Of all my Myanmar stories, this was the one I was destined to write. But then, I don’t know where to start. Maybe the laidback vibe of Bagan kept me sedated till now. Bagan is too beautiful to write about that I couldn’t encapsulate it in 1,000 words. It would be an injustice.
I planned to tell you about all the lovely pagodas that once dominated this side of the country. But it is difficult. I am at a loss for words.
Located in the Mandalay Region, Bagan is an ancient city that features 2,200 Buddhist pagodas, temples, monasteries and shrines. During its glorious years (between 11th to 13th centuries), the kingdom was dotted with 10,000 of these structures.
Blame it on Myanmar’s most celebrated festival, the Thingyan Water Festival, our plans of checking out other key regions in the country was ditched because of transportation snags we had during the festivities. We had to endure a 16-hour overnight local train ride from Yangon to Mandalay and another 10-hour local train ride from Mandalay to Bagan just to experience this glorious city. Which we didn’t regret at all for we experienced Burmese culture at its best during those long train rides.
Me and my buddy were not in haste for we had five days to spare. Our home in Bagan, Amazing Bagan Resort, had the perfect setting. Tucked in the middle of nowhere, we literally were neighbors with some of the stupas.
On our very first day, we planned for a much needed respite. The next day, we joined the water festivities around town and were offered free booze, dance and shower. We started our exploration the next day, which coincided with Burmese New Year (17th of April).
We had varied options on our exploration. We could join group tours, hire a private car, rent a scooter, use the free bikes provided by the resort or just walk around (impossible). We ended up availing of a Horse Cart Tour offered by some locals, the resort arranged this for us.
25,000 Kyats (US$ 23.50) - whole day tour
He asked us for our plans. We said that we had none and asked him to surprise us instead. We climbed up the cart, struggled for our balance and got the groove after we sped off. We got used to the bumpy ride after a few meters.
It was New Year’s Day and Bagan was extremely quiet. The 4-day water festivities was over and I somewhat missed it. There were no entrance fees on the pagodas and we needed to take off our footwear before entering the perimeters of every pagoda (numbed and burned feet galore), the 46-degree weather didn’t help at all.
Initially, I was taking down notes of the pagoda’s name, but after five or six temples, I quit.
It was nearing sundown and we wanted the perfect spot to witness the great skyline. We went to this famous pagoda that offers the best view but were saddened when we learned that there's a fee going up, we're on a very tight budget during our two-month backpacking trip around Southeast Asia. So we ended up climbing back to our cart and witnessed the sunset on our way back home.
The next day, we grabbed our favorite bikes courtesy of the resort and asked for a map so as to not get lost. Our plan was to check out some interesting sites that we failed to visit the day before.
Me and my buddy endured Bagan’s burning heat as we pedalled our way to the trivial pagodas that seemed to be forgotten. At the end of the day, we found a huge lonely pagoda and sat there for an hour or so not knowing that this was the perfect sunset spot. And we waited.
The sunset was amazing. The deafening silence was surreal. And as the huge sun started to kiss the horizon, the little crowd that formed on that not-so-famous pagoda were all beaming with smiles. It was phenomenal.
As we biked along the sandy paths of Bagan, I couldn’t help but be amazed on the wonders right before my eyes. All they were saying about this place was true; it is too beautiful that you can’t simply describe it in words.
I know that I’ll be back, Bagan. Yes, I will. Next time, I would just grab my bike without my camera and notebook. Just me, my bike and your beauty. I would park my bike, hike on top of a pagoda, just stay there and be still.