sun sets we drive to Bu Paya to meet our friends. There, next to the river we admire the fisherman boats and the sun sink in the horizon. Then, we go all together to have dinner in a nice restaurant. The day was intense and we are tired. Time to go back to sleep.
Friday, 14 of October 2016
The moment that everybody wants to experience in Bagan is the sunrise. That sunrise over the highest temples, with a view all over the valley, where everyone is waiting for the sky to fill up with hot air balloons and take the perfect photo. We wake up before dawn and we drive straight to the Shwesandaw Pagoda to be ready. The place is getting crowded by the minute, while people arrive to try to grab the perfect spot to enjoy the sunrise. To bad for us, before the sun starts to rise some clouds with rain cover the sky. Big Fail. No hot air balloon today. Under our eyes we watch the kind of sunrise almost imperceptible, where you can’t see the light through.
Our advice is to have fun and make your own itinerary. Take the time where you think is worth it. Maybe you won’t see the temple that your friends are recommending, but you will see others, plenty of them. More than the Temples, Pagodas and villages around, what is amazing here it’s the experience of totally freedom. To lose yourself on the way, to be alone in a millenary temple, to have no idea of what are you going to discover after the curve.
We go back to our hotel after our not so warm sunrise and breakfast. Now, we prepare to go and visit the local market. It is something we enjoy a lot, everywhere we go we visit the local markets, all the life that is in there, people interacting, living their authentic live. We enjoy finding the exotic fruits and vegetables of the new part of the world we are exploring.
Bagan area is also famous to be surrounded by craft villages where people make artisan work with the materials around, they work bamboo and lacquer, ceramics and pots. We spend a good part of the day visiting some of the workshops of the crafts we are interested in.
We go to admire our last sunset from Pyathetgyi Pagoda, a much more enjoyable spectacle that the ones we tried before. The sun paints the sky with amazing tones and from where we are, we have a wonderful view over Bagan, the temples start to get the tones of the golden hour, the moment is magical.
The night, we separate from our group and we eat in a traditional Burmese Buffet with plenty of food, too much for us (that is not common). The lady from the restaurant is so happy to have us, that, in the hour we are there, she never stops bringing food to our table. We even try a fermented peanut which creates a kind of cheese, yummy, who would say, they have their own vegan cheese in Myanmar!
On the way back to our village and our guesthouse, we climb up one last temple during the night, to see the view and the lights from there. To get to the top, we walk inside the temple, alone and completely in the dark, we turn in the alleys and go up the stairs, crossing deserted chambres until we reach the roof. On our way we see bats, spiderwebs and all kinds of nocturnal insects Definitely we are inside an Indiana Jones a movie! The adventure is cool and totally worth it, we take some night shots and happy with the result we hit the last part of the road.
If you want to explore the temples during the night, you should be aware that it is not common and usually not allowed in the bigger complexes, but if you are discreet and respectful there should be no problem in the smaller ones, also be sure to bring with you a headlamp or a light. Be careful.
Saturday 15 of October 2016
For the only time of our travel in Myanmar we choose to take our bus during the day. It is more convenient for us that way. A few hours of road and intense driving we arrive in Kalaw. A little town in the mountains, famous in the traveler world as the departure of some big treks. We hang around the little city and the market enjoy our afternoon there, eat a delicious indian naan and go to sleep. Tomorrow it is the beginning of our trek direction Inle Lake.