Myanmar continues to rate high on our list of favorite countries. Bagan was the capital city of the Kingdom of Pagan from the 9th to 13th century. In that time, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed, 2,200 of which still exist. So can you guess how much of our time in Bagan was spent. Yep, you guessed it, visiting temples. I feel like a broken record saying we visited temples, but that’s what this area is all about. Sometimes I’m a little surprised that the boys have put up with all the temple touring.
Rather than take two more 10+ hour bus trips in order to see Mandalay, we opted to spend an extended time in Bagan (6 days). We had been told that this is the start of the “high” season for touring Bagan, but the town felt very quiet. There were definitely tourists, but the town didn’t feel overrun like Siem Reap in Cambodia.
We set out on bicycles for our first day of temple tours. The bikes were one gear, run down contraptions and after the last 20-mile bike ride in Nyaung Shwe, my knees did not want to cooperate with the rolling hills. I think even just a few gears would have made things easier, but we made it through the day and saw some amazing temples. The next day, we decided on e-bikes. Tourists are not allowed to rent motorcycles in Bagan as they apparently caused too many accidents, but they are allowed to rent e-bikes. You can still go pretty fast on an e-bike, so I am not really sure how this helped, but it sure made getting to the temples a lot easier!
On the e-bikes we were able to reach more distant temples. Sometimes this meant driving through sand, which would have been impossible on a bicycle, but only somewhat treacherous on an e-bike. We did discover that Ray and I have two distinct driving styles. When Ray hit an unstable patch of sand, he would speed up, drift a bit, wobble, and barely regain control before dumping himself and Tyler off the bike. As I hit the same unstable patches, I would possibly let out a little yelp, hit the brakes and then struggle to get started again in the sand. RJ would breathe a huge sigh of relief, especially after seeing Ray ahead of us almost wipe out. Ultimately there were no crashes, and we ended up renting e-bikes a second day because it was so much fun and gave us complete independence in seeing the temples.
One day we ventured a little further to Mount Popa, a popular pilgrimage site for Buddhists. We were dropped at the base of the plugged volcano and walked the 777 stairs to the top through troops of macaques and all of their filth. Barefoot. Socks and shoes are not allowed in many of the temples in Myanmar. In many places, a man would be actively cleaning a staircase of the monkey and human debris for donations. We were thinking that if they just put in garbage cans and signs that said don’t feed the monkeys, the area would remain cleaner for much longer periods. It continues to amaze us how these holy sites are strewn with litter. The view from the top was pretty, but the litter and monkeys did not make the visit a very pleasant one.
On one of our last days in Bagan, we told the kids we were going to get up for a sunrise viewing of the temples. They agreed, but were not too terribly excited about the prospect of getting up at 5:00 a.m. to see more temples. I finally let them in on a secret that Ray and I had been keeping for weeks… we were going to see the sunrise from a hot air balloon. That changed the outlook on the day. We were picked up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning and taken to a field where we were fed coffee, tea, and pastries while we waited for the light to arrive. We then took a 45-60 minute flight over Bagan as the sun rose over the temples. We flew as high as 2000 feet and got an amazing view of the temples from above. What an incredible experience! After landing, we sat with our pilot and had champagne – a tradition after a successful landing. Apparently hot air ballooning was invented by the French, so that explains the champagne.
A few more pics from Bagan…
Sitting in a temple window.
Goat crossing on one of the more remote roads.
One of the largest temples in Bagan.
Second largest temple.
Enjoying a cold coconut.
Fun with the sun.
A little closer view of Mount Popa.
Oh they look cute at first.
Top of the Mount Popa.
View from the top.
Balloons at sunrise.