We built this city on rock and soul…
(Written by Steph)
I hadn’t Googled too many places before we came here. There was that small matter of the wedding bubble, true, but I was also unsure if the main tourist hotspots would be my cup of lapaieh. Mandalay and Yangon (bar the NLD rally where we saw Aung San Suu Kyi) were a bit of a non-event for me. But we had heard Bagan was a place for photos, and therefore, a place for Nick.
Perhaps if we hadn’t refused to read the guide books, the entrance fee to the city wouldn’t have been such a shock to us. We might have even been a bit more graceful about it as we were called over to pay our 40$ only minutes after disembarking the slow boat. On the other hand, we might just have decided to skip the place entirely, and that, as we discovered later, would have been a crying shame.
If you’ve never heard of Bagan, never seen pictures on the internet or on the TV, I’ll forewarn you that I’m probably not going to be able to do it justice. Nick’s pictures, on the other hand, might.
Bagan is an ancient place, literally FULL of temples and pagodas. You might remember me saying that I’m indifferent about these things. Bagan is different. Over 10,000 temples and pagodas were built here between the 11th and the 13th century, of which over 2,000 still remain. What used to be the heart of a thriving empire is now vast dusty countryside filled with all of that history.
The popular thing to do is to rent an electric bike and ride to where all the temples are. Set off either side of a main road, the sandy paths wind and turn, leading you into a maze dotted with brick coloured treasures at every turn. Once you’re in, follow the smaller paths and it’s really easy to feel like you are all alone on the set on an Indiana Jones film.
Our first day we got up and rented a bike at 5am. Armed with Google maps and GPS, we headed out to a site a blogger had recommended for sunrise – a smallish temple. Not one that would be on the mainstream tourist radar we hoped. We parked up and peered inside. Dark, dusty and deserted, we cautiously stepped inside.
Bats. We promptly ran out. Something about being there alone in the dark robbed us of all our conviction. Not quite the intrepid adventurers after all.
We found another temple nearby and located the tiny and steep staircase that wound up to the roof. Nick could barely cram his giant frame within the stairwell, but head-torches attached, we excitedly made our way up to the top. The sunrise itself wasn’t amazing, but being just the two of us up there, looking out over this incredible place, was magical. I wondered what a different experience it would have been surrounded by happy-snapping tourists.
The next day, Nick decided he would be one of *those* tourists. He got up for sunrise again, and headed out to one of the famous temples where the buildings line up for a great shot. Afterall, a person is meant to suffer for their art, right? Joined by over a hundred others, it wasn’t the peaceful and stilling sunrise that we had had the previous day. He did, none-the-less, get some incredible pictures.
We spent two days exploring the maze of temples, searching for great sunset spots down
obscure paths that seemed to have been ignored, and therefore provided some guarantee of solitude. We discovered some real treasures, and exploring temples we knew had not been so frequently visited added an element of adventure. We climbed walls where there were no staircases; we shimmied along ledges to get the best view; Nick wasn’t even fazed by a bat flying at his head as we squeezed down one staircase at dusk. Ok, he might have been a bit fazed…
On our third day, our bus didn’t leave until the evening, and having explored a good number of temples and experienced 2 sunrises and 2 sunsets, we did what every crazy adventurer does – we spent the day at the swimming pool of a luxury resort sipping on cocktails. It was certainly an indulgent finish to an epic three days.