According to the UNESCO, Bagan is the capital city of the first Myanma Kingdom, the site measures 13 by 8 km and contains over 2,500 mostly Buddhist monuments (temples, stupas, monasteries, etc) built from the 10th to the 14th centuries AD. Several of these monuments are still highly venerated by the population, and attract numerous pilgrims and devotees from all over the country, particularly at festival times and on Saturdays. It was fun to see mini-buses full of Myanmar people, wearing tour-operator hats actually, but at times quite busy!
The UNESCO never gave the site the status of “World heritage” but regularly helps the restoration, in particular of mural paintings as they constitute a unique corpus of paintings of that time in southeast Asia and have been the most reliable source for the history of the Kingdom.
And it does feel like a sacred and privileged place. Especially at sunset where it turns to a truly magical spectacle, as dusk casts a golden spell on the brick ruins, highlighting the shadows of the countless temples…
Bagan can be reached easily from the Nyaung U Airport in 10min. We stayed at the Blue Bird, a recent boutique hotel in New Bagan, which was a real treat, modern and with a walk-in shower that I soooo wanted to take home. Well, the fact is that showering had become quite an obsession after long days spent mostly barefoot in temples or wandering in the dust in flip flops!
Renting bikes or electric bikes makes all the difference at the site is quite vast, once again I was glad to have a flash light, as it gets completely dark about 20min after sunset. Despite that, we ditched the idea of getting a driver (useless) and spent 3 days loosing ourselves in a maze of temples and soaking the atmosphere, where I was pretending to be a repentant Queen about to build my own pagoda.
Indeed, the alleged 2,500 temples carry much legends and folklore. I loved the Dhammayangyi Temple, that was built by King Narathu to repent for murdering his father, brother and a wife (charming compensation!). The legend is that Narathu’s wickedness was so perpetual that he chopped off the hands of temple masons for faulty workmanship. ahh!!! I’ll tell that to the builders next time…
My Christmas present was a balloon ride over the site and I enjoyed every minute of the unique bird-eye view. Getting up at 4am was well worth it, those guys didn’t make it to the Lonely Planet cover for no reason! Even without going on a balloon, getting up before sunrise is strongly recommended, the haze dissipating and temples bathed in an early morning light make for a great spectacle.
And finally we spared a morning to pay our respect on the Mount Popa. I think the Lonely Planet had a great recommendation: going without a guide is a little bit like watching a foreign movie without subtitles. We couldn’t find one unfortunately, so we started by reading a few stories that I found on different blogs and website, and ended up chatting people and creating legends of our own…there’s a certain story about losing a ring on the way out and finding it several hours, plus all the stones, one by one, on the road. If that was not a miracle, I’m not sure what else it was!?
Mingalabar to Myanmar, generic recommendations to read when preparing the trip