Of all the places we were able to visit while travelling through Burma (Myanmar), Bagan has to be the most majestic. That's right, majestic - like a unicorn. This patch of land is nothing short of serene, dotted with golden stupas as far as the eye can see. Small and calm, the only hustle and bustle you'll see here is tourists (local and foreign) temple hopping, and even that is done in a leisurely way often accompanied by a bicycle through the relatively flat area.
The downside to this leg of the trip was that it was cut much too short by a bout of stomach flu that kept a few locked up in the hotel unable to enjoy our unique surroundings, or even the great riverside view. On that note, it should be made clear that "travellers stomach" is a very common occurrence when travelling through Burma and it can hit people in different ways. Some will get fully knocked out by it for a day or so and then be fine, others will have low level symptoms the entire trip, and others still may not be affected at all. If you're travelling through this area (and I highly recommend it!) please do your research and take the appropriate medications so that you can fully enjoy your time away.
Now… back to Bagan! Divided into three main sections; Old Bagan, New Bagan, and Nyaung U, with the North and South Plains spread around them, there is easily enough to see and do fill at least three days. That is, of course, assuming you like to explore a land so filled with temples and stupas that feels almost impossible for your eyes to never be resting on at least one, if not many simultaneously.
During our time here we stayed within the "new" and "old" Bagan areas, and due to funny stomachs, we never made it over to Nyaung U (which just means I have a great reason to return!) We travelled easily around the area on rented bicycles (motor bikes and horse carts are also available) and had the leisure of seeing what we wanted to see when we wanted to see it.
Like all tourist destinations in all corners of the world, Bagan has some "must-see"locations, and while it's easy to see why they are so highly recommended, some of my favourite sites were the smaller venues that we stopped at in passing. We also managed to find a tasty little cafe in the shade that offered us more than one recoup session over the course of a couple days.
To help you with your planning, here are some recommend DO, EAT, and SHOP destinations. I wish I could offer you more, because I really left feeling as though there was just so much more to see and do, but I'll just have to return for myself to fill in the rest.
- Catch the sunset from the top of a temple! The golden hour in this part of the world provides spectacular views across the temple dotted plain of Bagan. There are options that are close and crowded, or further a field and…. still quite crowded. It's true, for the best views you won't have the place to yourself, but arrive early and you'll be able to snag a good seat. And despite the crowds, the process is quite tranquil. A little further out, but a little less trafficked the Pyathada Paya has an excellent viewing spot with a large flat terrace and plenty of spots to rest your feet.
- Rent a bike! There are small side of the road rental stands all over the place that offer decent day rates. If you're going around Old Bagan, the plains or even into New Bagan, travelling by bike was a great, scenic way to get it done.
- Be Kind to Animals the Moon - despite it's funny name, this charming garden cafe and restaurant is an absolute must! We went three times because the food was good, the drinks were cold, and the atmosphere was relaxed. Their tea leaf salad and ginger lime tea (iced was my favourite) stand out in my memory, but I don't remember getting anything we didn't love, and we got a lot!
- Shwe War Thein Handicrafts was one of our only stops on the shopping trail while in Bagan but was a treasure trove of well priced lacquerware and antiques (official papers provided so you don't run into trouble at the airport). It's well off the main road that leads into Old Bagan, but is easily found by well placed signage. If the connection's good, you can even pay with credit card (very rare).
Have you been to Bagan? Or even Burma? What was your favourite part? I'd love to know!
Until next time, you can catch up on Part 1 of our trip through Burma here.