The ancient Kingdom of Pagan gifted Myanmar with the accessible Bagan Archaeological Zone, one of the largest and most beautiful and interesting temple complexes in the world.
From Yangon to Bagan
Through Golden Myanmar Airlines, I paid 110 dollars to fly on a decent turbo-propeller from Yangon to Bagan. It is also possible to go by train or bus, but these means of transportation will cost you a whole night or day.
On the way down, still at the airport, I bought the Bagan Archaeological Zone pass, where the famous ancient temples of the Kingdom of Pagan still stand. There are thousands of them, built around 9th to 13th century, in a complex almost as large as that of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The difference is that while in Bagan the price of the pass for 5 days is 25 thousand kyats (18.5 dollars), the Angkor pass for 3 days costs 62 dollars!
For another 5 thousand kyats, I took a taxi to the center of Nyang U, more specifically to the Royal Bagan Hotel. Just 14 dollars with breakfast included, for the shared room with air conditioning. It is a good and beautiful hotel.
Late that afternoon, I walked randomly through the village streets until I reached the Shwezigon Pagoda area, when it began to rain. There is a large stupa surrounded by smaller temples and sanctuaries, and its access is through tunnels where commerce develops.
One of the beautiful rustic temples that surround it is Thatthe Mokgu Hpaya, with free access.
It had been nightfall when I stopped for dinner at the San Kabar restaurant. On the menu, a thing caught my attention: eel for 4500 kyats… I could not help but taste it. Hmm… Actually, the fried pieces were quite good!
Finally, I had some Myanmar beers with Gleice and Renan, the Brazilians I met at Yangon’s airport.
Bagan Archaeological Zone
It was still dark when I woke up to see the sunrise with the Brazilians. I rented a electric scooter, main and most recommended means of transportation to this town. It cost me just 7 thousand kyats (~5.2 dollars) for a whole day, but you can find it for even less!
No motorcycle license is required (which I do not have), the vehicle is automatic and easy to control. After a few skids, to the temples there I went, following up to 40 km/h, which is the maximum speed that can be reached.
Completely alone, we saw the splendorous sunrise just after 6 o’clock at the top of the temples of Soo Lay Gon group, where you can climb on the outside. And to accompany the privileged view, some balloons rose in the back.
Would you rather be in one of those balloons? So prepare to pay something around 300 dollars! I’m out of it!
I returned to the hotel for the included breakfast buffet, before resuming the journey inside and outside many temples. Damaged by invasions and earthquakes, but still impressive, for having more varied styles of architecture than in Angkor.
When I went, the larger ones were being restored. And the trade of souvenirs and food in the vicinity of the most famous temples is great enough to de-characterize the ancient atmosphere of the ruins.
Then I stopped at the Bagan Archaeological Museum. It costs 5 thousand kyats the entrance fee for foreigners. The building itself is already amazing, an old palace.
Inside, hundreds of finds of the ruins, like carved stones, paintings, jewels and statues, divided into some rooms, besides the central pavilion. Subtitles are also in English.
Then I had a nice meal in New Bagan, where there are several restaurants and lodges. Although I could not identify everything I ate, it was very good – except for the excess of coriander.
Then a lady showed me the preparation of the thanaka, a light yellow coloring paste that the natives use on their faces for sun protection and as a cosmetic. It is extracted from some species of tree, by rubbing a part of the stem in a stone with water.
I had the misfortune of paying another 5,000 kyats to enter the Golden Pagoda, a partially empty and bland replica of the Mandalay Golden Palace, which I ended up visiting in the next city.
I rode randomly for a while, pausing to contemplate the Irauadi River, uninteresting from the landscape point of view. At sunset I found the Sinbyushin complex (Hsin Phyushin Monastic Complex), near the typical village of Minnanthu. Apart from being away from the most famous temples it is tall, having a clear 360 degree view. I climbed it and only a few young people came in behind.
Meanwhile, in the Shwesandaw Pagoda, a lot of people stacked up to be able to see it in much the same way…
Only after this long ride that the battery of the motorcycle began to show signs of exhaustion. Slowly, I got back safely to the hotel in complete darkness.
At this point you must be wondering why the hell does UNESCO not consider this spectacular archaeological site as a World Heritage Site? Simply because the Military that ruled the country in the past decades restored the temples with modern materials, and even built a golf course and other things in between! But with the implementation of legislation aimed at protecting Bagan Archaeological Zone, there is still hope. Wait for the next chapters…
From Bagan to Mandalay
I left Bagan the next morning, taking one of the several micro-buses available daily to Mandalay, in my case at 9 o’clock. Crowded, but with air conditioning, it went out for 9 thousand kyats. On the way, we pass basically through the rural area. There was a stop to use the bathroom and another for a quick lunch. Almost 5 hours later we arrived.
It is also possible to go by boat, by Irauadi River. It is best to enjoy the look and relax, but the cost and duration are significantly higher, as can be seen on the MGRG Express website.