MYANMAR – Bagan, city of magic & mystery

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.

One of the coolest spots we found for sunset

Same spot, different angle

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.

Posing for pics pretty high up one temple

Nicki Visage

Nick put his rock climbing skills to good use to sit on top of this pillar

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.

The winding sandy paths

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.

Sunrise in Bagan

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.

Nick crawling his way up the stairwell

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.

Captured from the Shwesandaw pagoda. Another amazing photo from Nick

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…

Our Milky Way from Bagan. This was an impromtu shot we took when riding back from one of our sunset spots

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.

Me trying out the electric bike on the road to the posho hotel

Our hangout for the third day. Don't mind if I do

2 thoughts on “MYANMAR – Bagan, city of magic & mystery

  1. Continuing to really enjoy your posts and you both ‘pen’ a very interesting resume of your fabulous trip. However, on this occasion Nick’s photogaphy stole the show with some absolutely stunning shots.
    The one above i.e. ‘captured from the Shwesandaw pagoda’ is just awesome and I’ve seen awards for photos far less impressive.
    We are sure that you will continue to enjoy the remainder of your once in a lifetime trip, it looks and sounds truly amazing. A long week-end break in Bognor Regis when you get back, just isn’t going to cut it is it?
    Take care and keep travelling safely.
    Much love,
    Dave & Allie


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