The night bus dropped us off at 3:30am in Nyaung-U, located just outside of Old Bagan. The sleeping doorman awoke at our arrival, as did the desk clerk. The other employees were left sleeping on the floor behind the desk, undisturbed by the noise. I never saw that before but this was Myanmar, and at 3:30 in the morning, anything goes.
After getting a few hours of shut eye we were eager to see the ancient ruins of Old Bagan. Over 2,200 temples and pagodas remain scattered throughout the land. These architectural marvels have become the iconic image of Myanmar that draws visitors from across the globe.
One can explore the temples by tour bus, motorbike, e-bike (an electric powered bicycle), pedal bicycle, or even a horse and cart. We opted for bicycles which was an adventurous choice after I had not been on a bike for the past 20 years. After rolling my jeans up so I’d have some knee padding I did a brake test and took off with white knuckles down the road.
After a wobbly ride in the cacophony of horn blasts from scooters and buses we turned onto a sandy path to explore our first ruin. We slipped off our sandals and stepped inside the brick temple that was home to four large Buddha’s. The Buddha’s were striking for their size and grandeur, but also for their unblemished appearance which didn’t fit in with the surroundings. Un-cracked bodies adorned with golden robes and perfectly red lips sat in front of barely visible and crumbling murals left by ancient peoples. This recasting and restoring detracts from the integrity and is one of the reasons why UNESCO has denied Old Bagan a place on its list of World Heritage Sites. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take UNECSO status for us to see that these beauties were worth the trip.
-Surrounding wall mural-
Chris braved the steep, dark stone staircase to the top of the temple. By the next temple I had worked up my courage to do the same with the help of my headlamp.
The next temple we encountered was a bit bigger. We climbed the dark and narrow stairs to the roof and looked out over a land scattered with ruins as far as the eye can see.
-Monk enjoying the view-
-A lot of the passageways in and around the temples were made for smaller people-
Further down the road we encountered these fancy fellows.
Next, we turned down a lane with many picturesque ruins to explore.
We were slowly making our way to the largest and most glorious temples in Old Bagan.
Each one was unique in their appearance, state of repair, and inside chambers. These were all free to enter as well.
The largest temple we entered was Ananda Temple which was built 1090-1105 and badly damaged in an earthquake in 1975. It has since been fully restored with four golden standing Buddhas facing North, South, East and West.
-An example of one of the gold Buddhas-
The halls are lined with many ornate doorways, murals and frescos.
–Frescos showing Buddha from birth to death-
Outside, the intricate details carry from the whitewashed terraced walls to the gilded pagoda and spires at the top.
The sun was going down, casting a beautiful golden hue over the brick ruins. We pedaled back towards a lesser known temple closer to home and climbed to the top to take in the surroundings one last time. We were hoping to spy hot air balloons floating over the horizon but the absence of any suggested that this was only a sight for sunrise.
Not one to test my luck with my bicycle skills in the dark we headed back home just before the sun set. On the way, we spotted the terraces of the larger temples dotted with tourists who were perched like birds on a wire snapping away at the beauty spread out before them. It was the end of a day they would never forget, nor would we.
–Last picture of the day–