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Published: April 11th 2018
Bagan is truly breathtaking. There's no doubting what an amazing place it is. However, the problem with an amazing place is the crowds it attracts, and Bagan is no exception. It's not difficult to escape them though, and we managed to do so with remarkable ease.
Our journey from Mandalay took three and a half hours thanks to our lovely lady driver. I wish she had given me a card so that I could share her details! The alternatives were a long day on a boat or a long day on a bus, and we just wanted to get there. The big advantages of a private transfer were being able to stop whenever we wanted, being dropped off directly at our hotel, and avoiding the US$25 tourist entry ticket (read tax!) which you'll pay if you enter by public transport. The only down side is that you can't enter the super-touristy temples or climb the viewing platforms at sunrise/sunset, but there are plenty of good alternatives anyway.
We stayed at the Oasis Hotel
just in Nyaung-U which certainly lives up to its name. The rooms are cool and simple, the gardens are truly tropical, and the swimming pool is lovely.
Well, it looks it - we never ventured in! Breakfast was superb which is not something we often said in Myanmar. It is also within easy walking distance of lots of restaurants. You can dine on anything from Indian curries to a burger in the humorously named Weather Spoon's. It's good value but you won't find much intimacy amongst the crowds. The hotel is also well located if you want to hire an e-bike to get around. That's exactly what we did.
Not being particularly keen on motorbikes, we actually thought an e-bike would be a push bike with some sort of engine to help with hills and longer distances. The reality was a battery driven moped which doesn't go too fast. Russ was the driver and Trish the nervous passenger, but we soon got into the swing of it. By the end of the day we were reluctant to give it back! The freedom offered by the e-bike was incredible. It allowed us to get to some out of the way temples while we waited for the crowds to disperse at others. We had the power to just stop by the road if we saw something of interest,
and we saw plenty of that!
We won't go into details about the different temples we visited but they came in an amazing variety of brilliant gold, dazzling white and crumbling bricks. The ones we had to ourselves had a haunting quality about them but even those where our tranquility was interrupted were wonderful. Once during the day we had parked the e-bike by the side of the road and cut through the trees to find a temple we had spotted from afar. To our horror we couldn't retrace our steps and it took a while to find our trusty steed! Thankfully that was the only stressful moment in the whole day. We also came across some markets. The one specialising in the enormous pots straight out of Ali Baba was a particular favourite. No matter how fabulous they are though, there are only so many temples you can take in in one go!!
That evening our friend Joe arrived to meet us. He's currently working in Myanmar and we hadn't seen him for a good few years. (Look at his blog.
He makes our lives seem so tame!) With the help of his car and his local knowledge we were
able to go out for sunset and climb up a temple to watch the light disappear. It was a very special moment even though we were far from being alone. He got us up nice and early the next morning to watch the sun rise from another temple. That was very moving, and we can't imagine what it must be like to see this spectacular moment from the peace and quiet of one of the hot air balloons we saw drifting through the sky. The trip is horrifically expensive so we decided against it. A note on climbing the temples: it's not really allowed but if you are respectful and take your shoes and socks off, nobody really bothers you. The security personnel were more concerned that there were people with socks on rather than the fact that we had climbed up a temple. The steps are VERY steep so you have to be careful. Somebody died in the months before our visit by falling from a temple, so they are beginning to clamp down on climbing. There are viewing platforms but you need your tourist ticket to access them and in reality they are just small man-made hills.
Bagan is a magical place. We were sorry to leave, but had we stayed for another day of exploring more temples, we think we would soon have tired of it. If you have never seen Khmer archaeology before your tolerance is probably greater, but it you have spent days at Angkhor Wat or somewhere similar, one day may be enough.
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