Getting to Bagan from Mandalay
The highlight of our journey in Myanmar was definitely Bagan. Its temples were what made me do a research on travelling in the country at first place. While I was planning our trip I had to decide how to get there from Mandalay and I discovered there were several boat companies offering journeys from there to Bagan. This was rather a luxury for budget travelers like us as the price of the ticket was $42 per person. My other concern was that it takes about 9-10 hours to reach Bagan this way. At the end Ivo and me decided this was a great way to see more of the country during our short visit and bought the tickets. We booked with Malikha who have a website with an option to buy the tickets online. Here is their website if anyone is interested: http://www.malikha-rivercruises.com/
The boat takes off at 7 a.m. and on the ticket we have printed was written that we need to be there at 6 a.m. so we asked at the reception of our hotel about a taxi for 5:45 a.m. and the lady at the reception convinced us that we can take the taxi at 6 a.m. and arrive there after 30 minutes, which according to her was absolutely ok. So we did and we arrived there together with a bus packed with German tourists who apparently were also travelling with our boat. I knew we had to be fast to get good seats so I ran and took the last two comfortable chairs. The people who came after us had to stay at the back of the boat on plastic ones which for such a long trip is not recommendable.
We set off at 7 a.m. sharp and I was really thankful that Ivo had packed two wind stoppers in his backpack because until the sunrise it was freezing cold. There was breakfast and lunch on the boat, we could buy beer and one old German guy was really impressed with Ivo purchasing his first one around 10 a.m. 🙂 Actually, during the whole trip in this country most of the tourists we met or heard talking were from Germany. We managed to sleep a bit in the compartment inside the boat, where the temperature was quite ok, because after 1p.m. it was unbearably hot at the upper deck.
Nyaung U to Bagan
Around 5 p.m. we arrived in Nyaung U where we took a taxi after a lot of bargaining. On our way we stopped at a ticket counter to buy our tickets for 25 000 Kyat per person. They are valid for one week, but I highly doubt anyone will find out yours is not valid anymore in case you decide to spend some more time in Bagan. We weren’t asked to show them a single time while we were there.
We checked in at the hotel where we could also rent an e-bike which is the best way to explore the temples. Since it was already 6 p.m. we had to hurry up if we wanted to see something before it gets pitch-dark. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the first temples on the road it was already dark. There were some temples which were lit like the Ananda temple we visited. As we discovered on the next day, it was great that we visited it late in the evening when local people were coming to pray and there were absolutely no tourists. Because during the day it is one of the busiest sites with buses and cars parking in front of it and loud tourist groups walking around.
Where to eat in Bagan
We then decided to look for a place to eat and with the help of our guidebook we found a great restaurant near Tharabha Gate called The Moon. This became our favorite restaurant where we were eating while in Bagan. When we asked for the check they gave us a bow with very strange bonbons which were so delicious that we wanted to buy from them. It turned out that in the restaurant were selling these big packs of the Tamarind bonbons. So we bought one and got back to the hotel to rest and plan our next day.
Where to stay in Bagan
I knew we had to get up early to see the sunrise from one of the temples so I asked the lady at the reception for advise on a temple which is less crowded early in the morning and she recommended Thisa Wadi which was really easy to find thanks to the map she provided us with. New Bagan turned out to be the best place to stay, as it is closer to some of the best spots for the sunrise. This saves you time early in the morning which at the end of the day makes a difference, because you get exhausted by all the travelling on the bumpy roads, climbing the temples and the super high temperatures. So some 30-40 minutes more sleep in the morning is always welcome.
So we woke up a bit late (5:45 a.m.), had breakfast and took one e-bike from the hotel and headed to the temple. It was easy to reach it as we saw the golden pagoda Dhamma-ya-za-ka on our left side, made a left turn and headed towards it. When we reached it we asked some people which way we had to drive for Thisa Wadi. It was pretty close and we managed to climb the stairs and reach its terrace when the air balloon were launching. The temple turned out to be a great choice as the current route of most of the balloons was right over it. So we could even see the people in the baskets and take some very good pictures with the rising sun and the balloons.
After the sunrise we drove around the temples between Thisa Wadi and Old Bagan. We had to go back to the hotel around 11 a.m. and pack our stuff. When we arrived at the hotel I checked my mail and saw that from the bus company had written asking me to go pick the bus tickets I have booked in advance from their office in Nyaung U. They were saying for your travel tomorrow March 1. It was then when I realized I have completely forgotten it was a leap year and it was February 29. It was just ridiculous. Then I freaked out that we most probably have paid for only one night in the hotel and it turned out we had one more day in Bagan and everything was alright with the accommodation. I had simply forgotten how many days we had planned to spend there. Honestly, I was wondering when we arrived, how could I have left only half a day for Bagan when this was supposed to be the highlight of our trip.
This totally changed our mood – we could spend a few hours resting in the hotel, because it was too hot outside and we were feeling exhausted after waking up that early. After a short nap we asked at the reception for a new e-bike, because the one from the morning was not going to survive more than an hour. We then headed to Nyaung U to pay for our bus tickets to Inle Lake we had booked via mail. More about transportation from Bagan to Inle you can read here: http://lessthan10days.com/2016/03/12/travel-from-bagan-to-inle-lake/
After that we drove back to Tharaba Gate to check another restaurant which was recommended in our guidebook – Yar Pui. The food there was not bad at all, it was just that in comparison to The Moon it was not worth it 🙂
After lunch we started checking the temples which were situated on both sides of the road between Tharabha Gate and New Bagan.
For the sunset we went to South/North Guni – a big temple which was packed with people by the time we arrived there and its smaller sibling right next to it. Apparently, this was a very popular destination for the sunset.
We went for dinner at The Moon with the e-bike battery dying. The distance between our hotel and the restaurant was about 5km. When we finished dinner we drove with 5km/h the first 2-3 km and then Ivo left me on the e-bike to drive it up the hill. He was walking after me. It was ridiculous. The bike was heavier than I expected and I was zigzagging on the road with my phone’s flash turned on which I was holding in front of me, since the lights of the e-bike were going to exhaust the battery and I had turned them off. It was a warm evening, the sky was star-studded and apart from the few car horn sounds, it was so quiet and peaceful. In one hour we were in our room.
On the next day we woke up earlier and decided to take the same road as yesterday and look for a temple where we could climb up and see the sunrise. We passed by the golden pagoda from yesterday and continued on the road until we reached a dead end. Then we decided to go to a small temple we saw on our way where one e-bike was parked. It turned out there was one local guy selling paintings and three tourists (of course Germans) in the temple. We could see the balloons this time in front of us. The view was similar, but we had other temples closer to us and it was much more peaceful since there were these few people around us. You could make a 360° circle around the temple while on its terrace. We spent more than 1:30h there, enjoying the view, meditating and taking pictures. For me this was a very relaxing and magical experience I will remember for a long time. I chatted a bit with the local man who told me the name of the temple was Gutta. I am not sure if this is how it is spelled, but more information about it I, unfortunately, cannot find.
From there we could see the viewing tower which we unsuccessfully tried to reach the previous day. We managed to find it this time – it turned out the tower was part of a very expensive resort and we had to pay $5 entrance fee. It is higher than any temple in Bagan, but I was not impressed by its view. It didn’t feel genuine. We didn’t spend much time there and left for the temples on the riverbank. We went to Bupaya pagoda. It was dirty and full with tourists there and in five minutes we had no desire to stay there anymore. We wanted to look for hidden places with more authentic atmosphere and found a very beautiful part of old Bagan which was unknown to the tourists and there were only local people there with temples literally in their backyard.
On our way back to the hotel we came across a group wedding with many children being brides and grooms. It was all very beautiful and colorful, there was a truck taking care of the music, only the kids looked extremely miserable. I tried to learn more about the ritual at the reception of the hotel, but the lady there either didn’t understand me or didn’t want to talk with me on the matter. Anyways, we took our backpacks and got on a minivan which picked us up from the hotel and drove us to the bus station where we were going to catch the evening bus to Inle Lake (this was part of the bus company service).