I finally had the chance to finally visit Bagan this year and it was an amazing experience. Reading the history and knowing that Myanmar just recently (2011) opened up to tourism, I wanted to explore the country as soon possible. It was a great experience. In some parts of the country you’ll have the chance to feel the raw Myanmar. A country that has been internationally isolated for almost 50 years. Yet most people will just follow the tourism route and Bagan is definitely on the tourism attraction highlight in Myanmar.
A lot of articles (here is one of it) tried to compare between Bagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Luckily I had visited both sites so here are the short recap of what I think about them. Both of Bagan and Angkor Wat are huge complexes, so it takes a minimum of two days to explore the area. I found that there are some overlapping architecture style and design on temples in Bagan and Angkor Wat, but only a few. Last, the very obvious difference: Angkor Wat is in the jungles of Cambodia and Bagan is in the desert. After two days exploring Bagan, here are some suggestions of things that you shouldn’t miss.
1. Do the hot balloon ride
If you travel to Bagan between October and March, you should definitely go for the hot air balloon ride over Bagan. I haven’t had the chance to do it, but my friends tell me it is a very memorable experience. You’ll fly early in the morning and have the chance to see the area waking up, rising!
It is an expensive attraction! It is around $300 per person for around 40 minutes, but again all my friends said that it worth single penny. In my opinion, having a bird eye view of something is always exciting. Though I am afraid of heights, I am looking forward to trying it out in the future.
2. Visit temples around Bagan
- Some of my personal favourite temples that I would like to recommend you visit in Bagan include:
Ananda temple: This is perhaps the prettiest temple of them all. and has a peaceful kind of feeling when you come and explore the surroundings.
- Dhamma-ya-za-ka Pagoda and Hsutaungpyi: I don’t think there is something special about these two temples, but it was a great place to visit if you fancy seeing the sunrise (and staying in New Bagan). You can climb one of the temples (I think until the 3rd floors), which is great and gives you the ability to view the whole of the Bagan complex. Visiting these two temples in the morning was splendid, not hot and no other visitors.
- Shwe San Daw: This temple is (very) popular at sunset. Definitely worth a visit, but it was too crowded. Still, worht it for the pictures… If you want a peaceful sunset, definitely avoid this one.
- Sulami temple: This is one of the best preserved temples and is also very pretty. There are some amazing old wall paintings and you’ll find it easy to fall in love with this place…
I am not a big fan of:
Dhammayangyi: Sorry, despite the mesmerizing story behind the temple, but I was disappointed by my visit to this temple. The temple was smelly, because of all the pigeons and bats, and it was pretty dirty too. The temple is also not very well preserved.
Note about transportation to explore Bagan area:
Before I arrived in Bagan, I was thinking that cycling through the area was going to be awesome. I changed my mind once I arrived there. Bagan is really hot and dusty. I was glad I decided to choose to ride a car.
3. Hunt for Lacquerware
As you walk and wander around Bagan, especially new Bagan, you’ll see some of signs about lacquerware workshops. There you can see lacquerware production and see how Burmese people really pay attention to each and every unit of lacquerware. They said that all the materials are organic. For the base they made it from wood and bamboo or horse hair.
Lacquerware is well known as one of Myanmar’s signature souvenirs and though you can find it in Yangon, production seems to be centered on Bagan. Between Nyaung U and Old Bagan, there is an area where you can find a lot of traditional home industry lacquerwork production. It is the best place to go when you are thinking about to bring back home some lacquerware for souvenirs.