Saturday 31 January 2015

Amazing Bagan! (Myanmar Part 2)

What can be more exciting than being in a hot air balloon gently rising off the ground, the cool silky breeze tickling your face as the warm whoosh of the burners' flames effortlessly lift the balloon into the early morning sky. Eyes fixed on the horizon, giddily anticipating the sunrise that would soon be bathing the temple-filled landscape in fiery hues....
Whoa! I'm getting way ahead of the story. Let's rewind and start again.

Mingalabar Bagan!

Bagan or its ancient name, Pagan, was the first kingdom to unify the regions in Burma that would later give rise to modern-day Myanmar. It was during this period that the Burmese language and culture would develop. At one time 13,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were built in the plains of Bagan. Today only 2,200 have survived. 

From Mandalay the Big K and I were off to Bagan. Now there are several options on how to get to this vast temple complex depending on one's budget and the time one is willing to spend traveling. 

By train - there are regular rail services between the two cities. Cheap but travel takes 9-10 hours. I also read that it isn't the most comfortable ride.

By bus - there are several daily departures. Cheap but expect to travel from 7-8 hours. Although the air-conditioned buses that some of the bus companies use are quite comfortable.

By boat - there are the no-frills river ferry, read cheap. And there are the luxury river cruises ergo expensive. Still the minimum travel time takes the better part of the day or an overnight in the case of the luxury cruises.

By air - the option the Big K and I took was a mere 30-minute flight. Take off, cruise, land! Mingalabar Bagan!

We took Air Bagan, one of several domestic carriers in Myanmar.
Our first glimpse of Bagan.

Before exiting the airport, we had to pay an admission fee much like what one would pay at a museum. After all, Bagan is one huge museum! The Bagan Archaeological Zone fee costs USD20 or EUR20 per person good for 5 days. We decided to pay in their local currency, the Myanmar Kyat. That's a whopping K20,000.00 each! 

Be sure to always have this ticket with you when you go around the temples. 
Fail to show one to an inspector and you'll be required to pay for a new one.

Temples, temples everywhere!

There are three areas in Bagan where most visitors stay, Nyaung U where the airport and railway station are located. Lots of restaurants, tea houses plus most budget hotels and guesthouses are found here. Then there is Old Bagan where several of the main temple sites are located. Lastly, New Bagan where the government relocated the villagers of Old Bagan in the 1990s. 

The Big K and I chose to stay in Old Bagan so we would be near to most of the temples and have the option to walk or simply bicycle our way around town. 

Pedal power!

Walk and pedal we did for 5 days! Okay, revise that. Walk, pedal and on our last day we rented an electric bike. Talk about getting an unexpected work out on our glutes. Yup, still sore! But it was worth it! Check out our pictures below (more on our Facebook page).

Mahabodhi Temple

Thatbyinnyu Phaya

Shwe San Daw Pagoda is always packed with visitors during sunset.

Htilominlo Guphaya-Gyi

We stumbled upon these two Kayan women weaving scarves. Ended up buying one of their creations. 

Boats for hire on the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) river.

Dhammayangyi Temple, the biggest temple in Bagan made of bricks and built in only 3 years.

Shwe Zi Gon Pagoda

**Some helpful tips: 

Leave your shoes and socks at home. Instead wear slippers or easy to remove sandals since you will be required to go barefoot inside the temples.  

Bring lots of wipes to get rid of sticky sweat and dust. Don't bother wiping your feet after each temple visit, just shower when you get back to your hotel.

Bring sunblock and a wide-brimmed hat.

Bring flashlights in case you decide to go to the temples before sunrise and after sunset. 

Sunrise, Sunset, Sunrise, Sunset!

Perhaps the most photographed scenery and what Bagan has been popularly depicted are its temples and stupas back dropped against the dazzling colors of a setting or rising sun. To witness these brilliant displays, one can climb any of the temples or stupas that are open to visitors. The Big K and I found one stupa near the Thatbyinnyu temple that didn't have a crowd of camera-touting tourists. And these are some of the shots we got.

And for the ultimate experience, which happens to be the highlight of our visit to Bagan, a sunrise hot air balloon ride! 

There are three hot air balloon companies operating in Bagan, Balloons Over Bagan (red balloons),  Oriental Ballooning (green balloons) and Golden Eagle (yellow balloons). We booked with Oriental Ballooning as they offered fewer passengers per balloon (we're no fans of big crowds). Oh! And green is my favorite color! 

Be sure to visit our blog for our next post about our hot air balloon ride.

More photos of Bagan in our Facebook page.

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