Our cell phone alarm went off at 5:05 am, playing some CCR song loud enough to wake us both up. I hit the snooze and we enjoyed another 6 mins of sleep until more CCR played. This time it was time to get up. Neither of us are early risers, and generally avoid waking before the sun rises if at all possible. But here that wasn’t an option. Sunrises at Bagan are one of, if not the most, popular thing for travellers in Burma.
We groggily got dressed and made our way out front of our hotel where our transportation awaited. At home, e-bikes drive me crazy. They aren’t fast enough for the roads and for some reason no one who owns one knows how to properly drive one. But in Bagan, they are the travellers preferred mode of transportation.
A few minutes later we were going at full speed, about 35 km/h, down a highway, well more a divided paved road and still the sun hasn’t peeked over the horizon. It’s surprisingly cold out and I wish I’d worn pants, not shorts.
Earlier that morning we looked at a map and picked a sport to watch the sunrise, but we haven’t been to the temple field before so it’s was a little disorienting in the dark. Soon we found ourselves driving with other travellers all going in the same direction, in a weirdly silent convey down as only the whirr of the e-bike motors can be heard. Everyone was racing to get to the best spots, the highest spots, before the sun shows itself.
Eventually we turned off the main road and onto a path made of dirt and sand. Driving in dirt is one thing, but driving something with two wheels in sand, in the dark, is a something else entirely.
As we pulled up to our chosen spot, we still can’t see much due to the darkenss. There are a handful of other e-bikes parked in front. The temple itself is still hidden in the dark, but there was a man at the doorway with a flashlight, ushering us toward a very small set of stairs that, we hope, lead to the roof. He asks for 1000 kyat, which we pay, and then we scramble up the stairs. We were some of the first here so we get a spot near the edge. Already people were setting up tripods and soon would be jostling for the best angles. The landscape was still dark, but shapes were starting to appear. Trees, stupas, and a few other large buildings that we assume are temples of some sort. There are over 2800 temples at Bagan, many 1100 years old, so it’s a pretty safe bet these shapes are temples.
Finally the sun reached over the horizon and we got our first look at the temple field at Bagan.
Soon the hot air balloons launched. We didn’t count, but I’d guess there were 20 give or take. The balloon ride is probably amazing, but so is the view of them floating silently across the temple field.
Once the sun is up, and we had taken about 400 photos, it’s time to head back to our hotel for breakfast. It’s not even 8 am. We stayed in the town of Nyuang Oo, which is about 15 minutes drive from the center of the temple field. It’s the most touristy place we have been in Burma, which is probably to be expected. After all, everyone who comes Burma comes to Bagan. So the town has a weird vibe. It’s the only place so far in Burma where we felt like people were focused on having us spend, if that makes sense. It was kind of like being in Thailand, where the locals people know the tourists have money and really, really try to get them to part with it. Hotels aren’t cheap, neither are taxis. We didn’t get the same curious and interested looks that we saw elsewhere in the country. Instead it was people trying to sell us stuff, get us to go on their boat ride, etc.
But the temples are incredible, and they are more than worth putting up with the less-than-intersting town nearby.
Days in Bagan are spent cruising around dirt paths between temples, getting lost, but finding amazing things wherever you end up. We wish there was more information available about each structure. Some had signs in Burmese, and we were able to use the internet to find out about others. But many seem to have no available information – names, dates, etc.
The day ends much as it started – hunting for the best and highest viewpoint to watch the sun, this time as it goes down.
The next day was the same as the first – up early to see the sun rise. We saw 2 sun rises and they were both fantastic. Some pictures from sunrise 2 are below.
It’s easy to see why Bagan is so popular. It’s the largest collection of Buddhist structures in the world, and due to Burma’s recent history it has been relatively inaccessible for years. But more simply that that, it’s just a truly astonishing place.
Burma is changing fast, and its easy to imagine the Bagan experience in a few years being totally different. Big hotels, fancy tours, high end restaurants, shopping malls – all reminiscent of the uncontrolled development in Thailand. We hope they can find a way to develop that respects the history of the area and uniqueness of the experience.
– Doug / February 22, 2017 / Hpa-an, Myanmar at Soe Brother 2 Guesthouse @ 10pm