Frost had begun building upon the window to my left. My friend lied sleeping next to me as the ice-cold bus bumped up and down the road towards our destination. I looked out the window at the darken streets that blurred by as sleepiness began to take me. When I woke up, we were being shuffled off of the bus onto an empty parking lot. Men around us started yelling at us about taxis and whatnots. Still dazed, I told my friend to follow me to a nearby bench to sit down so that we can recollect and come out of our still sleepiness daze. A quick negotiation later and we were off on a tricycle into the still darken night. The cool wind was a welcome respite from the heat, even though the sun had not risen yet. After we dropped off our stuff at our hotel, my friend and I quickly zipped away on a rental electronic bike into the new dawn. We passed by local Burmese as they cleaned their store fronts, set up their shops, and steered their horse-drawn carts.
Over our shoulders the burning yellow mass was slowly rising from its evening slumber. Already the heat was beginning to make me sweat. We raced onward on our e-bike, at the super-fast speed of 20 kilometers per hour. At that moment, the sun was our enemy. I fought off sleeplessness and a growling stomach as I dodged through the morning traffic. We were looking for a building. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally found one that might fit the descriptions of what we were looking for. I had forgotten to switch from my shoes to my flip flops and here, in Bagan, at every temple, one must take off ones’ shoes. With every step that I took in climbing the temple, my white socks became a little bit more brown, more orange. Sweat dripped down my brows as the heat continued to make its presence known. When there were no more steps to be taken, I raised my head to look out at the vast plain. Temples of copious sizes and shapes dotted the brown landscape, with dark green shrubs and small trees spread in between. They stood one story tall, three stories tall. All were different, and yet all were similar, keeping watch over the holy land for centuries long gone. The yellow burning ball crept above the horizon in the distance.
I stood there in silence. There were few others around us. Camera shutters clicked left and right. But we all were in silence, our soul’s mouth gaped wide open at the majestic image that etched before us. I closed my eyes, inhaled the morning air, and opened them again. The serenity of the sight. The thousands of temples glowing in effervescent ember. The immortal dance of the rising sun with the distant clouds. A smile crept onto my face as I too held up my camera to my left eye and clicked the shutter button. Traveling never felt so right.
The following is my Myanmar review.
Day 1 – 3: In Bagan. Rented an e-bike to drive around and see the temples. Day 1 was seeing temples closer to Nyaung U. Day 2 was seeing temples in new and old bagan. Day 3 was just relaxation and getting to see the sunrise one last time.
Day 4 – 5: In Mandalay. After Bagan, I took a 5 hour bumpy ride minivan at 8pm to Mandalay. On the first day in Mandalay, I biked to the Mandalay Hill and saw the temples around there as well the sunset on the hill. On the second day I rented a motorbike and drove to the nearby villages outside Mandalay, including the famous U Bein Bridge.
Day 6 – 7: In Yangon. I took an overnight bus from Mandalay to Yangon, where I spent the first day walking around and 2nd day exploring Shwedagon Pagoda and enjoying Thingyan with the local Burmese.
Where I Visited
Bagan: Amazing place. Give yourself 3 days here so that you don’t rush through the temples. Look at their architecture. Take in the history. I highly recommend renting an e-bike as it gives you more options to explore more distant temples. Also, I went in April, which was very very hot. If you’re gonna go, go in December – Feb when it’s cooler. But April is definitely doable. The big plus is that it’s low season, and not many tourists around, meaning you can watch sunsets and sunrises on temples all by yourself. Best place for sunrise is the temples closer to New Bagan. We climbed one and had that entire temple to ourselves. For sunrise, I’d recommend Bulethi. Rating: Must do
Mandalay: Mandalay Hill is surprisingly good for sunset. Also, the climb up is an amazing exercise. Definitely do Kudothaw Paya (it’s free unlike it’s $10 entrance fee cousin). It is beautiful. Rent a motorbike to see the countryside as well as U Bein Bridge. Rating: Should do
Yangon: Only useful thing to see here really is Shwedagon Pagoda. Rating: Maybe do
Where I stayed
Bagan: Innwa Motel review. Decent place. We got the AC room, and the AC worked well to keep the room cool. Had private bath with the showerhead next to the toilet. Staff was friendly and helpful. You can rent e-bikes from them for $10 a day. Rating: Should stay
Mandalay: A1 Hotel review. Got their private room for $20 a night, which was great. The room had a fridge, and had the amenities of a proper hotel. Bathroom was good (saw a dead cockroach though). I rented my motorbike through them. Staff was friendly and even allowed us free printing of our boarding passes. Rating: Should stay
Yangon: Agga Guest House Review. Located in the middle of the city, which is good for walking around. Room was pleasantly big and AC worked wonderfully. Staff was also very friendly here and courteous. Bathroom was shared but worked well enough. Rating: Should stay
Myanmar was an amazing experience for me, and from my friend’s opinion, life changing for her. To see the sunrise and sunsets while sitting on a temple in Bagan was one for the ages. If you’re gonna go to Bagan, go soon. Already, a lot of the temples are being prohibited from being climbed, so I can only imagine in the future they’ll shut down more temples from being able to be climbed. That means that everyone will just be funneled to the remaining opened few, which won’t make for a pleasant experience. The local Burmese were a treat to interact with.
They looked at you with interested curiosity, and were always open to taking photos with you and of you (whether you want to or not). The infrastructure is still a little poor, so you will have to practice patience. The food isn’t that great, but you don’t visit Myanmar for the food. Do stay local, and help the local businesses with your tourism money. Street food were common enough but mainly street restaurants were more dominant. I had a fantastic experience in Myanmar and would definitely come back. By the way, if you’re looking for a rager, you won’t find it in Myanmar. Things tend to die down fast as soon as the sun set. If you want a rager, Thailand next door can help with that.
Country Rating: B+
Also, special shoutout to my traveling companion who kept me company and kept me cool during the intense heat.
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