It was 5:50am and we were walking on the footpath alongside a main road, in the pre-dawn pitch black. It was 3/4 of an hour before official sunrise and the electricity had just gone out, extinguishing the few street lights that existed. We were’t exactly sure where we were heading, but we were in Bagan and when in Bagan, one goes to watch the sunrise over the valley of temples.
We had arrived the night before after a flight from Yangon that had flown the flight-taxi circuit landing at both Inle Lake and Mandalay before our destination – Bagan. So we had not seen the layout of town, we didn’t have bicycles and we only had a general idea we needed to head west and find a temple to climb for the view. Luckily after 40 minutes walking we saw some tourists heading off the road to a temple – so having no better plan we followed them.
It was a very good decision. Leaving our sandals at the door and using our torches we made our way up the small staircases – not really hitting our heads too often.
And as the sun began to peek through, 10 hot air balloons began to appear out of the dark.
The balloon ride was only 45 minutes and cost $320 per person and there is a waiting list, but they must have got some wonderful views of the structures – they very close to our vantage point
After we had had enough of the sunrise Andrew went down the staircase first but I got delayed by some people coming up the one-way staircase. When I got to the bottom, rock-star Andrew was doing his usual tall-man pose, surrounded by amused Burmese teenagers.
Back to the hotel for breakfast and a shower, then we decided to hire a bicycle from the hotel and go and see some of the must-see temples. We checked the brakes and tyres but forgot to check if they had any gears. It was unbelievably hard work on a bicycle with no gears, even in a generally flat location. But we saw temples, temples and a few more temples.
They ranged in size from tiny, to enormous. The area of Bagan is as stunning in volume, as Angkor Wat is, as an engineering marvel. But Bagan is not on the UNESCO world heritage list. This is in part due to the previous regime, and in part due to disagreement over some of the restoration techniques used. To us, one thing to remember is that the restoration efforts may not be totally ideal, but it has preserved the structures and people can access them.
Day 2 saw us up before dawn again and heading along the same road. This time we headed in a slightly different direction and found another suitable Stupa to climb, with just a few other people. The guidebooks suggest you should head off at before 5:00am to get a good spot on the popular sunrise temples. Thanks, but no thanks to that!
And co-incidentally the wind direction moved that day and the balloons came directly towards us for a 2nd day – we hadn’t expected that.
Having learned our lesson the previous day, day 2 was exploring with an e-bike, as they are called here. They are electric bicycles from China, that were like riding a two-wheel mobility scooter. They purred along at a limited speed, we jumped on and off and had a wonderful day covering lots of kilometres of more temples.
One of the traditional tourist ways to see Bagan, is to use the horse and cart. But based on the fact people only recommended them for a max of half a day due to the rough ride and the fact we probably couldn’t fold Andrew’s legs into one, the e-bike was the best alternative.
Andrew made some more young friends and they had a happy time looking at his camera
We ate dinner twice at an Indian restaurant – Andrew is converted to good authentic indian thali — and two lunches at a french cafe. Another successful set of experiences on the food front.
Everywhere we went in Myanmar we saw little glimpses of economic reality. The bullock and cart is still used for transportation and agricultural ploughing. The country is opening up, and people are experiencing huge levels of social change, but not everything changes at the same pace.