We were driving to Bagan from Yangon overnight. The ride was quite in order; we were even able to catch some sleep. However, I don’t remember when and how we managed to pay the governmental fee which was 25000 kyats (about 20 dollar) per person.
Our bus arrived at the Bagan bus station shortly after 5 am. Several taxi drivers were already waiting for the tourists and asked for a very high price. We negotiated the price of 6000 kyats for 8 minutes drive, which was still quite high but affordable: our only wish at that time of a night was to arrive at the hotel and check the early check-in options.
When we arrived at the hotel, the earliest check-in was still couple of hours ahead of us. A crazy idea appeared in our heads: we could make the best out of the waiting time and watch the sunrise. We immediately changed (it was freaking cold in the bus and outside), rent an e-bike (10000 kyats for 2 persons for a day) and rode into the sunrise.
We climbed at the nearest stupa (if you repeat this, make sure you take off your shoes before as a sign of respect to the local religion) right on time: the first sunbeams showed up at around 6 and the sun and air-balloons were up in the air by 7:10.
To say that we were impressed is an underestimation. We were mesmerized by the atmosphere, by the partial illegality of climbing the stupa, by the cold and freshness of air, by the silhuettes of the temples appearing clearer with every further sunbeam…incredible. Indescribable.
After the sun and hot air balloons were all up and our feet in thin socks started freezing, we returned to the hotel and enjoyed the early check-in – a very lucky option for us as we were already exhausted. We slept several hours and then awoke with a distinct feeling that we have to visit some more temples before it gets dark.
Before heading to explore the area and getting some food for our eyes, we needed some nutrition for the body (since arrival at the hotel at 5 am we only shared one Chinese noodles soup). We spent the lunch break at the Queen restaurant (https://m.facebook.com/pages/Queen-Restaurant-Bagan/227941930713043) – the local foods and drinks here were simple but delicious.
Our first choice was the Ananda temple. This temple got its name from the Buddha’s first cousin, Venerable Ananda, who also was his personal secretary and a devoted attendant. “Ananda” is also translated as “bliss” and “endless wisdom”.
On the road and next to the temples we have seen many boys playing an interesting game with a small ball made from handwoven rattan. Only later we learned that this was the national Burmese ball game called chinlone or caneball. The game is non-competitive and the aim of the game is to keep the ball from hitting the ground and to pass it back and forth in a most creative way. This sport is played by everyone in Myanmar without gender or age limitations.
For the famous Bagan sunset we drove along the valley until we found a populated pagoda (only later we checked its name on the map – Pyathetgyi Pagoda) and pondered for a moment how to get there until someone finally told us there was a staircase on the side. When we ascended, it was hard not to notice that the best places are gone – very many people already took the places with the most perfect view. Our advice – if you want to get the top spot, arrive at the pagoda at least 1,5 hours before the sunset!
In the area of Bagan you can stay in three small settlements: Old Bagan (closest to the temples, only a few accommodation options which are mostly hi-end hotels), New Bagan (most far away from the bus station, but many hotels available), Nyaung U (the closest one to the Bagan Shwe Pyi Highway Bus Terminal, liveliest restaurant scene, many hotels for your choice).
We stayed at the Sky View hotel in Nyaung U. The breakfast here was served at the top floor terrace with a view to the balloons flying over the valley. The hotel also has a scooter rental and for 10000 kyats you can rent a scooter for a whole day. It takes only 20 minutes to reach the Old Bagan where are all sightseeing points are concentrated.
In the evening, after the sunset (which was pretty early, at about 5 or 6 pm) we headed for some drinks to Nyaung U. The recommended by Lonely Planet best bar Hti was quite empty, therefore we turned around and went to a livelier place – Novel restaurant. There you can try fried bananas and pineapples with honey, which are absolutely savory. The cocktails are cheap – around one Euro.
The restaurants with the best references – Black Bamboo and Weather Spoon’s Restaurant and Bar were full – think about making a reservation if you wish to go there.
By the way, according to our information (please, correct me if I’m wrong), a hot air balloon ride costs about 300 Euro per person in Bagan. That was way too expensive for us and we postponed the fulfillment of this bucket list item. At that moment we didn’t know that this will happen already this year, less than six months later, in Cappadocia, Turkey (read here about this incredible experience Cappadocia – a magical place for a long weekend escape).