We’re writing this just a few days after hearing the terrible news about the earthquake shattering almost 200 temples in Bagan. It really breaks our heart to see the damages it caused, having been there only a month ago. When we where researching our trip to Myanmar we’d read that Bagan would sure be one of the highlights of the trip, and I remember wondering what could be so special about a bunch of temples?
Bagan actually has more than two thousand pagodas and temples, built between the 9th and 14th century. And to say it left us in awe would be an understatement… There is just something so magical about cruising around this little town and discovering the stunning views of green tree tops dotted with white, golden and red temples and pagodas.
No lines, no ticket office, just an e-bike and beautiful century old scenery, needless to say we totally fell in love…
We arrived in Bagan by minibus which we booked through an agency in Mandalay. It wasn’t bad actually for our first encounter with bus transportation in Myanmar, apart from the opera singing Japanese lady behind us and the fainting Burmese girl sitting on a little plastic chair in the middle aisle of the already crowded bus.
It seems the VIP express busses double as the local DHL around here, so keep your fingers crossed that your trip isn’t planned on fish delivery day.
Where to stay
We stayed at the very nice Sky View Hotel in Nyaung U, a small town near Old Bagan, where most of the main temples are located. If you’re planning a visit to Bagan (if these pictures don’t convince you, we don’t know what will…) and wondering where to stay, we can really recommend Nyaung U. It’s a small town near Old Bagan with a relaxed and small feel to it but still plenty of nice places to stay and especially a cool backpackers vibe.
How to get around
Since tourists don’t get to ride scooters in Bagan – which we totally didn’t mind – we rented a so called “e-bike” at our hotel, basically just an electric scooter. There really are only advantages with this way of getting around in Bagan, which was only about a fifteen minute drive away from our hotel. Cruising on our e-bike was an absolute highlight during our stay here. The hotel made sure the battery was charged every morning, so the only thing we had to do was get on it and start exploring. Sem did the driving while we were there, but every night he would get off at the little street where our hotel was and let Flore practice her e-bike riding skills which prompted the young and very helpful guy who was in charge of the e-bikes to come driving over to see if we were in trouble, because he heard someone screaming?
Pro tip: if you do rent an e-bike, either from your hotel or one of the rental shops in town, make sure it’s fully charged when you head out for some temple exploring in the morning. You just might end up driving all the way to the other end of town with an almost empty battery, thinking you’re heading back to the hotel because your co-pilot insists that “this is a parallel road towards the hotel, I’m sure of it!”. You also really don’t want to push that thing all the way back to the hotel in the Burmese heat. (we later discovered that whenever you’re in trouble, just call the number on the bike and they’ll bring you a new e-bike.)
So for about four days our schedule consisted of getting up in the morning, hopping on our e-bike and exploring Bagan, deciding on the spot whether we were going “sinistra” or “destra” – at this point the co-pilot had switched to Italian instructions because she was getting bored – and just trying to get lost in this beautiful scenery of red brick temples. If red isn’t your color, they’re also available in shiny white or big, golden pagodas shining bright in the summer sun. Lonely planet has a list of the main temples you should visit, but we actually preferred just driving around and discovering tiny brick temples on little dusty roads. And even though Bagan is one of Myanmar’s main tourist attractions, you’ll constantly have the feeling that you’ve got it all to yourself, climbing temples and enjoying the breath taking views.
About an hour before sunset, everyone starts looking for that one special temple to watch the sunset over Bagan. We were lucky to watch a sunset from a tiny temple the first night we where there and then camped at the She San Daw Pagoda two nights in a row while watching people set up their camera gear for that one special picture.
Enjoying the food
Another thing we really loved about Bagan was the food. Burmese food is just cheap in general, and we had such lovely meals while we were there, even as vegetarians. We had diner almost every day at The Moon Restaurant (try their tomato salad!) and we loved the special aubergine salad at San Thi Dar (slow service, so you have to be patient). Both are located in Old Bagan.
Meanwhile, Weather Spoon’s at Nyuang U is a great bar to have a beer and relax if you’re templed out for the day. It’s the place where all the young people tend to go, they have great WiFi and they even set up an extra table for you on the street if the place is already crowded. Had a delicious tea leaf salad, a Burmese specialty featuring pickled tea leafs, tomato and roasted nuts and an great veggie burger, Yum!
We’ll leave you with our must do’s when visiting Bagan:
– rent an e-bike, you’ll enjoy the freedom of exploring with it.
– just go with the flow and keep on discovering those tiny dusty sand roads towards another great view over Bagan, you can’t really get lost here.
– Grab a burger at Weather Spoon’s in Nyang U and try the Mandalay beer.
– eat yummie veggie food at The Moon and San Thi Dar in Old Bagan.
– go to the Shwe San Daw Pagoda for the best sunset view but be prepared to share it with all the other tourists 🙂
If we missed your favorite spot in Bagan, do let us know in the comments for when we ever decide to revisit this lovely little place!