Travel Diary: From Here to Burma (Part II)

“When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it wherever you go. ”  -Alexandra Stoddard

After three days in Yangon, the day had arrived for my flight to Bagan (the REAL place I wanted to see in Myanmar). Due to the lack of information coming out of Myanmar, I thought the best way to travel from the capital to Bagan would be by flight. Yet, I found out that there was a safe and amazing night bus that took passengers directly to Bagan and it cost a fourth of what I spent on my flight.

Oh well, lesson learned.


I met a fellow named Raphael who gave me some pointers on getting around Bagan. First, get an e-bike but be wary because they are in poor shape. Second, catch all the views from the temples.

After completing step one, I decided to take off to complete step two. To my demise, I found the e-bike disappointingly slow (accustomed to the quick scooters of Thailand and the fast pace of American motorcycles) and my bike was getting slower by the minute.

Me with one of the extraordinary motor bikes outside a tiny temple

With my bike at a crawl, I finally decided something was wrong and I needed to turn back. Two tourists stopped to see me scooting along to ask if they could help but at this point, I didn’t think they could. I basically kicked my way back into town for the bike place to tell me I had a dead battery. They switched me out for a different battery and sent me on my way. E-bike was still pretty slow – but at least moving!

Returning to the hostel, Raphael invited me to watch the sunset at a temple with his friend Brandon. Now who in their right mind would accept an invitation to ride off on e-bikes with a bunch of strangers in a strange country to an area you’ve never seen before? Me, of course.


We reached a temple and then climbed to the top. Where one could see for what felt like 100 miles in every direction.

I had seen this place in photos. I felt I understood how beautiful and wonderous Bagan could be. But words and pictures cannot describe just how amazing it felt actually seeing it with my own eyes. I remember we sat there in silence for the most part. Each one of us being completely present in that moment. And I felt such peace. You would have thought we were the only people in the entire town with how incredibly quiet it was.

As we rode back in to town, we heard some strange music coming from one of the side streets so we naturally decided to explore. We saw a giant stage and one of those blow up bounce castles. It was the makings of an evening festival! A local came to us and asked us if we would like to join and watch – that there would be performers and food. We even got to meet the band!

We really stumbled upon a gold mine of local entertainment. Dancers of all genders and ages took the stage to reenact different skits or traditional dance. The festival was a celebration of the Buddhist monks (the details of which I’m still unsure). Locals offered us alcohol even though we later learned alcohol was forbidden at this kind of religious event.

All the backdrops were hand-painted scenes. One group of girls danced to “Don’t Cha” by the Pussycat Dolls which I considered a very interesting pick due to the fact this was a religious festival.

This night was especially memorable for me because I got to use one of the local’s toilets which was a simple hole in what we would consider an out house. They even apologized to me that it wasn’t nice. I told them not to worry and thanked them immensely for their hospitality. When I went to wash my hands, I could make out the simplicity of their lives. There was a large trough with a ladle to scoop clean water to pour over your hands. The outside of the sink was lined with heavily used toothbrushes.


I woke up the next day thrilled to see what it held.

Leisurely exploring Bagan, as I was riding my e-bike (which I remind you was just given to me the day before to REPLACE my first e-bike) I noticed some locals waving at me. I waved back, thinking nothing of it. Soon I found my bike was shaking in the most unusual and unpleasant way. I pulled off to the parking lot of a hotel and solicited the help of a worker who called the number on my bike – to let the owners know I was stranded. Soon someone came and delivered me a whole new bike! From the feel of it, I believe these bikes break down quite a bit.

That night I made sure to take in another one of the miraculous Bagan sunsets, but this time alone so I would have some time to think to myself.

The next day, I woke early to see the even more talked about Bagan sunrises. And then took a tour that changed the way I saw Bagan for the rest of my trip.


I’m sure at this point, you’re wondering: What the heck is up with this place? What’s with all the temples?! 

There are a lot of temples in Bagan. At the height of the Pagan Kingdom there were over TEN THOUSAND. Now around 2,200 remain in tact. That’s still over 1,000 more than in Angkor!

The city was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom from the 9th century to the 13th century with many of the temples being constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries. The Pagan Empire spanned what is most of modern-day Myanmar and finally collapsed in 1287 after repeated Mongol invasions. The city that held close to 200,000 people is now a village of just under 700 people.

In August 2016, a major earthquake struck the region and almost 400 temples were damaged or destroyed. With the help of UNESCO, the Bagan Archaeological Department has started reconstruction to many of the major temples.

Sulamani Temple – with it’s destruction from the 2016 earthquake



Fun fact: Each temple has a family key holder. Some of the small temples off the beaten path could only be entered if you found the key holder. After the earthquake in 2016, the government confiscated many of the temple keys to keep people out and off of the temples.


Temples of Bagan

Sulamani Temple

Every temple in Bagan has it’s own unique history and detail. Every king that built a temple tried to outdo the last. Some of the more notable temples in Bagan:

  • Dhammayangyi Temple (built in 1167, is known for having high ceilings and bats living in it, is also known as the “haunted” temple)
  • Gawdawpalin Temple (completed in 1211 and is the second tallest temple in Bagan – also heavily damaged durng the earthquake and known for it’s white color)
  • Shwesandaw Pagoda (built in 1057 and known for having some of the best sunrise and sunset views but always packed).
  • Thatbyinnyu Temple (the tallest temple in Bagan at 60 meters, the wall of the Old Bagan City can be seen and even walked along outside this temple)
View from Shwesandaw Pagoda

One thing I have a love for is “free” tours given in a city (free is in quotes because you usually tip the guide after as a gesture of your thanks). It allows you to see a city, get to know it’s hearts, and best believe they show you were all the good food happens to be.


Bagan at sunrise

I didn’t miss a single sunrise or sunset the whole time I stayed in Bagan. Most of the time, they weren’t out of the way and every single day it was a new experience. My age-old love of dawn and dust combined with the romance of old architecture left me breathless each time. Opting-in to see which temple the hostel would suggest for a sunrise viewing, I signed up for the tour and although there were more people at this temple than I was accustomed to viewing with, was not disappointed.

That afternoon I headed out of Bagan for the first time to see another world wonder: a monastery located on top of a volcano plug. The easiest way to explain this: the volcano blew its top off at one point, and thus the people decided to build a religious site on top of that said volcano piece.

Monastery atop Mount Papa

The climb to the top of the monastery is not for the weak of heart. Also, if you are terrified of monkeys, this is a terrible place to visit. Basically, there’s a bunch of stairs leading to the top. The bottom is filled with tourist shops and then as you climb you realize the entire place is covered in monkey poop because monkeys are literally crawling all over the place. By the way, you can’t wear your shoes once you reach a certain point which means you risk walking barefoot in monkey doo-doo.

Views from the top were not worth all the hassle of dealing with the monkeys. The monastery was more impressive to see from the ground below.  To me, it was worth the trip to check this off my list of things to see – but I’m pretty happy never returning.

After returning to Bagan, I was met with an invitation from a group of people I took the tour with the day before. Our guide had asked a few buddies for help putting together a boat trip taking us out on the river adjacent to the village. We docked at a sandy patch, set up a fire, and sat around talking of travels and singing (very hippie-esque).



Burmese woman carries harvest into village

My time in Bagan was slowly coming to a close. It was amazing how much I could feel about a place in such a short period of time. There was something about being among buildings hundreds of years old. Staring off into the distance and seeing pogodas and temples for miles and miles – it makes one feel overwhelmingly present. As if the rest of the world can’t possibly exist outside this little realm. The rest of the world’s problems seem so small and insignificant and yet there’s a feeling of hopefulness that accompanies that same feeling.

The people of Myanmar have suffered so much in the last several decades. Yet, with hopeful minds they face the unknown. Everyone I crossed paths with showed so much kindness and openness that it made me want to pass that same kindness on.

Bagan temples at sunrise


Bagan is a place one has to experience in person in order to fully understand how it captivates it’s visitor. How it will bewitch and mesmerize you. Wrapping you in its embrace, you’ll find yourself completely caught up in the moment. I believe this is what the great kings of the past imagined when they planned out Bagan and their kingdom – a place that would always bring people back. A place that one would find themselves taking its enchanting memory with them wherever they may go.




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