Wednesday, February 3, 2021 5:49 PM by Jens
Temples, temples, temples and then more temples. It's Bagan in Myanmar. Experience the vast number of Buddhist monuments of the ancient Pagan kingdom - on an electric scooter. Enjoy a cold beer and the sunset over the Irrawaddy River.
Rangoon Domestic Airport was In 2016 like no other. It was impossible not to like the organized chaos. Here was no fancy check-in area or a large baggage handling system. You often think that you have tried everything, but here the normal airport routines had to be reset. You simply found the place where luggage and what was to be transported with the plane you were to take. Here you handed in your luggage and got a handwritten boarding pass. Then you were ready to board one of the many ATR planes that operate domestic flights in Myanmar.
Now there is a new terminal, but the ATR planes are almost the same!
The ATR plane sets course for Mandalay for a stopover before heading for Bagan. The ATR plane flies low and to the west one can follow the Irrawaddy river and to the east the jungle and the great lake area like Inle lake towards Thailand.
I get the first sight of Bagan from the plane during the approach to Nyuang-U airport. There are temples, stupas, monasteries and pagodas everywhere. I look forward to getting to know Bagan.
Bagan was the capital of the Pagan kingdom, the first Burmese kingdom from 1044 to 1297. The kingdom spent many resources commissioning new Buddhist temples, monasteries and pagodas. On the approx. 40 km2 that makes up the Bagan plain, there were once more than 10,000 monuments, today there are approx. 2,500. This makes Bagan the place in the world that has the most and the closest concentration of Buddhist monuments.
After a good night's sleep, I'm ready. Like another Indiana Jones, I climb my electric scooter and am ready to swing the whip - or perhaps rather - fasten my helmet and turn the scooters handle - and conquer the dusty roads of the Bagan plain.
I had completely forgotten the freedom of 2 wheels. The roads are good in some places, in other places just a rut and then it rained last night, so you have to navigate around the worst mud holes.
The best thing about Bagan is driving at will. Here are small and large, well-visited and completely lonely, active and lifeless, restored and dilapidated - yes there are all kinds of temples, monasteries, stupas and pagodas. Some are open, others meet me with a padlock. I do not have a favorite, but 2500!
And so still there are a few I come back to several times.
The Shwesandaw Pagoda is large and tall. Yes in fact the highest in Bagan with its almost 100 meters.
Originally, the temple was built to house a Buddhist relic - Buddha hair!
Here is a great view from the 5th level terrace just below the top of the Pagoda. The monuments in Bagan are Buddhist monuments, so get rid of your shoes and start the climb. Shwesandaw is steep with high steps, and a railing on the narrow staircase leading up to the terraces that have certainly known better days.
The terraces are narrow and even on the 5th terrace, where you are 75 meters up, there is no railing. It just gets your heart rate up. But I find a place where I can just sit with my back to Shwesandaw's almost 1000 year old walls. The view is unique. With Irrawaddy as the backdrop, the monuments are everywhere. Dominant In the view are impressive and majestic Gawdawpalins and Thatbyinnyus shikara and hti.
Buddhism is a very big part of everyday life in Myanmar. Especially in the Andana temple near Old Bagan one can see locals and tourists praying and meditating every day. Here are placed small gifts and incense sticks by the many Buddha figures.
The four 9.5 meter high gilded Buddha figures of the Andana Temple are extraordinarily impressive and beautiful in the light of the many candles that are lit.
Here is always activity and lots of people.
It is quite nice to visit a living temple among all the beautiful but lifeless temples on the Bagan plain.
Great is not always greatness. South of the small village of Minnanthu are many of the small unknown temples, stupas and pagodas in Bagan. Often just with a number on the facade. Dismantled by time lie most of these ruins. Nature has found its way. Grass and bushes grow wild. This is Bagan "natural" and I dream of being the first to discover Bagan in recent times. I take a break all to myself. Once in the area, visit the beautiful white temple of Lemyethna, which is now the temple of the local village. Lemyethna is Bagan's connection between present and past - without tourists.
Bagan is especially beautiful when the sun rises and sets.
In the morning I am lucky enough to catch the sunrise in a light fog over the Bagan plain. I find a temple i can climb. Then the sun and the view do the rest.
At sunset I enjoy a cold beer and watch the sun go down over the river Irrawaddy. Irrawaddy is the waterway between Rangoon and Mandalay. It was the one that Kipling called the road to Mandaly in the poem "Mandalay",
"Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay,
"On the road to Mandalay"
Wheel steamers who paddle through the brown water of the river are now a thing of the past.
On the other hand, the sunset over Irrawaddy is still magnificent.
I flew to Bagan from Rangoon. There are flights to Bagan - often via Mandalay from most airports in Myanmar.
From Mandalay you can also sail on Irrawaddy to / from Bagan. It takes a whole day.
There are also buses to / from Bagan from all cities in Myanmar e.g. via Mandalay.
My favorite though is the train from Bagan to Mandalay. A 1st class ticket for the 7 hour and 180 km long ride on the world's most crooked rails costs 1.5 USD and the train runs through stunningly beautiful nature and many small villages where you can look in through the windows and follow everyday life.
Access to the Archaeological Site of Bagan costs 25,000 kyat (approximately $ 16) for 3 days access.
I spent 3 days in Bagan. Do not rush. Spend some time at Irrawaddy or take a book and a picnic out among the temples and find a good place in the shade. It takes time to digest the impressions in Bagan.
It should not cost you more than 6-8000 kyat (4-6 USD) to rent an electric scooter per day. There are moped rentals everywhere. The hotels almost always have an agreement with one or more rentals in the local area.
In Bagan you can either live in Old Bagan (close to some of the central monuments and Irrawaddy) or New Bagan (which extends into the country). Old Bagan has the best and most expensive accommodation options, while New Bagan is cheaper and a little more laidback. I myself have lived on Arthawka on the outskirts of New Bagan. It is a good tourist class hotel with nice pool and good service at a really good price. Pool is a must after a day on the scooter on the small dusty roads. There is scooter rental right opposite the hotel, and in less than 5 minutes you are out on the small roads in the least visited parts of the Bagan plain.