Bagan is an ancient capital and religious centre of Myanmar. It’s famous for its tens of thousands of religious sites in Old Bagan.
One cannot fly or take a bus straight to Old Bagan, as Old Bagan is now mostly an archaeological area with some small villages. The airport is around 30 minutes away from Old Bagan none the less.
The Myanma government has reportedly been trying to get Old Bagan listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site to no avail allegedly due to its improper restoration of many of the temples and pagodas. To the uninformed eyes (ie mine), the buildings looked fine, even though many were still covered with scaffolding.
Having been a Buddhist country for a very long time, the overwhelming majority of the sites are Buddhist, with one Hindu temple. Despite the reported number of sites, I suspect the counting of them is very relaxed, with every small site counting as one. As a result, it did not really feel like a heavy concentration of historical sites like for example Oxford has.
In fact, as you can see here, many of the sites off the main roads are quite far apart with plenty of sand and grass in between. There continuously are structures all the way from Old Bagan to the city where the airport is at, however.
Even though the structures are all now ruins, they remain active religious sites and one must not wear shoes or socks no matter how rocky or full of insects the grounds are.
To navigate, one would normally rent an e-bike or a normal bike. E-bikes are basically slower motorbikes that are powered by electricity. They are easy to use, but rather heavy and do not work well on sand at all. Unfortunately, much of Old Bagan is very sandy and so I crashed a couple of times.
After seeing the sunset, I actually got lost and had to keep shouting “help” until some vendors heard and rescued me. 112 just asked me to call the local emergency number, and there wasn’t strong enough of a network to call the local emergency number. There’s also no signs or lights away from the main roads. I was very lucky.
Staff will tell you people are not allowed to climb any pagoda, but there is indeed one quite deep into the forest. Nearing sunset you will get loads of people offering to take you there. You don’t have to follow them as around that hour, all the tourists would be going to that pagoda and all you really need to do is to follow other people.
Initially, I thought it would take days to see everything. As it turned out, if you mostly just stay on your vehicle instead of inspecting everything, it would take only half a day to see everything.
And since all but one pagoda is climbable, there isn’t really much of a reason to go into the sites anyway. Not to mention your feet will probably thank you for not walking in the wild barefoot.
There are also a lot of puppet stands and handicraft workshops everywhere.
Another thing to do that I didn’t do is to go on the river. As a result, I didn’t go to the pagoda on the other side.
That pagoda is one of the four that, according to legend, could make your wish come true if you visit all of them before noon in the same morning. As an atheist, of course there wasn’t much point for me trying to make that happen.
And honestly, after the first evening almost getting stranded there alone, I was never going to get back there again.
The sunset was quite uneventful as it’s quite cloudy. The in reality low concentration of temples also did not make the view better. I mean, it’s good, but it wasn’t what I expected.
Everything was also a lot more expensive here, including food. Even the thanakha is sold at 6 times the price than it is sold in Yangon’s Aung San Market, which is in itself a touristy place and a touristy product.
I did buy another one despite the overpricing, since the vendor looked as if she was almost going to cry. And I can understand that the costs for her was higher since there must’ve been plenty of middle men between them.
And I thought it would be expensive if I was to buy at the airport anyway. I didn’t have the time to go back to Yangon city centre for it.
When one enters the metropolitan area, one has to buy a ticket that is valid for only 3 days, counting the day of arrival.
The staff wasn’t sure if I was an international tourist at first, but I did voluntary pay her to avoid trouble in the future. I was checked only once at the pagoda where I saw the sunset.
When I left, it had actually expired but no-one checked. And I thought it wouldn’t be fair for me anyway, considering the fact that I was only in Old Bagan the first afternoon and early evening, and the other days I went on day trips outside of the division.
I did like the structures and there’s a bit of a diversity, but it did feel like I’ve been there, done that in the end.
There weren’t that many main roads, the tricky part was to navigate through the non-roads to see the structures off the main roads.
There were some signs but they were mostly only on the main roads.
Another thing I didn’t do was visiting the palace. It has its own entrance fee and apparently all conjectural anyway. These combined with the fact that I was traumatized to go to Old Bagan alone again meant there was little reason for me to go. You could see a bit of it from the entrance and it’s quite similar to the palace in Bago.
I would’ve loved to do the day trip in Mandalay for the three cities, and do Old Bagan the next day instead. I ended up having to join three half-day tours.
It’s also possible to take a tok-tok.
That’s as much as a sunset as I could see that day. Perhaps the sunrises are better.
The old city wall.
I stayed at the city where the airport was at.
There were like two pagodas, not too difficult to walk to. The city itself felt like a small town. I suspect many don’t have a lavatory at home as they seemed to have showering in public. I would take a photo but then I thought it would be quite impolite when they were half-naked.
A monatery nearby.