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Published: September 26th 2013
Bagan is the number one tourist destination in Myanmar, so the main town is dotted with Western-style shops, bars and cafes aimed at tourists - very welcome after the difficult journey to get here. The draw in Bagan is the ancient temples. Across an area a few miles square there are hundreds of these temples and pagodas, most in a similar architectural style, and mostly well-preserved (or, rather, well-renovated, though apparently some of the renovation is considered insensitive). Some are individually spectacular but it is the effect of seeing hundreds of them across the landscape that make the trip here worthwhile.
We did not enjoy the main large temples as we were mobbed by sellers and touts the moment we arrived, but it is easy to get away from these and just as enjoyable to explore the smaller pagodas. We found quiet areas where there were almost no other tourists and temples that we had to ourselves. Nothing is well-signposted, so it is possible to stumble across amazing sites - we saw a reclining gold Buddha that must have been 20m long hidden inside a plain-looking building thanks to a local young man who pointed it out as we were
passing. Even temples that looked relatively unassuming from the outside, or which seemed overgrown with weeds, sometimes turned out to have impressive Buddha figures inside.
In between the temples are farmlands, where we saw the land still ploughed with oxen and wooden carts. I cannot imagine it will be long before mechanisation arrives in Myanmar.
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