Bagan – pronounced bay-gone – is the most visited spot in all of Myanmar and for good reason. It was the former capital of the Pagan Kingdom (the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later become Myanmar) and during its height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples and pagodas were constructed. Today more than 2,200 of those remain. While some restoration efforts have happened and currently take place, these temples fall into the “ruins” category so there is a cool authenticity to them.
The main “to do” in Bagan is to explore the temples which are pretty spread out around the area. We kept reading how everyone rents “e-bikes” as the main way to get around and see everything. I had seen electric bicycles all over Rio de Janeiro and it looked like so much fun to try! Perfect for lazy bikers like myself. Peddling is basically for vanity. Except upon arriving we realized they actually meant electric SCOOTERS, not bikes. Dream crushed. So we rented scooters and started with the Dumb and Dumber references which after three days, we still found hilarious.
Each morning we would wake up at 5:30am while still dark out and scooter to a different temple to take in the sunrise. Climbing up the ruins barefoot (removing shoes is proper temple etiquette) in the dark was an experience. But the sunrises from the top were pretty incredible. Also, each morning after the sun crossed the horizon a bunch of hot air balloons would lower into the valley making the scene that much better. We wanted to do the hot air balloon ride, but the $400 per person price tag didn’t really fit into the budget. We followed a similar routine for sunset but most evenings while there it was a bust and didn’t compare to sunrises.
One of the coolest parts about the temples is there are SO many. Some of the more epic ones are crawling with tour buses and people, but many of them you’ll find without a soul in sight. We had a blast going off the beaten path and getting lost exploring and finding new ones. Some of the surrounding trails were sand which didn’t bode well with our crappy little scooters not made for off-roading. We had a few close calls, but don’t worry mom we were wearing our helmets!
We also took a group tour that covered local life along the Ayeyarwady River. There are large flood planes along the river where people from rural Myanmar come to live in tents while growing crops (mostly beans) for a few months of the year. Once the season is done and the river rises again, they return home to their villages. A sad reality of the river is the growing trend of “electro-fishing” in which car batteries attached to poles are used to send a shock into the water and kill the fish. This method is severely depleting the fish stock in the river and also killing some of the local dolphins. Unfortunately we saw a few boats with batteries in them. On a brighter note, later in the tour we met a salty, 81-year-old guy who helped dock our boat. He was a character. He had a cigar hanging out of his mouth and held a homemade slingshot/bowand arrow contraption at all times to shoot birds getting into his plants.