We left Rangoon for an early morning flight to Nyaung-U, the gateway to the ancient city of Bagan. Having been to both Angkor in Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia, I wanted to see with my own eyes how this much-raved about archeological zone compared with the other two.
ladies catching up on the morning gossip
Our flight from Rangoon departed very early in the morning. For the journey, we were brought to the domestic airport which in all honesty, looked like a dilapidating monstrosity. As I had requested to avoid government-run joints, the travel agency arranged for me to take Yangon Airways, a small outfit consisting of just 2 planes. Conditions were better than I expected, and we were actually served snacks during the flight. I was fortunate enough to get a window seat. As we were landing in Nyaung-U, the pilot was quick enough to point out the swathes of temples scattered beneath us. We were finally in Bagan!
I had arranged for a car to take us around the different temples in the huge archeological zone. Many of these were haphazardly restored by local authorities without supervision from UNESCO so it was left out from the World Heritage List. Otherwise, I believe Bagan rightfully deserves the title.
one can find buddhist frescoes inside some of the old stupas
postcard sellers in bagan
We spent two days exploring many of the main temples as well some of the minor ones in Bagan, as recommended by my trusty guidebook. Midway in the journey, I realized that it would be unfair to compare Bagan with Angkor or Borobudur as they are all different from each other. For Bagan, the highlight would definitely be the scenery. Many of the large temples are open for climbing, and the view from the top is definitely breathtaking especially during sunrise and sunset. The silhouette of the pagodas in the distance contrasted against the yellow sun is definitely a highlight of any trip to Burma.
this ain’t no painting
shwesandaw paya – offers a good sunset view so come here before the crowds do!
Like Angkor and Borobudur, souvenir vendors were standing by at every major temple. Although not as pushy as their Cambodian or Indonesian counterparts, the vendors in Burma would actually strike conversations with tourists (with the intention of making a sale of course) and follow them inside. This proved to be an annoyance, although the locals just take it all in good humor.
The next day, we ventured into Mt. Popa – an extinct volcanic crater with a temple at the peak. Considered to be the center for the 37 nats (spirits), the climb to the top consisted of 700+ steps amid Macaque monkeys competing for space with humans. The 25 minute climb was by no means easy but the view from the top was certainly spectacular. In the afternoon, we went back to Bagan and I rented a bike for an hour just to try it out. For the rest of the afternoon, we visited more temples. My personal favorite’s Sulamani Pahto, with its impressive frescoes inside depicting the Buddha.
mount popa — the “extinct” crater
the actual mount popa
in sulamani pahto
a good view
We ended our second day in Bagan watching the sunset again, this time from a different viewpoint. The colors were again magnificent, and the crowd of photographers seemed even bigger this time. I came to realize that spending my Christmas holiday here was a very good decision after all.
what can i say? the sunsets here are really something else!
Recommended Top 5 temples in Bagan:
- Sulamani Pahto
- Ananda Pahto
- Upali Thein
- Manuha Paya
- Dhammayangyi Pahto