Myanmar – The ancient temples of Bagan
An absolute highlight of our trip so far and an absolute must-visit for every traveller! This place is on many bucket-lists, including our own, and with good reason. Countless temples take over the impressive landscape in and around Bagan. There are in fact so many temples in the area that most of them don’t even have a name, just a number. There used to be more than five thousand of them, but earthquakes have leveled about half of them. Getting lost on a slow e-bike and exploring temples like Indiana Jones is the best thing ever! Standing on top of one of the many Pagodas gives you a true feeling of awe.
Why take the bus if you can take the boat?!
Most of our land-travel went either by train or bus, so when we heard that the boat is actually faster than the bus we didn’t hesitate to take the boat. There are three options. Option 1) the government ferry, goes twice a week and takes at least two days. After reading that the boat frequently gets stuck on sandbanks and heavy delays should be expected, we were quick to dismiss that option. Option 2.) The express boat, usually takes 8 hours, has chairs and serves food on board. Option 3.) The express boat with a side trip, taking a couple more hours but has a stop at a local village. We took the second option as we were eager to get to Bagan.
We stayed in Mandalay for a couple of days, and took the boat from the Mandalay jetty around 7am. Fully packed we stood at reception at 05:30am (crazy early) with no taxi driver in sight. After several calls the driver finally showed up and took us to the jetty. We booked online with Malikha, which was highest recommended. Once we arrived however we were put on a boat from MGRG, the only one going that day. We got settled on some comfortable beach chairs at the top deck. Shortly after the engine started to roar we started to regret that choice as it was getting bone-chilling freezing. Just outside of Mandalay on a misty morning we got our first looks at Sagaing’s pagodas from the Irrawaddy River. Amazing views!
As we made our way up-stream we passed by impressive bridges and people going on with their daily lives. Once in a while a fishermen shouted “Hello” from the distance and we waved at the local kids playing on the river bed.
Around eight in the morning we were served a small breakfast and around twelve a simple lunch with rice and vegetables. To escape the cold we hopped inside and had a warm beverage. Around four in the afternoon (only an hour later than expected) silhouettes of the temples of Bagan started to come into sight. Little later we docked and were thrown into maham. Taxi drivers and hawkers all trying to speak to you at the same time. We were quick to arrange a taxi to the hotel and picked up our entrance tickets on the way. Before heading in we had a lovely chat with our hostess and had a great vegetarian meal at “Black Rose”.
Time to explore and get lost among countless pagodas!
The following morning we enjoyed a decent breakfast and arranged an e-bike to explore Bagan. We simply drove north and were immediately surrounded by temples. Little later we were lost but couldn’t be happier as we found more and more temples of which only few were on the map. We pulled of the main road at the Somingyi Temple and walked in the direction of the river. We climbed up a temple without name on the way giving us our first of many areal views of the area. An epic feeling! At the river we visited several pagodas before we headed back to our bike. We crossed the road to the Nagayon Temple. From the small temple next to it, there are spectacular views of the Nagayon Temple and beyond.
Later, in the afternoon, we headed down the main road to visit the gigantic Buddhas at the Manuha Temple and the impressive temples at Myin Kabar before we started to get sidetracked on back roads. While cruising on the dusty roads we came across countless temples including one with excellent views of the area. Although it has no name and wasn’t marked on our map, it has become one of our favorites so far!
While heading back to the main road, the stunning red/golden Lawka Hteik Pan Temple was well worth a visit! After a cold sugarcane lemon drink served in a plastic bag with straw we drove to the largest temple of Bagan. The Dhammayangyi Temple is simply gigantic and hosts many Buddha statues and ancient drawings. An incredible sight! As sunset drew near we headed back to our “currently favorite temple” and watched a cloudy sunset before driving back to the hotel. We ate dinner at “Moon Two vegetarian Restaurant”, a place where bunnies roam freely around the dinner table and the food is delicious!
Old Bagan’s Ananda Temple & beyond
We woke up late the following morning and enjoyed a lovely breakfast before hopping back on our e-bike. We continued where we ended the day before and enjoyed the views of the Gawdawpalin Temple from an unnamed pagoda nearby.
To protect us from the burning sun, we stopped at a local Thanaka shop where a friendly lady painted our faces. Surprisingly cooling and it really did help in protection from the sun.
We continued East passing by several red-colored temples of which the currently closed Mimalaung Temple really stood out as the most impressive. Due to last year’s earthquake many temples in the area, including this one, were partly or even completely closed off to the public.
We followed the dusty paths to the That Byin Nyu Temple, the tallest temple of them all. We passed a small pagoda on the way named Maha Zedi, where we later watched an incredible sunset. The That Byin Nyu temple is simply gigantic and is basically visible from anywhere in the area. We strolled around for the better part of an hour and bought some tacky souvenirs before heading to the Ananda Temple. This beautiful temple is most famous of entire Bagan and hosts numerous golden Buddha statues and impressive paintings.
As a change of scenery, we visited the Bu Paya Pagoda overlooking the undulating Irrawaddy river. On the way we passed the Maha Bodhi Temple, which has a completely different style than the other temples.
As sun started to set as we went back to the Maha Zedi Pagoda. We climbed up the pagoda, making sure to avoid precarious sections. Incredibly enough there are only few tourist at this temple in sharp contrast to nearby temples. Overlooking the numerous temples we saw an orange sun set behind the distant mountains. A perfect closure to a perfect day!
Sunrise, Sunset and Eastern Bagan
Few places in the world can match the epic sunrise view Bagan offers. Known around the world we were filled with anticipation and got up at five in the morning. After some research combined with our personal experience in Bagan, we made our way through the darkness. We decided on the small Maha Zedi Pagoda and it took some time to find in the dark. On the way we met a local salesmen that recommended a nearby nameless temple instead. After seeing some impressive pictures on his phone we decided to drive to the other temple. It turned out we were here during the day once before and it turned out to be quite the place for sunrise.
We took the narrow stairs to the viewing platform. From here we had to climb on the outside of the temple to the tip of the pagoda to get even better views. This was far from safe, but did give magnificent views. In great anticipation we sat on at the top of the temple waiting for the sun to show itself. About thirty-five minutes before the sun made its appearance the sky started to get brighter. Just before the sun reached over the horizon up the most beautiful sun rays filled the sky with an array of colors. The colorful distant temples looked amazing in the light and as the balloons slowly moved through the sky, I couldn’t be happier to be here.
Feeling immensely happy, we made our way back to the hotel for breakfast and a short nap. We decided to drive east and explore the ruins and temples near the Min Nan Thu Village, just south of the Nan Myint Tower.
We drove our e-bikes over dusty back roads, passing numerous red colored temples to arrive at a small lake. At the lake are some of the most intriguing temples we have seen so far. Overgrown with weeds, decorated with elephants and beautiful ornaments these temples are a sight to behold. A nearby newer pagoda offers 360 degree panoramic views that are nothing short of incredible. It might not have a name, and might not be on any map, but it certainly is impressive.
Further along the road we got lost several times before ending up at the golden Dhammayazika Pagoda. We met some friendly monks here and enjoyed the huge Buddha statue on each side of the temple. As the temperatures were soaring we were in dire need of some refreshments and found some tasty coconuts at a small stand where we took the necessary break.
Just north of Min Nan Thu Village are countless unvisited and rough looking temples to explore, so we took our time and dove in one after the other. Especially impressive was the Paya Thone Zu temple, which has beautifully preserved wall paintings. Nearby is the Narathihapatae Hpaya, an amazing temple with rich details, both temples not to be missed. As the sun was getting low we found our way back to the unnamed temple with 360 degree views to enjoy a magical sunset. Orange rays lit up the nearby temples as it was setting behind the mountains.