Our Myanmar trip had started off very well with two excellent nights in Yangon. We were already finding the people to be extremely friendly, generous and kind. Southeast Asia is known for the kindness of its people, but Myanmar takes it up a notch or two.
Generous and kind people
The generosity of the Burmese people ended up being an educational experience for us; it changed our outlook and questioned the way we live our own lives. Here we are with all this “wealth” and material goods, and yet I can’t recall the last time I offered a stranger a cup of coffee or tea.
The generosity of the Burmese people changed our outlook.
Something that we experienced time and again was the generosity of strangers in Myanmar; we were offered chai from strangers across the country. In some cases, it was clear that the person had little money, but they still offered to share a chai with us.
Tourism the right way
Our tour guide, who was licensed by the government, was informative, deeply knowledgable, and explained that the Myanmar government wants to avoid turning their sacred and historic locations into garish tourist traps.
They’re strict on what can be sold outside the pagodas and where they can sell it. Their strategy appears to be the perfect balance between culture sharing, development, and preservation.
Life changing experience
The next four days in Bagan would continue the life changing experience that had started with the Burmese people’s kindness. Words cannot describe what Bagan is like.
There are over 10,000 temples and pagodas that you can visit for a total cost of ~USD$20; the government has found a way to allow us to enjoy the sites with none of the negatives that tourist sites usually have.
When paying for things like the entry fee into the Bagan Archeological Zone in Myanmar, the local currency, the Kyat (pronounced like “chat” or “chet”), is the preferred option. If you’ve brought US Dollars to convert to Kyat or want to pay at tourist sites in US Dollars, please know that the bill must be pristine and brand new. No creases, marks, cuts, or folds are allowed; large denominations may also be rejected.
When we went, only licensed tour guides were allowed to enter the temples with tourists. The government hopes this will prevent a “touts culture” from forming at the tourist sites, that is so often the source of negative experiences in other countries. They hope that this will also ensure the tourists are getting accurate information about these historic sites.
Watching the sunrise or sunset over Bagan is an experience like no other. As mentioned above, words cannot do it justice, so throughout this post, I’ve shared some of my favourite images. Because there are so many temples to choose from, you can go to the popular ones and be with people, or to the less travelled ones and enjoy watching the sunset solo.
Watching the sunrise or sunset over Bagan is an experience like no other.
I recall watching the sunset from several temples where the people would go silent in the last 30 minutes before the sunset. It was just breathtaking. After the sun had gone down, people would start to talk again and the mood would be reflective. It’s the perfect kind of place to go if you want to find yourself.
We stayed at the Bagan Lodge in New Bagan. It’s a nice hotel near a number of restaurants and the New Bagan town. We hired a tour guide to take us around to visit the various pagodas; starting at 6am, we would head out and visit one temple after another to try and pack in as many as possible in a day. We saw a number of people riding e-bikes from temple to temple which seemed like a wonderful idea; we would love to try that transportation method on future trip to Bagan.
Sunrise in a hot air balloon
We had heard about another interesting and unique experience that people had posted about online, taking a hot air balloon up at sunrise to watch the sun come up, above the thousands of temples in Bagan. We did some research and found Balloons Over Bagan; the price was a bit steep at USD$300 per person, but decided to go for it anyhow.
The day started early, if I recall, it was a 4:30am pickup time at our hotel. After a short and bumpy drive, where we picked up a few other passengers from their hotels, we arrived at the launch site. There was coffee and tea, a hard working crew, and a professional and well-trained pilot.
When the fire starts up for the hot air balloon, it’s quite the roar. The crew had walked us through the detailed safety information including how to drop into the bucket during the crucial landing in case the bucket tumbles over. They were very thorough and ensured that everyone understood what to do in any emergency situation.
We then boarded our bucket with seven other people and began lift-off. It was a surreal experience and well worth the money. The views from above were incredible and the whole experience of being in a hot air balloon, so very special.
When the sun came up over the horizon with the haze in the air, the whole visual was just so beautiful.
When the sun came up over the horizon with the haze in the air, the whole visual was just so beautiful. We stayed in the air for around 60 minutes and soaked in the endless beautiful views. Our landing was smooth without any issues at all.
Best of all, they finished off the whole experience with glasses of champagne. There’s something really cool about starting the morning in a hot air ballon and then clinking glasses of champagne at 7am with your new friends. I highly recommend biting the expense bullet and going for the hot air balloon ride. You won’t regret it.
Nyuang U Market
If you want to get some fresh fruit or groceries, a good place to check out is the Nyuang U Market, just north of Bagan. When we went, it was primarily targeted at local customers so we didn’t find much to buy besides daily food items.
Craft Lacquerware Shops
Bagan has a number of wonderful craft markets and shops selling locally made crafts. We bought several wooden lacquered bowls, jewellery boxes, and plates. Even after two years of weekly use, they continue to look beautiful and always triggers conversations from guests.
My favourite item was a pagoda made out of lacquered wood that was designed so that it can be disassembled for easy transport in luggage. I bought a small one, but now wish I had gone for a much larger one as it really is a beautifully made piece.
Something rather fun and unique, which may already have been changed by the time you read this post, was the Bagan Airport experience. You grab your luggage and climb onto a huge scale; the giant scale needle rotates and you see how much you and the luggage weigh, and that’s how the airport staff determine if the plane can take you or not. I don’t know how many airports around the world still use hand-written boarding passes, but this has to be pretty rare.
We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to some exotic and amazing places, but Bagan will definitely remain in our hearts as one of the best experiences in life. There is so much history, so many interesting stories, incredibly friendly people, stunning views in all directions, and good food as an added bonus.
Bagan is definitely bucket-list material.
Bagan is definitely bucket-list material and you should go as soon as you can because the country is changing so fast with development at a torrid pace.
As always, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have, or to receive any feedback that you’d like to share. If you’ve been to Bagan, leave a comment below and let others know what you thought. There is no sign-up required to comment below.