I love to travel, but hate to arrive.
– Albert Einstein
Like previously stated, I was sick while in Myanmar, so the whole trip was a bit less enjoyable than it should be. This was, unfortunately, also true for my Myanmar “item on my bucket list”: the temples of Bagan.
Bagan (formerly Pagan) is an ancient city in Myanmar. It was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom (9th – 13th century), the first kingdom that unified the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. The Bagan Archaeological Zone is a main attraction for the country’s nascent tourism industry. It is seen by many as equal in attraction to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
I took a bus from Inle to Bagan. Another super VIP bus with all the comforts, but this one drops you about 15-20 minutes drive away from Bagan itself, in a parking lot without much… except 10 guys who want to drive you wherever you go. Bagan is a tourist destination and it is very aware of it. I got a driver to take me for a little under the same price as a 30 minute trip had cost me in Yangon – justifying it to myself with the fact that the trip in Yangon was not at 4am and I was exhausted and just bloody wanted to get there. (It wasn’t expensive for me anyway). The driver was courteous and drove me safely and quickly to the hotel – only stopping by the mandatory ticket booth where you have to pay to even breathe air in Bagan. *lol*
You have to pay $18.5 as a Bagan temple fee. This gives you a very official looking card with the date and stamp, which in turn allows you to enter the archaeological site for five days to view the pagodas. Nobody checked this card when I was there, but random checks are initiated every now and then so you do need it. (And why wouldn’t you get it, really? If it helps conserve the site. It’s 18 bucks…)
I decided to get a car and a guide to get me around for one day so I could see the most important pagodas Bagan had to offer. My guide was really good, knew everything there was to know about the pagodas, history and architecture and my rather mute driver smiled and did his job perfectly. Unfortunately, for me, it was a bit underwhelming. I think it was mostly because I was sick. I didn’t have the chance to bike around on my own the way a lot of travellers do and with the new restraints put in place last year (2017), you are no longer allowed to climb the pagodas. Any of the pagodas. I know some people still do this and while I can understand why you want to experience the sunset from the top of the old temples, I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to do this even if I managed to sneak around to an empty area with just me and a pagoda. You don’t have to be a genius to understand why they prohibit climbing the pagodas, if everyone continues to do it they’ll disappear much quicker than they have to.
The Myanmar government has made a small “hill”, more of a dirt mound, that you can “climb” (it’s literally a super short walk slightly uphill for two minutes) in order to catch the sunset over Bagan now, but as another unfortunate event, it was really cloudy when I was there, so the sun just sort of disappeared without any of her radiant displays.
It wasn’t all a loss, that’s not what I’m saying. There’s a ton of history and architecture to take in and by day’s end my head was pretty crammed with information. It was a beautiful tour, it was just not mindblowing – another reminder that I should take better care to check my expectations at the door.