March 9-11, 2016: Temple Hopping in Bagan!

Bagan is one hell of a special place and a great city to round out our two week visit in Myanmar.

During its time as the former capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were built, of which over 2,200 remain today, making Bagan the top tourist attraction in Myanmar. In fact, many call it the “Angkor Wat of Myanmar”. Having visited Angkor Wat in 2011, we both agreed that Bagan put Angkor Wat in its back pocket (no offense, Angkor Wat).

We got off our 10 hour night bus from Nyaungshwe, which refused to stop for a bathroom break. The bus practically began a riot, at which point the driver pulled over and let us all pee on the side of the road together, not too unlike a dog walker letting his furry friends out for their daily potty break. Probably worse, actually, cus, you know… we’re human. Nothing like popping a squat with a whole bus-load of Burmese locals, including monkitos (baby monks), staring at you. I guess I sort of understand how the dogs feel now. Anyway, we arrived in Bagan at 4am to the most aggressive taxi drivers I had yet to experience in Asia. This completely caught me by surprise, as though I knew Bagan was the most visited city in Myanmar, the rest of Myanmar as of yet felt so untouched and unjaded by tourism that I guess I had hoped/expected that Bagan would be the same. I was wrong. The amount of tourists at some of the temples was borderline unbearable and though Bagan was absolutely stunning, I would lie if I said that the buses of tourists (I don’t need to specify what kind of tourists… everyone reading this already knows) didn’t put a dent in it for me.

Nonetheless, we made the best of it. We rented the e-bikes that Bagan is so famous for and took off for multiple days of sunrises, sunsets, and endless temple hopping. Check out photos below!

Miles walked:               24
Miles transported:      ~65

Temple Hopping in Bagan, Day 1

An obvious benefit to the fact that our night bus arrived at the butt-crack of dawn is that we were already up at the butt-crack of dawn, just in time to rent our E-Bikes and take off to see our first Bagan sunrise! We chose the famous Shwesandaw Pagoda and got there early enough to find a good spot to catch the pagodas still lit up!

Bagan, Day 1 - 1

Bagan, Day 1 - 2

Bagan, Day 1 - 3

Bagan, Day 1 - 4

Bagan, Day 1 - 5

Bagan, Day 1 - 6

Bagan, Day 1 - 7

It took us a few minutes to realize that it wasn’t our imagination and that the sun actually did look like Pac-Man. Unbeknownst to us, a total solar eclipse was taking place at that very moment in the northern Pacific, resulting in an awesome partial solar eclipse in many parts of Southeast Asia. What a way to experience our first sunrise in Bagan!

Bagan, Day 1 - 8

Bagan, Day 1 - 9

Bagan, Day 1 - 10

And then the balloons took off! Had we not been on a tight traveler’s budget, we totally would have partook in this amazing activity of witnessing the sun rising over the temples of Bagan from a hot air balloon, but as the cost per person clocked in at $400 (no joke), this was out of the question. Oh well, maybe next time. It’s not like the view from down here with the rest of the peons was too shabby anyway…

Bagan, Day 1 - 11

Bagan, Day 1 - 12

Bagan, Day 1 - 13

Bagan, Day 1 - 14

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Bagan, Day 1 - 18

After recovering from that gorgeous sunrise, we made our way to Myauk Guni (North Guni) Temple:

Bagan, Day 1 - 19

Bagan, Day 1 - 20

Bagan, Day 1 - 21

Bagan, Day 1 - 22

Where we caught some more great views of Bagan:

Bagan, Day 1 - 23

Including Taung Guni (South Guni) Temple, which is the smaller of the two but no less impressive:

Bagan, Day 1 - 24

And the famous Dhammayangyi Temple, the largest of all the temples in Bagan, which we visited next:

Bagan, Day 1 - 25

Bagan, Day 1 - 26

Bagan, Day 1 - 27

Bagan, Day 1 - 28

Bagan, Day 1 - 29

As one of the more popular temples in Bagan, this is a special spot for religious ceremonies:

Bagan, Day 1 - 30

As well as weddings, apparently:

Bagan, Day 1 - 31

Bagan, Day 1 - 32

Drove by the beautiful Thatbyinnyu Temple, but didn’t go in:

Bagan, Day 1 - 33

And paid a visit to Shwegugyi Temple:

Bagan, Day 1 - 34

Bagan, Day 1 - 35

Where we were harassed by a kid telling us that he collects foreign currency notes and SOMEHOW is missing U.S. Dollars and Euros (yeah… right…) and asked if we could help him complete his collection. We’d heard about this mini-scam from loads of people and eventually managed to banish the kid, but like I mentioned at the beginning of this post – this is just another example of the side-effects of the tourism in Bagan that made it slightly less enjoyable for me. And if you’re thinking that we’re awful for banishing the poor kid and that he really just wanted to add to his currency collection, know that this was the first of many times that this happened and I doubt that there are multiple children in Bagan walking around pursuing this exact hobby. In Pokhara, Nepal, however, we met a kid who actually DID have this as a hobby. He showed us his impressive collection (which, of course, already contained U.S. Dollars and Euros) and, unlike the kids in Bagan, didn’t ask for a single contribution. Anyway, all that aside, we still managed to enjoy the view from the pagoda:

Bagan, Day 1 - 36

And the gorgeous Gawdawpalin Temple poking out in the distance:

Bagan, Day 1 - 37

Made our way over to Bupaya Pagoda, a stunning golden dome that sits on the bank of the Ayeyarwady River. This pagoda actually broke into pieces and fell into the river in the 1975 earthquake (that damaged and destroyed many of the temples in Bagan) but was reconstructed to the magical structure you see before you:

Bagan, Day 1 - 38

Even the monkitos make the arduous journey by boat to visit this pagoda:

Bagan, Day 1 - 39

Bagan, Day 1 - 40

Hopped back on our E-Bikes and continued on to Gubyaukgyi Temple, which was one of my favorite temples as it houses incredibly beautiful and well-preserved frescoes on its interior walls. One of the reasons they are so well-preserved is that no photography is allowed inside, so that also means no photos of said frescoes to share with you folks. Sorry guys, this is all you get:

Bagan, Day 1 - 41

Bagan, Day 1 - 42

Walked on over to the neighboring Myazedi Pagoda:

Bagan, Day 1 - 43

Bagan, Day 1 - 44

Where Frans washed the Buddha representing the weekday on which he was born twenty-something times (for his age… and I forgot how old he is):

Bagan, Day 1 - 45

And these adorable kids were adorably destructing sacred property:

Bagan, Day 1 - 46

Next we checked out Manuha Temple, which houses a giant seated Buddha and a massive reclining Buddha:

Bagan, Day 1 - 47

Bagan, Day 1 - 48

Bagan, Day 1 - 49

Meandered on to Nanpaya Temple, which is actually a Hindu temple and contains intricate carvings of Hindu gods:

Bagan, Day 1 - 50

Bagan, Day 1 - 51

Continued on to Ananda Temple, which was by far the most touristy of all the temples we had visited in Bagan. We were constantly harassed by sales people and kids trying to scam us, as well as hundreds of pushy and obnoxious fellow tourists. Avoiding them as best we could, we set off to explore the temple:

Bagan, Day 1 - 52

Bagan, Day 1 - 53

Bagan, Day 1 - 54

Seeing restoration at work!

Bagan, Day 1 - 55

Wandered around the long hallways inside:

Bagan, Day 1 - 56

Where we stumbled upon this monkito silently meditating. Or napping. Who knows?

Bagan, Day 1 - 57

Began making our way back to our guest house in Naung-U (the nearby town where all the hotels and restaurants are), driving through the Tharabar Gate, which served as the main gate of the east ancient wall of Bagan City:

Bagan, Day 1 - 58

Finished off the morning (yah – we did ALL of the above in one morning) with a visit to Shwezigon Pagoda:

Bagan, Day 1 - 59

Bagan, Day 1 - 60

Bagan, Day 1 - 61

After enjoying a well-deserved lunch and nap, we took off to find a good spot for the sunset, settling on Bulethi Pagoda:

Bagan, Day 1 - 62

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Bagan, Day 1 - 68


Temple Hopping in Bagan, Day 2

As we didn’t have the pleasure of already being awake post night-bus, we had to partake in the dreadful act of setting our alarms to waking up in the dark. Ughhh. We wanted to check out Shwe-nan-yin-taw for the sunrise, bu in our tired, not-yet-caffeinated states and in the pitch blackness of the ungodly early morning hours, we couldn’t manage to find said pagoda. With T-minus-sunrise rapidly approaching, we chose to go with what we knew and made our way back to Shwesandaw Pagoda where we were guaranteed to catch a good sunrise:

Bagan, Day 2 - 1

Bagan, Day 2 - 2

Bagan, Day 2 - 3

Bagan, Day 2 - 4

Bagan, Day 2 - 5

Samsonite and balloons, part deux:

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Bagan, Day 2 - 7

Bagan, Day 2 - 8

Bagan, Day 2 - 9

Bagan, Day 2 - 10

After yet another gorgeous sunrise, we took off for some more temple hopping, stopping at this cool little gang of pagodas:

Bagan, Day 2 - 11

Bagan, Day 2 - 12

This one is even rocking the gangster lean:

Bagan, Day 2 - 13

A scooter gang:

Bagan, Day 2 - 14

And a gangster straggling balloon:

Bagan, Day 2 - 15

Popped over to Htilominlo Temple, also one of the biggest and most popular temples in Bagan:

Bagan, Day 2 - 16

Bagan, Day 2 - 17

Bagan, Day 2 - 18

Shwe Leik Too Temple:

Bagan, Day 2 - 19

After a quick hop back over to the hotel for breakfast, we, along with Frans and our new Danish friend Veronika, revved up our E-Bikes and took off for a little bit of “off the beaten track” temple-hopping. We ended up finding ourselves driving through Minnanthu Village and emerging on the other side to find some spectacular pagodas, including Thambula Temple:

Bagan, Day 2 - 20

Bagan, Day 2 - 21

And this pagoda whose name I could not find for the life of me (but check out our cool E-Bikes making an appearance!):

Bagan, Day 2 - 22

As I said earlier, we were “off the beaten track” temple-hopping, which meant that these temples were not on the map, which meant that we didn’t know their names and after much research on the Google, I still can’t find them, so you just get cool photos instead:

Bagan, Day 2 - 23

Bagan, Day 2 - 24

Climbed up to get an awesome view of Bagan, including the gigantic golden pagoda of Dhammayazika:

Bagan, Day 2 - 25

Bagan, Day 2 - 26

Bagan, Day 2 - 27

Which, naturally, we visited next:

Bagan, Day 2 - 28

Bagan, Day 2 - 29

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Bagan, Day 2 - 31

After a brief visit to New Bagan (not much to see there), we began making our way back to Nyaung-U, seeing many more unnamed (well, at least to me) and beautiful temples along the way:

Bagan, Day 2 - 32

Bagan, Day 2 - 33

Bagan, Day 2 - 34

Bagan, Day 2 - 35

As well as this cool viewing tower:

Bagan, Day 2 - 36

Back in Nyaung-U, in search of food:

Bagan, Day 2 - 37

We were told by our friends (Lauren & Yoav) of this delicious Indian place run by a Nepali guy that was not to be missed. Luckily, Nyaung-U is teeny and this place was easy enough to find. The food was AMAZING and the guy that runs the join even cooler. A picture was in order:

Bagan, Day 2 - 38

After that delicious lunch and a very strong beer, we made our way back to the guest house to put ourselves down for an afternoon nap. Though it was exceptionally hard to wake up, we didn’t want to miss our final sunset in Bagan, so we took off in search of a nice spot for the sunset, checking out Sulamani Temple as a candidate:

Bagan, Day 2 - 39

Which had as cool an interior as its exterior:

Bagan, Day 2 - 40

Bagan, Day 2 - 41

And offered a cool view of the viewing tower we passed earlier in the day:

Bagan, Day 2 - 42

Made our way over to Pyathada Pagoda to check it out as our next sunset candidate, yet when we were about a few hundred meters away our bike began to falter. At first, it just slowed down and sped back up. Then it just wouldn’t accelerate. We were cruising at a solid 5km/hour. Just as we were reaching the Pagoda, the bike totally pooped out and we pushed it the rest of the way in. So, we had no choice but to settle on Pyathada for the sunset. The E-Bike had spoken. While we waited for the E-Bike company to come and switch out our battery (which was a surprisingly easy and seamless process), we made our way up to the roof to find a nice spot from which to enjoy our last Bagan sunset:

Bagan, Day 2 - 43

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Bagan, Day 2 - 45

Nothing like a herd of goats to frame out your sunset photo:

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Bagan, Day 2 - 49


High-Class Rolling Back to Yangon

As this was going to be our last night bus for a long, long time and we had gone super cheap-mode up until now, we decided to spoil ourselves and take the fancy J.J. (“Joyous Journey”) night bus down to Yangon to catch our flight back to Bangkok! Not much to elaborate on except for the fact that this journey was indeed joyous:

Bagan-Yangon Night Bus - 1

Bagan-Yangon Night Bus - 2

Bagan-Yangon Night Bus - 3

Arrived at Yangon airport with way too much time to kill. As we were waiting for the café to open so we would have somewhere to hang out, we were attacked by mosquitoes and made it our personal mission to kill them all. Zoom into the floor beneath Francy… yeah… those little black spots on the ground are dead mosquitoes. We may have looked like two mentally challenged individuals to passersby, but I’m sure deep down fellow airporteers were thanking us for our noble and selfless service:

Bagan-Yangon Night Bus - 4

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