Myanmar, previously known as Burma, shares its border with Thailand, China and Bangladesh. Not without its controversy, the country has been plagued with military coup, civil war, poverty, claimed persecution of minority and the list goes on. BUT the country has significant travel ideas to offer.
Accessing Myanmar pre pandemic is usually via Yangon, which is located at the southern tip of the country. The famous temples dotting the flat land around Bagan city is the most sought after travel destination, but lies further up north from Yangon. The fastest travel route between Yangon and Bagan is via a domestic flight of less than 2 hours. Technically, the distance of slightly over 600 km between the two cities can be attempted via road travel although the roads are a little bumpy along the way and takes more than 10 hours.
Buddhism being the religion of the majority of the Burmese, it is natural that temples are aplenty and date back to centuries ago from the early 12th century. Each of the temple has its roots and history, interesting to read these history as you make your visits. Most of the temples are left pretty much on their own, very much deserted with none or few residents. Some of the temples are in disrepairs, while the entrance fees from tourists may not be adequate to maintain such large complexes in its entirety. Local peddlers bring along souvenirs to sell to tourists.
Temples are aplenty around Bagan, but there are a few famous ones which are usually introduced to tourists. Going from one temple to another temple will need private transfer as public transport is not easily accessible. Hiring a private transfer for the day will definitely make it easier to visit these magnificent temples.
The grand Ananda Temple is usually the main attraction for many. The main colour of the complex is white, and the centrally located temple is usually magnets for peddlers. Most will be selling lacquerwares, postcards, jade (probably fake), longyi, paintings and the list goes on.
Shwezigon Pagoda is located at Nyaung-U, nearby to Bagan town. The stupas in the temple are gilded in golden leaves, contrasting with the white pillars, thus giving a feeling of grand opulence. Indeed a contrast for a place of worship. But the surrounding area is actually serene and peaceful, with locals in the their traditional clothes (longyi) going about their worship. A more modern architecture, the temple is popular with locals performing worships & prayers.
Contrasting the golden hues of Shwezigon Pagoda, Dhammayangyi Temple is muted in earthy colour and easily blends in with the environment. One of the widest temples around Bagan, the construction of the temple was never fully completed. Due to the huge areas, we easily spent a couple of hours exploring the huge complex and its surrounding area. Bring lots of water especially on a hot day, as there are not many places available selling food and drinks.
Thatbinyu Temple is considered the tallest temple within Bagan based on Theravadan Buddhism, built in the mid-12th century. Part of the temple is in restoration, but climbing up some of the side buildings provide great views across the flatland.
Sulamani Temple is also earthen in colours, another mammoth complex. Some of the buildings can be accessed to oversee the surrounding areas.
The complex within which Thambulla Temple is located is equally vast and totally deserted. Ruins from the temples can be located within the overgrown bushes.
Interestingly, Bagan is up in the mainland right off the Irrawady River. In the historical past, river plays an important role in the set up of cities – Bagan is no exception. The river is huge and a little muddy but boats can be seen rowing across.
After inundated with the temples, there are other activities and attractions within Bagan including sunrise and sunset views. The views will depend on your luck as Bagan is prone to haze. Any given morning or evening views can be blurry due to the haze. Air balloons are very popular for sunrise views although they do not come cheap. Every morning in the dark, these air balloons rise up to provide a contrasting colour in the blue sky.
These visits were completed pre-pandemic. Generally, as Myanmar (and Bagan) is highly dependent on tourism to support its economics, it would be interesting to see how the last few years have been for the country. Looking forward to step foot in the beautiful & serene country again in the near future.