TWO DAYS IN BAGAN DAY 1: An Intriguing Adventure
Though now listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list, Bagan has been no stranger to history and culture enthusiasts for decades. Word of its countless ancient monuments and pagoda-rich plains have travelled far and wide, beckoning travellers from all over the world to marvel at its archaeological wonder. Bagan also signifies the achievement of Theravada Buddhism embedment in Myanmar preceding its transformation into a renowned religious centre. As a result, it has become a prominent pilgrimage site. Tens of thousands of thrill-seekers and avid photographers also flock to Bagan during its ballooning season from October to April each year. The balloon rides offer a birds-eye view of all the temples, stupas, and golden spires in the glimmering rays of dawn, and it is undeniably glorious. Therefore, hardly any traveller to Myanmar would miss out on the chance to visit this breath-taking city, and they all leave with a sense of amazement. Having learnt this much about Bagan, we simply could not hold ourselves back any longer from experiencing it first-hand. We travelled to Myanmar during the monsoon season and honestly, it can be a tad challenging. The month of July promises heavy downpours, however, there were days we were fortunate to enjoy a couple of dry hours to explore Bagan.
Getting into Bagan from Yangon is quite effortless with Myanmar’s extensive bus, train, and flight networks, and also the luxury of private car transfers. There is a selection of convenient and user-friendly platforms for booking bus trips around Myanmar, such as Myanmar Bus Ticket, BNF Express, MM-Bus Ticket, etc.
We first booked our bus trip via Star Ticket where a one-way trip was only 18500 Kyat (approx. USD12) on a 30-seater VIP bus. Star Ticket displays all available options of different classes of buses, including clear timings, duration of travel, and also a seat map for each bus to choose your specific seat. Its customer service is also very responsive and helpful. As the bus trip from Yangon to Bagan was 9 hours and we were pressed for time, we decided to fly to Bagan.
For adventurous souls who would like to experience a slower-paced commute to Bagan from Yangon, rubbing shoulders with kindred spirits and locals, boarding a 17.5-hour train is another option. However, advance booking is highly recommended to ensure a relatively comfortable journey in a 4-person sleeper berth. Tickets can be purchased at the Yangon Central Railway station up until the day of travel or on Myanmar Train Ticket website at least 7 days ahead of intended travel date.
A pleasant 80-minute flight on an ATR72 with Myanmar National Airlines transported us out of the bustling city of Yangon to greener pastures. Bagan, formerly known as Pagan, was founded around the second century AD, which later became the centre of amalgamation of the Irrawaddy Valley and its surrounding areas by the Pagan empire in the 9th century.
This unified area is modern-day Myanmar. Upon arriving at the Nyaung-U airport and paying a fee of 25000 Kyat (approx. USD17) to enter this magnificent city, friendly faces and a line of taxis greeted us offering a comfortable ride to our resort. They can also be engaged for tours around the city. A 10,000 Kyat and 20-minute taxi ride later, we arrived at a beautiful resort by the bank of the Irrawaddy River in Old Bagan, the Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort.
The name says it all as it’s a perfect establishment to seek refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. The resort sprawls over a vast compound of well-manicured gardens. We exchanged smiles and greetings with staff tending to the flowering shrubs as we walked to our room which was 1 of 4 rooms joined as a cottage. There is a small monastery complex occupying a small space just 50 metres away from the reception. It’s called the Kaladha Koun, a simple shrine yet exudes an aura of tranquillity.
You can hire an electric bike directly from this resort to explore the 100km2 archaeological zone without busting your budget, about 5000 kyat for 4 hours or 10,000 kyat per day. They were in excellent condition, which was the most important aspect for us. We also realised that we do not need a motorcycle license to ride e-bikes. And the great thing about the e-bikes is that they can be parked closer to the temples compared to cars, and not to mention, it significantly reduces your carbon footprint, so it’s a great win-win.
We decided to hire the e-bikes only the next day as we can make full use of them then. After a relaxing stroll around our resort grounds, our tummies started to rumble. As we are big supporters of training restaurants, we found Sanon and took a 15-minute taxi ride there. We liked the menu as the dishes were mostly modernised Burmese cuisine or a fusion of Western favourites with Burmese flavours. The service was excellent and the food was sublime. We enjoyed the Giant Irrawaddy Prawn & Catfish curry. The prawn was indeed huge and juicy. We also ordered Grilled Tilapia, the flavours were a good balance of tangy and spicy. With that satisfying meal and the anticipation of next day’s adventure, we called it an early night.