Temples and More Temples in Bagan

Having gotten a taste of relaxation in Inle Lake, I was determined to hit the ground running once I got to Bagan (although I had to wait a few hours as my bus arrived at 3am).

So the first two days that I was there, I rented a bicycle to see as many of the (thousands) of nearby temples as I could. It seemed like every few hundred meters I would turn to my left or right to find another massive temple that I would visit.

Bagan at sunset

The sheer number of temples there is almost overwhelming, as if by seeing temples all around it numbs you to the individual beauty of each one. And while many of them are quite unique, I couldn’t help feel that familiar sense of temple fatigue after a few days.

view from Shwe San Daw

What made the trip for me though was the experience of covering it all by bicycle. This allowed me to get away from the handful of temples swarmed with tourists (especially Shwe San Daw Pagoda, which is packed for sunset but surprisingly empty during the day as I found out) and visit some magnificent ones that are a bit more out of the way, including Dhamma ya za ka Zedo, where I took in an awesome sunset with only a handful of others.

I found that the temples located on the dusty paths off the main roads were the most likely to be empty. Despite the difficulty of biking on the thick, almost sand-like dirt, it was worth the effort to be able to have a temple all to myself.

another Bagan sunset

Bagan stood out to me as well because there are no real towns to speak of surrounding all these temples. The closest you can find to a town is Nyuang U, where I stayed, and has a smattering of guest houses, restaurants and a local market. The other two areas, Old Bagan and New Bagan, have only a concentration of temples and pricier hotels.

It makes me wonder whether ten years from now, Bagan will morph into something akin to Siem Reap. In fact, that was the motivation for many of the travelers I met in Myanmar, to see the country now as its just opening up and before it becomes the next Thailand.

Personally, I think that’s a way off as the country has a long ways to go in terms of infrastructure and quirkiness (many things in Myanmar just don’t make sense, like the fact they drive on the right side of the road while their steering wheels are also on the right aide) but there is no denying that the number of tourists has boomed in the last few years. And the country is definitely struggling to cope with it. That’s why accomodation is so expensive relative to the rest of Southeast Asia. Demand has far outstripped supply.

Day trip to Mt. Popa

After my two days of nonstop temple sightseeing, I was ready to take a day trip outside of Bagan. So when I heard two women (Linda and Monique, friends from the Netherlands) at my hotel talk about hiring a taxi to take them to Mt. Popa, which I had heard was a nice place to visit because of the monastery you see at the top, I asked if I could join them. They were happy to split the costs with me and Adam (whom I had met in Inle Lake).

As Linda and Monique had already paid for the taxi, I figured that Adam and I could simply tag along and pay our share. But the moment we walked towards the taxi, the driver refused to take us until we each paid him an additional amount.

It made no sense to me. He had already been paid for the trip. What difference did two additional passengers make? It wasn’t like he was going to be picking up additional people along the way anyway. But he wouldn’t budge, insisting the price varied based on the number of passengers. So in the end we paid him what he wanted (it came to a little less than $12 per person for the whole trip so it really wasn’t that much anyway).

Mt. Popa

The first thing you notice as you get to the base of the mountain is the dozens of monkeys milling about. They are seemingly everywhere and you can even buy bananas to feed them. If you’re not careful they might snatch something from you (a woman in our way up told us a monkey grabbed her water bottle right out of her hand).

Even as you continue your climb up, they are there watching your every move. It feels a little freaky although my bigger concern was keeping clean as you have to do the whole climb without shoes and with monkeys come monkey droppings (although thankfully there are people there to clean the steps for just a small donation).

the monkeys will go anywhere

From the top you can have a walk around the monastery and take in the views of the surrounding plateau. We were lucky to be there in a crystal clear day and the breeze we had felt really good. Despite that, I couldn’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed.

the view from the top

There just isn’t much to see in terms of the monastery and having just come from Bagan, the views from the top weren’t my favorite in Myanmar. When you factor in the ninety minutes trip each way, I couldn’t help but think I would have been better served by heading to Mandalay a day earlier.

But then again, if I hadn’t made the trip, I wouldn’t have seen the monkeys. And who can resist monkeys?

Link to Myanmar pictures

The Adventure Continues…Up Next: Mandalay


2 Responses to Temples and More Temples in Bagan

  1. bones says:

    look at that shirt – i see u couldnt pass up on one that bears ur name and the phillipines flag.

    • msus1 says:

      I got it as part of my climbing trip in the Philippines. They put Matthew in the shirt instead of Matt unfortunately but its still a cool shirt.

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