23 Days in Myanmar

Part 2 of 3: Bagan and the Water Festival

3 min read by Dmitri and Betty. Published in Essays, Stories.

Betty and I arrived in Bagan by bus somewhere around 4:30 AM.

Read Part 1 of 3: Yangon and Nyang Shwe.

Lodging in Bagan was sparse and expensive. Our tiny, badly-kept room set us back $20USD every night. The staff demanded crisp, freshly-printed banknotes and would not accept anything that had as much as a single crease; this is the case everywhere in Myanmar. There were exchange points set up that would switch “used” for “fresh” paper — for a fee.

The food was relatively pricey and sickening due to poor sanitation standards. We modified our diet to biscuits and water to avoid further vomit episodes.

Bagan.

“Sunrise in Bagan.” Shot on Instax Mini 90.

Our time and strength were limited, so we decided to optimize for both by seeing as much of the historical site as possible in the first couple of days. Followed by time-off before going back to Yangon.

Hot air balloon rides (what Bagan is mainly known for on Instagram) are around $300USD per person, need to be booked months in advance and are not guaranteed. So we didn’t do that.

But we did manage to see the enormous historical site on our own account. Even ended up climbing on top of a few temple roofs and seeing the spreading panorama of a place that used to be a shrine mecca.

Foreigners are not allowed to drive motorized vehicles in Myanmar. Only cheap electric scooters are permitted. Slow and quiet; the battery lasts enough for a few hours in a day’s heat. That’s what we had for the first two days to explore the city.

Like in Siem Reap the national park/historical city preservation area was full of famous, popular sites and the lesser-known pagodas which would stand empty. Though Bagan is much, much larger than Siem Reap (that’s in Cambodia). I’d imagine one would have to spend at least a few months of daily exploring to see everything; maybe more.

The dry, sun-scorched grass coloured the landscape gold while the lush palm trees gave it a luxurious glaze. Staring at the stretching miles of ruins I imagined a buzzing buddhist metropolis, bursting with life, money and prosperity — all just over a lifetime ago.

The dry, sun-scorched grass coloured the landscape gold while the lush palm trees gave it a luxurious glaze. Staring at the stretching miles of ruins I imagined a buzzing buddhist metropolis, bursting with life, money and prosperity — all just over a lifetime ago.

The vastness of this place did not sink in until we got to climb above the tree line. From there one could see temple roofs peaking through the jungle forever into the distance.

Every triangle speck in this photo is a temple roof. Stretching far beyond the horizon into the heat, dust and the sparse jungle of Bagan. Shot on Instax Mini 90 (I’ve adjusted the brightness and sharpness for this scan in Photoshop).

The air was filled with dust and ash from the farm field burnings. The sun was hot, there were no clouds.

Thingyan.

Tired from the heat we mostly just wanted to sleep and be on our way to Yangon. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work in our favour.

Thingyan is a Buddhist holiday in Myanmar that celebrates the start of a new year. It’s commonly known as “water festival” by foreigners. Although western New Year’s Eve is just one night, Thingyan takes up almost the entire week. Virtually all business are shut down, including the transportation system. We’re stuck in Bagan.

It’s dry enough for the dust clouds to swirl above Aye Yar river. Yet there was no way one could walk on the street for a minute without being soaked by the cheering locals.

At times it felt good to be a part of the festivities and cool down from the day’s heat. It got old after four days of dampness and noise.

Read Part 3 of 3: Train to Yangon.