We arrived early in Bagan on the night bus from Yangon, to views of temples surrounded by baron desert land, blazing morning sun and clear blue skies.
It was truly a different world to our first impression of Burma in Yangon, where there was constant drizzle and grey skies.
Unfortunately our first blissful encounter was cut short as Greg ate some dodgy noodles for breakfast and became ill, so we spent the whole day inside, which I was happy to do in the 42 degree heat! Plus I had to catch up on my sleep.
Later in the evening, I managed to drag him out for dinner, luckily I found a great little restaurant, Pho Cho, around the corner, it was silent and empty but being low season it was expected. We actually didn’t realize it, but the restaurant also doubled as a puppet theater. After our meal our waiter asked very keenly if we liked puppet shows and if we wanted to watch one, he was so excited we couldn’t say no. The traditional music coupled with dialogue which sounded like it had been recorded from BBC Radio in the 1940’s made it sound like we had jumped back to British colonial times, but it was really fun even if slightly strange.
Our next day was more promising, after the initial delay of not finding a horse cart, despite there being loads of them the day before, a bike rental shop knew a driver so we were soon off. We decided on a half day as we didn’t feel like it was good to stay out all day in the blistering heat.
We of course only saw a tiny fraction of the 2,000+ temples, but what we did see was amazing. We started at Nagayon Paya, which was very quiet and a lovely start. Next to it was another temple which had a tiny stairwell, affording great views of the surroundings from the top.
Next we visited Manuha temple, which wasn’t much to look at from the outside but spectacular inside, and also behind it was Nanpaya, a Hindu temple.
We then visited Gubyaukgyi which had some wondeful murals inside, however it was very dark and pictures were not allowed. Close by was Myazedi.
Bupaya was next, located by the river Irawaddy.
Then Maha Bodi, Shwe Gu Gyi and Thatbyinnyu, plus some more we can’t remember the names of. Whether the following photos are of these we aren’t sure as it becomes confusing after a while, but it doesn’t mean we didn’t appreciate the beauty of each one. We just wanted a ‘highlights’ tour which our driver certainly gave us.
The horse and driver were great, although sadly I had forgotten that I was allergic to horses!! So almost had a mini asthma attack… I’m just glad we took the ride though as unfortunately we had read online that as more people use electric bikes to get around, the horses and their drivers are going out of business. The fate of these working horses in unknown but I can only assume the worst as there are no animal welfare groups in Burma.
We had lunch in old Bagan before heading back to our accommodation, it was a feast of several dishes of Burmese food for a set price, the portions were initially small, but topped up as many times as you liked!
Later in the evening we hired bikes and rode back to the temple next to Nagayon. We expected it to be busy for sunset but it was deserted, and gave an amazing view even if the sunset itself wasn’t the best.
The next morning we got up at a ridiculous hour and rode our bikes to the same temple to view sunrise, which was definitely a highlight. This was a lot better than sunset. It was beautiful to watch, and see how all the temples, the river and mountains in the distance light up. Sadly we weren’t the only people this time, we were joined by 2 girls who were brought there by no other than our horsecart driver from the day before! It’s obviously his secret spot.
As we were already up and it was still cool, we did a bit more temple hopping before the blazing sun became too much, then called it a day.
On our final night we visited Black Rose Restaurant, had a nice meal which ended up in complete darkness due to a power cut, a common occurrence in Burma. We left and rain ensued, typically. When we arrived back at our guesthouse we watched as lightning filled the skies, it was pretty incredible.
Where We Stayed
We arrived early (6am!) at Mya Thida Hotel in New Bagan and didn’t have a room ready, which was a bit of a dampener. It wouldn’t have been so bad if there had been somewhere comfortable to wait! The staff seemed so so, they didn’t really care if we were there or not.
When we eventually got a room, it was OK but nothing to brag about – simple, comfy twin beds, and a small shower/toilet room. Expensive for what it was ($30), but this goes for anything in Burma these days. Breakfast was decent, noodles or rice with various crispy fried things. WiFi was barely functional.
More than anything we wouldn’t recommend staying in New Bagan at all, choices for eating are much fewer, though there are some good local places. Nyaung U would be a better choice, as it has more accommodation, more shops and more restaurants.