Bagan is Myanmar’s premier tourist attraction for good reason. It is a sprawling complex of over 2600 (I think) temples built over several dynasties and the reign of numerous Kings many, many years ago. I’m writing this without internet and can’t remember the details, but check it out. You won’t have heard about Bagan so much perhaps as Myanmar isn’t quite on the global tourist map in the same way as other countries with ancient sites of this calibre, such as Cairo for the pyramids or Siem Reap for Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but it is an equally mind bogglingly wonderful place.
I spent two and a half days CYCLING around the area (most of it is in about 20km square), stopping at countless temples of varying popularity and size. There are tourists sure, and there are restaurants and hotels in abundance, but Bagan manages not to be hectic really at all apart from one or two of the biggest temples for sunset when the crowds are in force. There are the usual handicraft stalls selling as you’d expect a bunch of well made beautiful things. The sellers obviously try and encourage you to buy but I didn’t feel hassled at all.
I loved Bagan. It was beautiful, provoked my imagination, languid and made me dream while I was awake. My legs appreciated the cycling (without any panniers) and I felt very smug on my nice shiny speedy bike compared to the other tourists on their less than dreamy, uncomfortable hire bikes.
There are SO many temples you can explore that it is possible to steal off and find a whole big temple to yourself. Go sit on the roof top and just absorb. I spent quite some time wandering off into the bush and stumbling across more awesomely crafted ruins where I couldn’t hear another soul and just took a seat at took stock.
Highlight is of course sunset and sunrise. I saw two beautiful sunsets with a lot of other people at the most popular and easily accessible site (I’ve actually forgotten which but it begin with S) and Pya Tha Da that was a bit deeper into the bush that was popular but less so.
In Bagan I also met THREE more cycle tourers in my hotel alone and Ramlan met another also. There really are a lot in Myanmar. Two guys from European countries that I can’t remember that were nice but didn’t want to chat too much. They had camped and stayed in monasteries pretty much the whole way through the country. You’re only ‘supposed’ to stay in registered guesthouses for foreigners, but because the distances are quite large between towns many cyclists ask for a place to stay in Buddist temples along the way and are usually obliged. If I cycled this trip again I’d be braver and do this, but I’m naturally a little cautious and prefer to stick to the easier path first time around. And also a Japanese older guy who cycles six weeks every year without a map let alone a GPS. He was quite a dude and we actually passed him cycling on the bus heading back to the Thai border on our last day.
I also got a slow puncture despite my allegedly bullet proof tyres. There is a lot of shrubby vegetation and the land is quite dry and a very small but hardy thorn had made its way through the cracks. Here I discovered a major cycling error that I was lucky didn’t cause me a major problem, in that the adaptor on the new pump I’d bought in Bangkok to replace my broken one didn’t actually work on my inner tubes. Whoops. I didn’t realise this until the morning of the second day when I’d gotten up at 5am to see sunset to find flat tyres. I was cranky with myself as there was nothing I could do about this until proper morning so I missed the sunset and went back to bed. Turns out Ramlan had the adaptor I needed and I temporarily pumped up and decided to fix the puncture at a later time.
I decided to stay one night extra than Ramlan so I could watch a sunrise at Shwe Gu Gyi and it was worth it. I love watching for the subtle gradations of the rainbow in the sky and watching the width of the bands of colour drift and change as the morning kicks in.
I didn’t get to enjoy it’s full glory unfortunately as I had to leave at 6:20am before I’d seen the full colour array from the site to get to the bus station via my hotel by 7:15am, which was cutting it very fine. The 5km cycle to the bus station to my hotel felt like torture with the panniers. Not sure why it was so tough but boy had I lost my fitness. And of course I got there and had to wait twenty minutes for other tourists to arrive, so I could have enjoyed the full sunset or at least not cardiac-ed myself trying to get there on time. Hey ho.
TO ADD WRITEN BITS SHORTLY…