The beauty of Bagan

August 17, 2014

What I noticed on this holiday, is that most tourists travel connected. Sitting by the swimming pool tapping away on my ( just received for my birthday) I pad, most other guests also had their IPhones and IPads at hand, and only if there was no wifi connection, did they return to their paper books.  For the moment, travel guides are not completely obsolete yet, most people also had a travel guide (especially in Myanmar), though some had it downloaded on their tablet or phone. It is definitely the biggest trend in tourism; we are all becoming social travelers.


About our stay in Bagan: it was extraordinary! And the hotel we chose played a big role in it. No, we did not stay in any of the big expensive resorts in New Bagan, we stayed in the budget village Nyaung U. But we chose our hotel wisely (did the research that is), and came to choose Zfreeti hotel (still do not know how to pronounce that). The hotel is very new, had some great reviews on Tripadvisor, sported a swimming pool, and the price was reasonable,  with the breakfast included. There were some reviews about annoying construction noise and we had that going on but nothing really disturbing and only during the day time. I can say we had a great stay, considering this is Myanmar, and this is Bagan, a place in the middle of this still poor country.

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When we arrived we were welcomed with a refreshing drink, and taken to our rooms, which were not too big, but nicely decorated, and had a good bathroom, with all the necessities. The aircon worked perfectly. We paid the room and could pay either in cash: USD, euros or kyat, or by credit card. The hotel even had an ATM in the lobby which was unfortunately out of order, but there is another one a bit further on the way to the airport, and a bank to change money. But what really made our day, was the swimming pool. The days, especially our first two days were really hot. You need to rest during the hottest hours of the day, and what better way to do it than next to a swimming pool for some refreshing dives! So we planned our day in such a way, that we visited sights in the morning after breakfast, until lunchtime, after lunch we took a nap, and sat by the pool, took a shower, and then chose a place to see the sunset at one of the temples, after which we had dinner (often with a cocktail, they cost only two dollar a glass, and at Bibo restaurant you get one free when you drink one between 5 and 7 pm (happy hour). (But it has to be said that Bibo’s cocktails urgently need some sprucing up…)


We arrived the first day in the morning, and checked in around 10 AM. We got our rooms immediately. We rested a bit and then rented bikes for the day at the hotel (2000 kyat for a day). We drove to Shwesandaw Paya Temple in Nyaung U. It is a very beautiful temple with 37 nats, and many Buddha statues to discover. It has a beautiful guilded stupa. We returned to our hotel and enjoyed a well deserved siesta, and a jump in the pool. After a refreshing shower we set out for some dinner in Nyaung U, and ended op in a Birmese place, of which I cannot give the name, since it was only printed in Birmese. When sitting down, everyone gets a few plates of deep fried samosas, and patongos ( it is a kind of dough fried in long double sticks) and moon cakes with two kinds of fillings. You do not have to eat those, you can order something else from a menu (also in English), and you can order drinks, but no beer. There is one young witty Birmese boy, who speaks enough English to take your orders. We ate what they put on the table because it looked and tasted very delicious. And it was really good and dirt cheap, the samosas were 100 kyat a piece, the patongos 200 a piece and the large moon cakes 300 kyat a piece. We drank lime juice, which was cold and freshly squeezed. We continued around 5 pm for the sunset on Buledi pagoda ( see my other post on the possibilities for sunset viewing over Bagan).


The next day we went out in the morning after a really good breakfast buffet (including freshly made eggs, pancakes, muesli, yoghurt, fresh fruit, French toast, croissant, bread, toast, Asian breakfast, ….., (only the coffee and tea were pretty undrinkable) on the roof. We had rented our bikes again. The sun was very hot  that day, so biking proved to be very tiring. We headed out to old Bagan to visit the temples there. We drove through the gate of the old city walls, and first visited a less important temple: A Twin Zigan. We then continued on the road in the direction of New Bagan and took a left on the intersection. This was actually one road too far which I came to realize when I spotted a sign for the Sulamani temple.


We turned back and first visited Ananda Temple, a golden spired temple with many buddha’s inside. We then visited That Byin Nyu temple inside the old Bagan city walls, the highest temple in Bagan.


Because of the heat we stopped for lunch and drinks at Sarabha 1 restaurant just outside Tharaba gate in old Bagan. The food and drinks are lovely, the toilets very very clean, the staff very very friendly. But there is no wifi. (Can’t have it all)

Tired from the heat and dust, and driving our bikes we returned to our hotel for a siesta and some pool time.


In the afternoon we set out for our second sunset and decided to try Thabeik Hmauk temple, the temple next to Sulamani at its East side. That was a bummer, because the staircases to go up were closed of by a padlocked grill door.


So no sunset viewing for us this time, we returned to the main road and decided to visit a temple we hadn’t visited yet during the daytime, but is lighted nicely in the evening: Htilominlo temple.


We took our dinner at Hti restaurant in Nyaung U, close to our hotel, where they serve Thai and Myanmar dishes and cocktails for 2000 kyat a glass. (good cocktails). There is free wifi with good connection, which is a bonus in Bagan, because the internet is very erratic here. Food and drinks were very good, it is really a very enjoyable place. (With good Tripadvisor reviews).


Being tired of pushing our bikes around in the heat, we rented electric motorbikes the next day, at 8000 kyatt a day. We drove out to Myinkaba village famous for its lacquerware workshops and shops, to look at some lacquer ware. We checked out some shops, and one of the shops showed and explained us each step of the process, which was actually very interesting, and shows you how difficult and time consuming the work is, and teaches you the differences in quality. It also made us realize that the pieces we really liked were too expensive for our budget.


We then visited Mingalazedi temple with it’s many glazed tiles.


After that we went to see Gubyaukgyi, a temple with stunning murals, but with very little light inside. We were lucky that the caretaker wanted to show us around with a very good strong light, which showed us the paintings clearly. The in-built torch of your mobile phone can also do the trick.


Next to the temple stands the guilded Myazadi, and you also find a four sided pilar in a cage in four languages with great linguistic and historical importance. This visit made us hungry so we set out to Sarabha again for lunch. We managed to stay out of a great downpour while eating.


Since we had not visited Sulamani temple yet, we decided to do that after lunch. It is a beautiful temple which is also attractive on the inside, set on lush grounds. This was more than enough for one long morning, and it was time for a siesta and some swimming.


The third evening led us to Pyathada temple, which is a great sunset viewing spot, with the best views over Bagan, but which has also been discovered by tour busses and thus has crowds at sunset. (They should actually ban busses from entering the archeological zone, especially since there are just small dusty dirt roads). We enjoyed the views, but the crowds and the noise as well as the rain, made us leave earlier.


That evening we ate at Bibo restaurant, which we stumbled upon attracted by the many lights of the restaurant. A short check online, learned us they had great reviews on tripadvisor, so we decided to take our evening meal there. The food is very good, the cocktails so-so, the atmosphere really nice.


The last morning we decided to visit the temples of the south plain: Nandamannya temple, a one chamber temple with the finest murals in Bagan! They were renovating the inside murals when we visited.


Next the Payathonzu: three interconnected temples which also has beautiful murals. Avery friendly local guided us around pointing out special mural pictures explaining who was depicted in them.


We then continued to Dhammayazika, with a huge pentagonal zedi and a gilded bel.

I guess we saw the most interesting temples of Bagan, during our three day stay. We decided to try out Sarabha ll restaurant instead of Sarabha restaurant in Old Bagan, since the restaurants in New Bagan did not look attractive enough to us. This restaurant lies a bit away from the road,  is surrounded by a lush green garden, and although we had to wait quite long for the food, it was very delicious!

The rest of our last day was spent at the hotel pool, before we took a taxi to the airport and flew to Yangon.

Bagan is one of the friendliest places I have visited in Asia, and riding your bike through the plains of Bagan, sometimes al by yourself, is a divine experience.


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