Bagan to me is like an Asian fairytale, temples and Pagodas (littering) the vast landscape to a point where turning a corner brings you upon another of these eerily regal, sometimes decaying time capsules.
Some of the most iconic images of travel in Myanmar is the balloons over Bagan as the sunrises. For me this had long been on my travel bucket list, it had also always been on the opposite end of the spectrum to budget backpacker and verging on too much for your average flashpacker. But Bagan had me within its fairytale clasp and it was afterall my birthday… that’s justification right?
I have been lucky enough to bear witness to dozens of beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the past months,over the sea, behind mountains, I could put together a pretty convincing portfolio of such natural spectacles but I’m going to say this right now. Watching the sunrise in a hot air balloon was the most epic experiences of my life.
As the fans started up filling the balloons my stomach started to flutter, when the fire started further inflating the balloons tge pyro in me ignited (pun not intended) and by the time we were told to get in my stomach was doing backflips and my cheeks were hurting already from all the smiling. It was already shaping up to be a perfect birthday and the sun wasn’t yet up.
Add in the fact that the people were amazing who we shared our little basket with and it finished with Champagne Breakfast and a group of strangers enthusiastically singing Happy Birthday my day was shaping up pretty well.
While the temples draw you in there is a plethora of things to do to break up the temple crawl.
Laquerware is renowned here and the are are traditional houses still using handmade techniques which I have to say were pretty impressive, if you can prize yourself away from the pretty shiny things you don’t have to buy anything, but the tedious process itself is worth seeing and yeah I bought a jewellery box for all that bling I don’t own.
Mt Popa lies a little outside of Bagan and takes a tour to get to.
On our way we even happened on a festival celebration in one of the villages, our driver, who spoke little English, tried to explain although I fear it was all lost in translation. Instead we just stood in awe of the colour and spectacle of the parade.
We did it on my birthday and I can’t say it wasn’t entirely for the fact we’d heard of a resort with a cliff side infinity pool and Roadside toddy.
G&T in the pool darling?
You can join the locals taking the pilgrimage up the many steps to the temple at the top, at first lined with many shops selling puja (holy offering) next to tacky Mt Popa ‘I was here’ t-shirts, then filtering off to chilled drink and half way food stall complete with thieving monkeys, yes they will steal your fruit, and yes they will eye you smugly while they eat it. My beloved baby monks also storm these steep steps, taking two at a time as you barely lift your foot one, darts of orange robes and childish giggles.
Panoramic views greet you at the top and yes even more gold sparkly things (it’s not bonified Myanmar if it doesn’t have that) but I can’t lie it didn’t blow my mind you won’t be full of regret if you don’t see it.
Now as I’ve said this birthday was pretty up there but as if it wasn’t going well enough already a monk bought us iced pastries a the bottom, like, that’s basically a birthday cake right!?! Yup I’m going with it, a monk bought me a birthday cake and totally made my day!
You kind of can’t mention you’re going to Bagan without someone shouting at you in an overly enthusiastic manner “rent an e-bike!!!”. Slight confession… I am petrified of scooters, anything that resembles a scooter or basically anything that has two wheels that is powered by anything other than my own two feet. The thing that I’ve found is though, that I really don’t like being scared of things or not liking foods, over the years I have efficiently trained myself to like coffee and tea (the very idea now is sacrilege), wine, mushrooms. Jumped out of a plane, dived into the sea… now it was the turn of the e-bike!!
It really turned out to be the best way to explore, taking random turnings to deserted temples and making quick getaways from roaming cow traffic jams. Intrusive and garish temples gave way to submissive, unassuming shines and pagodas, some housed great shining buddhas and others adorable puppies. And while I’m always a fan of a Buddha statue, I’m definitely a sucker for a pup, even one that bites your friends ankles!
There are so many temples here it’s a wonder people don’t get lost among the powdering remains and the lovingly kept shrines. Most of the temples here are made of red stone as opposed to the glaring gold that adorns most in Myanmar, somehow it still manages to enrapture the thousands of tourists that flock to this magical state.
If there was one thing I wasn’t such a big fan of it was the amount of sellers crowded in around the temples, I’m all for people making a living but it kind of taints the magic a little when they’re telling you to cover your shoulders then trying to sell you a Buddha head (which is considered very disrespectful), inside the temple walls.
The red stone almost glows as the sun sets at night and rises in the morning bringing the ancient city to life and lovingly lulling it to sleep.
Romance and magic oozes from it’s very core, it’s enough to make you doey eyed and soppy, sandy hues to in your face greens, it’s the stuff of a photographers dream, every hour is a ‘golden hour’ here. Fortunately for me and my GoPro you don’t have to be a professional here to pull off a good shot, it just throws them at you!
It is of course a must to watch the sun set over the temples and as we placed ourself precariously on the edge of a quieter crumbly giant we were kept company and entertained by the local children trying to sell us postcards of the very photos we were aiming to take ourselves.
(note: since visiting laws are being passed to preserve the temples and stop people climbing the temples in order to help preserve them, an act I can’t really dispute, although I’m pleased it’s an experience I got to have)
My time in Bagan surpassed all expectations, even the trek from my room to our roadside showers weren’t enough to disillusion my sparkly memories on this ancient city.
Bucket list = tick