Our trip to Bagan was full of excitement, trepidation and curiosity. Excitement because Bagan had been on our hit list for a long time. Trepidation because we were taking the overnight train from Yangon and curiosity because we had read so many blogs moaning about Bagan being over run with tourists so we wanted to see how accurate the blogs were.
I am happy to say that the excitement was well justified. Bagan simply blew us away. Unfortunately, the trepidation about the train journey was also justified. After using trains to get to the Golden Rock we knew we were in for a bumpy ride (literally) and for most of the journey we were more off our seats than on. Bagan is not over run with tourists. If this site was in Europe it would be heaving with people. Yes, there are tour buses and yes in some temples there are many people but with thousands of temples to choose from you can always find many places where you will be alone.
Bagan is an ancient city located roughly in the middle of Burma. It was at its height from the 9th – 13th centuries and that is when most of the Buddhist temples were built. At one point there were over 10,000 temples scattered around the plain. Now there are 2200 temples and pagodas still standing, so you see what I mean when I say that you can easily find a few to yourselves!
Our journey up from Yangon could have been worse. Yes, it was a very bumpy ride and we hardly slept but the views were amazing. You could really see the difference in landscape when you got closer to Bagan. It became a lot more barren and dusty. We shared our room on the train with a young Japanese couple who were just on holiday for a week. We loved our time in Japan so we had many stories to swap. The train itself was not too bad (apart from the suspension), we had our own room with its own toilet. It did mean we could not wander the other carriages which we love to do, but when you are on a train this long, comfort wins over socializing! Dinner time was like something out of a comedy sketch. Trying to eat your food whilst bumping around was nigh on impossible. All four of us were in hysterics. You could not get more different from the Japanese bullet trains!
We spent a total of 4 days in Bagan which is just about the right time in our view. 3 would probably be perfect. You can get “templed” out. It reminded us a lot of Angkor Wat with huge amazing temples scattered around a vast site. Our days would start very early. We would be on our bikes at 07:00! It was the only way you could cycle without dying of heat stroke. We were in Bagan near the end of March and it was hot. I am talking 40c hot! So we would cycle around until 11:30 and then stop for a very long lunch and then go out again at 16:00.
Everybody talks about the temples of Bagan but once again, it was the Burmese people who amazed us. From little Pupu and her adorable smile to Thaung the artist who invited us to his family home for lunch after asking him directions to a restaurant! The warmth of the Burmese people will live with me forever. So will their stories. Like the one about the military government making the whole town of Old Bagan move so they could build a swanky hotel. That’s why there is the town of New Bagan now, but don’t think that the families got any financial assistance. They all had to start again from scratch. Disgraceful. We all moan about our leaders in the west but compared to most governments out there, our leaders are angels.
If you come to Bagan during the hot season we really recommend splashing out on a hotel with a pool. Ours sadly did not have a pool but we spent the day in a hotel that allows non guests to use their pool for a small fee. It was worth it! After being on the bike all morning there was nothing better than jumping in a nice swimming pool to cool down. We used the Thazin Garden Hotel’s pool which has it’s own ancient temple next to the pool! Talk about swimming with a view.
Bagan is popular and rightly so. Nothing infuriates me more than reading travel blogs that tell you not to go somewhere because it’s busy. It’s okay for them. They have been. So go to Bagan, spend a little time at the most popular temples but spend more time exploring the many temples and pagodas that are empty and find the Indiana Jones in you. Then decide for yourselves. We loved it. It has to be one of the world’s best places to cycle around.
Our next blog and last on Burma (boo hoo) will be about Inle Lake, our favourite place in Burma. Why don’t you subscribe below to receive an update direct to your inbox!
We had hundreds of photos from Bagan, here are a select few.
Have a great weekend!
Peace & Love
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