Take a read of our adventures backpacking Bagan! These are some of the best memories we made whilst backpacking – we totally fell in love with Bagan.
The journey to Bagan began (!) on a 9hr VIP night bus setting us back $19 each with JJ Express (JJ = ‘joyous journey’). And a joyous journey it was! Reclining seats, individual TV screens, armpit towels and even a little breakfast box (which didn’t actually make it to breakfast). We arrived bleary eyed at Bagan’s bus terminal at 5am to be accosted by penny pinching taxi drivers praying on sleep deprived foreigners. The less said about that experience the better.
Bagan is an ancient city in the central part of Myanmar that is known as one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites. There are 2000+ temples still standing that were built between 1057 and 1287. There are a handful of well-known and therefore more popular temples but excitingly an armfull of quieter ones to discover.
We had 4 nights there, staying at Innwa Motel in Nyaung U and quickly got into a routine of waking up at 4:30am for sunrise, returning at 8am for a huge breakfast on the rooftop and a couple more hours kip before heading out temple hunting until sunset. We hired e-bikes to explore the temples which allowed us to go down many a secret goat-hurding track. At just 6000kyat (£3.60) per day, and with a top speed of 45kmph they’re a must and made exploring so much more of an adventure!
On our first evening scootling around obviously looking a little lost, a local kindly showed us one ‘secret’ temple perfect for climbing up to watch sunrise and sunset away from the crowds. It became our favourite, opting to view each one there – one particularly special morning we even had the whole place to ourselves.
Sunrise is the real Jewel in Bagan’s crown, a plenty enough reward for the freezing early start. Layering up with as many warm clothes as we could fit on to protect against the night cold, we rode out for 3 of them. Each morning we struggled out of bed saying we would need to seriously consider whether we would do the same the next day. But as soon we saw the sun come up we’d agree to do the same again tomorrow. Neither of us having experienced a sight like it, we always wanted more. Hot air balloons take off just as the sun is rising each morning, gliding over the temples with only the fire making a sound. It was incredibly peaceful and we’d sit in an awestruck silence as they floated past. As soon as the sun was up, warmth returned for the ride back for breakfast where we passed lines of young monks queuing up along the roadside for their food.
The first sunrise we witnessed was on Byron’s birthday. We scooted off at 5am, wrapped up to the eyeballs and within 10 minutes Byron’s bike started to slow down. We ended up having to find a tree to ditch it under and attempt to continue our journey sharing my bike. Neither of us had barely driven a scooter before let alone taken passengers and so a pre-sunrise trip in the middle of a maze of temples was a challenge.
But what fun we had! And we made it to the temple in time to welcome in the new day before embarking on a one legged push of Byron’s bike back to town. It turned into a hilarious morning and I made sure to heckle him about how slow he was driving now he’d turned 33 as I trailed behind him all the way back.
We mixed up afternoon temple hunting by ticking off the main tourist rammed sites and taking random turnings that often led to sand-filled tracks and deserted temples. They were the favourite. There was something magical about tearing down a butterfly-filled track, powersliding through the sand to discover a beautiful temple at the end of it all to ourselves. Though it wasn’t always so fairytale; there were many incidents of having to sweatily haul the bikes out of the sand or attempting to turn around in a track that was more bush than path.
Our days were often not complete without random people asking for photos with us…this time I asked for one back which caught them a little off guard!
We finished the days back where we started them, bee-lining to our all time favourite for sunset. In a similar fashion to sunrise, everyone is silenced again in awe of the sun as it sets behind the mountains. The only sounds that can be heard are the birds singing, the crickets in the long grass and the odd click of a camera shutter. A misty haze rises up from the temple grounds where sand roads have been disturbed all day. It was something else. Even the ride back to the hotel bombarded the senses. The air of the chilly ride full of the scent of charcoal as food is cooked in houses and by the roadside for the evening.
One particularly frantic journey was on a mission to get to our favourite temple before the sun set. A little lost in an especially sandy trail, we were greeted head on with a barrage of horse and carts ferrying bunches of tourists to a popular temple for sunset. We’d powerslide through sand for a few metres before getting pushed into the bushes to let the carts past. It took forever and was almost death by horse a few times but we made it just as the sun escaped behind the mountains.
To give our bums a break from the bike seats, we opted to take a Burmese cooking class one afternoon. It was really interesting to learn their methods of cooking; largely outside in the back garden on a coal stove. This one had been passed down through the family for generations.
We made a selection of different curries and discovered how tasty Burmese salads could be!
We hope you fall in love with backpacking Bagan as much as we did – let us know how you got on!