Bagan: the culture of unassuming beauty

I love traveling for work and leisure. It has always been a dream to traverse unchartered territories. Bagan is one of them.

I’ve heard so much about Bagan since I came to Myanmar for work last year. It was not until this year that I saved up for time and money to be able to go to this place.

The journey

Burmese people are talented. The Bojouk Market in Yangon boasts a plethora of paintings. And there's more in Bagan. Like this painter who doodles out an intricate figure out of whim. We bought a piece of his artwork.

Burmese people are talented. The Bojouk Market in Yangon boasts a plethora of paintings. And there’s more in Bagan. Like this painter who doodles out an intricate figure out of whim. We bought a piece of his artwork.

The initial plan was to take a plane ride going in (tickets costs from $112-125 per way depending on the airlines) take the bus going out. But because of time constraint to book our preferred flights, we opted to take the bus instead. We booked through the Elite Bus Line ($30 for a roundtrip ticket).

Elite Bus departs Yangon at 9:00 PM. It has two stops. Since it was night time, I had a hard time figuring out where we are. The first stop was two hours after we departed from Yangon. The second and final stop was two hours before we arrived Bagan (around 4 am).

The first time I noticed upon entering the bus was its spacious seats. There were blankets on our seats. And just like in an economy class, regular fare airline, coffee and cake were served. We also had a toiletry pack handed over to us in our last stop so we can freshen up. Talk about quality service! To top it all, each seat has its own entertainment system. It was enough (or even more than enough!) to keep us entertained throughout the trip. Most of the movies on board were English movies, so I happily stowed my gadgets away.

Going around Bagan

Balloons over Bagan. As sun peeks through the sky, the hot air balloons started to take off.

Balloons over Bagan. As sun peeks through the sky, the hot air balloons started to take off.

The first thing we did once we arrived was to see the sun rise. Our guide, Kyaw Kyaw Win (mobile no. 09-431-7309) took us to a temple where all the tourists flock to see the sunrise. It was a brave climb up the temple–no steel railings, or handles to guide you as you hike up. It’s just you and your guts to see the top that will take you to the top, in barefoot. We all waited with bated breath as the sun slowly peeked through the vast horizon, and we all watched in awe as the golden rays enveloped the whole place with a new beginning.

After the sunrise watching, we checked in at New Wave Guest House. We decided to walk around, and saw wood carvings that the locals made themselves. Some were carved out of sandal wood, a base scent used for men’s perfume. Rica bought a piece of sandal wood carving.

Wood carvings made of sandal wood.

Wood carvings made of sandal wood. I never knew how it smells until I smelled one.

Also within the walking distance is a lacquerware shop where a factory is also located. I used to see these lacquerwares, but, it’s only in Bagan that I finally understood how it’s made.

Next stop is the peanut oil processing area located along our way to Mt. Popa. We learned that Central Dry Zone/Central Myanmar grows lots of peanuts, sesame seeds, and palm trees.

Next stop is Mt. Popa. It’s a temple that sits on a mountain. It was a thousand steps to meet the spirit guides they locally call as Nan. Women often marry a Nan, to guide their lives, as part of the tradition. Tour guides are available to help you get acquainted with Nans, but mostly, it’s in Burmese. We have not encountered a guide that speaks English. There are also monkeys playing around the temple, but does not cause harm to people. They just eagerly await for a treat from the visitors.

We ended our first day with some more temple visits, souvenir shopping, and finally, sunset watching. Bidding the day goodbye brings another nostalgic feeling. We closed the day with a dinner at a nearby restaurant and promised a more adventurous day after.

Braving things for the first time

Trying ebike for the first time is not so difficult.

Trying ebike for the first time is not so difficult.

The next day, we decided to go around using an ebike ($1/day) because it way much cheaper than the car rental (which costs $50). There are rental places everywhere. We rented one just beside our hotel. We decided to go slowly to the Sulamani Temple. It had floors made of marble stones which keeps the steps cold under the scorching heat.

Because it was our first time to ride an ebike, which, functioned as a motorbike for us, it didn’t take us far. We found the drive towards the temples a little difficulty because most of the side roads (we didn’t take the main road) were sandy. And as first time riders, we were afraid to take the concrete route, which is the main road with cars passing by.

We capped the day with a nice dinner. The hotel charged us an additional $10 since we extended our check in. The bus ride going back to Yangon is at 8:30 PM that night.

As I settled in my seat and left a mental note of goodbye, I said a prayer of thanks for guiding me and my travel buddy throughout our journey.

An unassuming temple where we left our bikes and found them at the same spot

An unassuming temple where we left our bikes and found them at the same spot

Bagan is an unassuming piece of rich history, culture, and warm people that Myanmar is very much known for. As I traversed through the temples (struggled in my ebike, actually), I am just in awe how God showered talent among people to be able to create beautiful things.

Bagan also reminds me of this quote from the movie, the Secret Life of Walter Mitty: “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”

More photos about my adventures are found in my Flickr page.

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