It’s been a month since we came back from our Easter holiday in Bagan – a sleepy little village in Myanmar. The slow internet that is available only in selected ranges. The lack of gadgets or advance technology. The absence of electricity in some areas. The early start and end of days that seem to slow down life. Now back in Singapore, it feels as if I have traveled back in time.
I know it sounds like an adage but I couldn’t come at a perfect term to describe Bagan in one word. It is magical, breathtaking and surreal all at once. There’s something about it that transports you in a dream-filled history and culture. It isn’t just a destination, but an experience. Unforgettable one, if you ask.
At 5:30 AM, we rented an ebike for 8000 kyat (US$ 7) and made friends with a local guide, Poant Poant. She met us from our hotel in Nyaung-U and lead the way for our first sunrise at Bulethi Pagoda.
I am not usually afraid of heights but climbing Bulethi made me feel a bit anxious. The steps are high and narrow, just about half the size of my feet (I’m size 8). There are no hand rails, too. You’ll need your trusty pair of hands to hold onto the bricks so make sure your hands are free when you climb.
“During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2,200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day.”
After sunrise, we continued our temple run/ebike marathon with our guide.
The valley of Bagan has thousands of temples. You can easily find one to explore on your own. Here are some popular ones you shouldn’t miss.
The most famous, most beautiful and best preserved temple in Bagan. It has four standing Buddha statues in each of the corners of the temple. It also has the finest examples of Burmese architecture, stone sculpture, wood carvings and wall drawings. Our guide told us, “You’ve never been to Bagan if you haven’t seen Ananda Temple”.
The most massive temple in Bagan and has a similar architectural plan with Ananda. It was told that the King who requested to build this temple murdered his father and brother to ascend to the throne. Yes, he was a bad king. So he was executed even before the temple was finish.
Or also known as the Sunset Temple. This pagoda offers a great view of Bagan plains but gets crowded during sunset. Unlike Bulethi, this one has hand rails that make it easier to climb for elders but the stair steps are still steep and narrow.
One of the oldest pagodas in Bagan that is like Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. It consists of circular gold stupa surrounded by smaller temples and shrines.
“Thatbyinnyu” literally means omniscience. It is the tallest temple in Bagan that is towering above all the other monuments.
One of the greatest temples in Bagan named after the King who built the temple. It has an impressive structure and design, and decorated with the finest plaster carvings.
This temple represents some of Bagan’s finest ornamental work. There are carvings on moldings/plasters which are in still in good condition until today.
At dusk, we headed to a lesser known temple. One hidden in bushes and ruins. Not as tall as the famous, but with far less crowd than in Shwesandaw Pagoda. Along with two other couples, we almost had the temple on our own.
We watched as the vivid orange sun made its slow dance on the white washed sky.
It was peaceful. Quiet. Monumental.
As I recall the experiences and local encounters we had on that day, I realized that Burmese are the simplest people I’ve met. Locals dressed modestly. Women don’t wear makeup. Residential houses are not extravagant. No expensive appliances. Some even cook in firewood. Technology, of course, is not prevalent. There was no hint of luxury in their living, not even a desire for it.
And you know what the best part is? They are genuinely happy with what they have.
It was humbling.
We lingered for a bit until the sun has gone… feeling extremely blessed to be able to travel, explore beautiful places, and meet amazing people in the world.