Travelblog#9: Bagan, Ancient City of Temples – Burma

7th-8th September, 2014

One of the things that I have enjoyed most about Burma is how “fresh” it feels compared to the rest of Asia. Most of the natives here are yet to be disheartened by busloads of tourists swarming into their country and acting like they are royalty, and thus, they have not reached a place yet where (for many of them) the only interaction they desire to have with foreigners is extract as much money out of them as possible before they leave. Burmese people, in general, are still excited to see travellers and are eager to converse with them, because foreigners bring with them something that the Burmese have very much lacked over the last few decades; a connection with the outside world.

While travelling around the south we were approached by people often, but not because they were trying to cajole us. It was usually simply because they wanted to practice their English, find out what is going on in the outside world, or have their photo taken with us so they could show it to their friends. The constant photos (although charming) could get a little annoying sometimes, but it was nice to not be treated like a walking wallet for once. We rarely needed to haggle over things to avoid being overcharged in the south because the people there were so honest.

Bagan though, is very much on the map. Not many people come to Burma, but the majority of the ones who do take a two week holiday and whisk their way through “the triangle”: Inle Lake, Mandalay, and Bagan.

Thus; tour buses are already a bit of a thing in this region, and the locals are a little more jaded. “Artists” sit outside almost every temple, selling their “authentic” paintings which all somehow look the same. The paler your skin tone, the more you get hassled.


“Hi. Where are you from?”


“Nice country. Where are you going?”

“Ananda Paya.”

“You need taxi! I take you there! Two thousand kyat.”

“It’s like fifty meters away. I’m sure I’ll make it.”


“Hi. Where are you from?”


“Nice country. Do you want a cold drink?”

“No thanks.”


“Hi. Where are you from?”


“Nice country. Come look at my stall, I have lots of nice things.”

“I can look, but I won’t buy anything…”


You soon become a little bit bored by it all and feel the need to mix it up a bit.


“Hi. Where are you from?”

“North Korea.”

“Nice country. I collect different kinds of money. Do you have any of your currency with you?”

“No. We only trade in raisins.”


It is a shame when places reach this stage because it makes you more jaded, as well as them. Some of the people approaching you may just be innocently trying to spark a conversation but you won’t get very far that day if you spend time trying to filter them out, so you end up having to be quite dismissive and blunt.

During the first few hours Roy and I spent wandering around the ancient temples of Bagan, we were a little bit underwhelmed. They were nice temples, but Asia has lots of nice temples. “Bagan” was a word we had heard uttered with an almost mythical air, by many, and I had even heard it being described as a rival to the Angkor complex in Cambodia, which is a very ambitious claim to make.


And, as impressive as sights like this are, they are not Angkor.

In the early afternoon we reached Shwesandaw, one of the few temples which you are permitted to climb. Once we reached the top we then saw views all around us which looked like this:


It was then that we started to “get” Bagan. We finally understood that Bagan is not about the individual temples themselves – which are often a little bit repetitive and samey – it was about the region as a whole. The sheer quantity of temples was impressive, and the way that they are scattered across this flat, dusty plane which is covered in green foliage, makes for a glorious sight when you get to view it from a height.

After sitting there for a while, simply enjoying the view, we got back onto our bikes and carried on exploring, feeling newly inspired. Another thing I realised later is that Bagan probably hasn’t aged quite as well as Angkor because the inner walls were mostly filled with murals rather than carvings, and they have all now either faded away or been stolen. Some of the temples still have faint remnants which can give one a vague idea of what they may have once looked like.


Sunset at Pyathada Paya was a particularly spectacular event.


We were also lucky enough to have an almost full moon emerge a couple of hours before dusk, which made for a great background for some photos.


By the end of our second day there, Bagan had grown on me in a big way. It definitely has something and if you’re visiting Burma you should see it. Even if it means entering a tourist trap for a few days.

Lots of photos available here.

3 thoughts on “Travelblog#9: Bagan, Ancient City of Temples – Burma

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