Asia / Burma

Bagan. Pagoda hopping!

I love Asian temples. Pagodas, stupas, shrines. Dazzling, opulent, smelling of incense and adorned with fresh lotus flowers. They are kitschy, but I can handle Asian kitsch. I can deal with the colorful LED lights, loud tourists (at the end of the day I’m one of them!) and weird noisy music inside. I can take it all. Just because I know that there’s always gonna be that one silent, off-the-beaten temple, so mesmerizing that will blow my mind away. WAIT A MINUTE. Did I say “one temple”. Go back. Erase. We are in Bagan.

Hundreds of temples that will blow your mind away!!!

Bagan, oh Bagan, where have you been all these years! Everyone talks only about Angkor Wat, how amazing it is. I’ve been to Angkor and yes, it’s awesome but… I’ll tell you a secret. My heart belongs to Bagan. Bagan’s temples come in all shape and sizes and they are scattered around making your visit a real treasure hunt. Ready for pagoda hopping?

Come climb to the top of a pagoda to snap the coveted shot of countless hot air balloons rising above the area and tell me this is not the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your life… 

Climbing pagodas is one of the most popular activities in Bagan – the views are stunning.

The best way to get from Yangon to Bagan is by plane. It’s also the most expensive one and Mario is petrified as soon as I mention flying, so we decide to take a bus. I double check with the receptionist from our hotel if we are on the same page here – we want to travel by so-called COFFINBUS where we can lie down and be lulled by the calming sound of the engine. 🙂 The receptionist confirms. NEVER TRUST THE RECEPTIONIST!! When we get to the bus station (getting there was like 2 hours by cab from the city centre) we get on a luxurious JJ express VIP bus (their slogan is such a cliche! JJ – The Way, the Truth, the Life). The seats are nice but they don’t recline so hello to 10 hours of tortures. It’s hot then it’s cold and we stop every 2 hours and everyone is obliged to pay a visit to the loo. We can’t sleep a wink and we arrive to Bagan extremely tired.

We don’t have anything booked so we follow 2 Dutch girls to their hostel. This is actually the only hostel in Bagan – Ostello Bello. Unfortunately accommodation in Bagan is quite expensive even though it’s rainy season so it turns out quite pricey however the hostel is nice and clean, the vibe is good and it seems like a vibrant place for like-minded backpackers. The best thing about Ostello Bello is that they organize a lot of tours and also a guided pagoda hopping. It’s a brilliant idea as the archaeological zone is big and it’s a real challenge to decide on the temples you’d like to visit. For now on we don’t think about sightseeing. Goodnight.

In the afternoon we travel to Mt Popa – an iconic Myanmar postcard sight: a sacred temple, with stupas glistening gold, perched atop an extinct volcano. Taung Kalat monastery on the top of the mountain in known as the home of the Nats – the holy spirits of Burma. Mt Popa is in fact one of the most scared places in Myanmar, apparently visiting this monastery brings good luck (gimme that!).

777 steps!

Sliding bare foot on monkey poo is an extreme sport.

I’m being observed by the omnipresent fluffy creatures. They are cute but you know… monkeys can be mean. When I climb slowly, terrified that one of them will attack me, my boyfriend is in his own 7th photo-heaven. He loves animals and even try to make them to pose. We end up with 200 monkey pictures on our memory card. 🙂

Inside the monastery we meet a group of students from Yangon Uni. They are very curious of our experience in Burma and of course! they want to take a picture with us. Lovely. Then the teachers shake their hands (Mario was so proud!!) and it’s time to go back to our hostel. Being a tourist in Myanmar is cool. 🙂

Monkeys from Mt Popa.
A quick lecture from the older monkey… now this pic is proper cute. 🙂 
We met a group of monks visiting the monastery.
Now to prove I wasn’t exaggerating – the monkeys are everywhere!!! 

The next day is all about Bagan. It was raining the whole night so it’s not gonna be the easiest ride – says our guide.

The easiest way to visit Bagan temples is by renting E-bikes – this is so far my best memory from Burma.What and adventure! They are not only environmental friendly but also safe as you can’t go too fast.

We’ve visited all the main temples, learnt a lot about the history of Bagan and after a lovely lunch we are ready to set off to see more – this time on our own (and catch one of the famous sunsets!). You can really feel like Indiana Jones in Bagan, it’s such an amazing place. Some temples are busy but others completely empty. It’s a fantastic place to get lost.

Welcome to Bagan!
Peanuts! This is how much does it cost to go on a guided tour – and you can learn about the most popular plant in this area – the peanuts!
Even one of the tourist places wasn’t as annoying as usual. The magic of Burma! 😉 
Weaving is great but.. what is that lady behind doing?
Smoking chirotes with a local – priceless! No, she didn’t want money from me. 
Was great to hear all the stories behind each temple we’ve visited. Guided tour of Bagan is a must!

It’s getting late and we can’t find a good temple to see the sunset so we decide to ask for help. We stop a young guy and he asks us to follow him. Apparently he knows a fantastic place for the sunsets where there are no tourists. He immediately talked us into it. After a short ride through puddles I start doubting in his good intentions. We drive through a muddy field when I lose control over my ebike and I land in the middle of a puddle. Great. I manage to get up but a moment after I almost ride into a lake (“gas or brake” girl struggle!!). Our self proclaimed guide gives up. Instead of a mysterious off the beaten track temple he is taking us to the Guni pagoda. It happens to be the one we were originally looking for. What a coincident!

It’s cloudy and there are no balloons yet we are still amazed by Bagan. This place is truly amazing! 

It turns out our guide isn’t as selfless as we thought. He insist on buying his drawings but when he realizes it’s not gonna happen he seems to comfort himself with a simple conversation in English. You gonna meet a lot of local artists touting their craftwork. If you are interested in typical local products go for the lacquerware. Be careful though, if you are a rookie it’s almost sure you gonna end up with some plastic sh*t.

No one asks us for the entrance tickets so hmm… we don’t buy them. Once the locals realize how much money they are losing this will not be possible. They will also most likely ban temple climbing soon. You should really go to Burma now.

Bagan, apart from the beautiful temples, was also the place where we discovered tea leaves salad and OMG. You must try it! We should have stayed longer than 2 days and discover more but on the other hand some things are better off undiscovered so we can keep dreaming about them. Now off you go to see my pics and get your walking boots ready for the adventure as in my next post we gonna do the famous Kalaw-Inle trek.

A lot of Bagan temples is currently being reconstructed. It doesn’t change the fact they are beautiful! 
The weather wasn’t ideal but a lot of rain made the landscape so unbelievably lush.
The best thing to do in Bagan is pagoda hopping. I could definitely spend a few days doing it.
Ananda Temple Bagan – one of the four standing Buddhas. They are huge!
We met a lot of local people coming to pray. 
Background of Ananda temple looks like a fairy tale Indian palace!
Hundreds of temples in the middle of the jungle. Bagan is awesome. 
Thatbyinnyu temple is the highest one in Bagan. 
So many temples, pagodas and stupas and they are all randomly located. This place is so mysterious.
Waiting for the sunset @the Guni temple.
There are 2 Guni temples – the North and the South. Try to guess which one we went to?
Htilominlo temple.
I love all the pics Mario took in Bagan. 🙂 
So this is the closest to the sunset we could get. It’s not ideal but hey, that doesn’t change the fact we’re in Bagan. One of the most amazing places in the world. Enjoy the moment!