You wake to the sound of your alarm screaming at you to get out of bed. It’s only 430 in the morning. But you’re in Bagan, one of the most magical places on this planet, and one of the only places where it’s acceptable to be up well before the sun is. You get dressed and head out on your rented motorbike. The cool breeze against your skin, squinting into the dark as you drive through sand. Pagodas on both sides of you sprouting from the earth. Nothing but quietness, stillness, the wind in your hair as the moon guides you forward.
Before you know it, you’ve made it to a pagoda, one that has yet to be closed off. You climb to the top, the stars still glowing, and wait. Here you are, sitting on an ancient piece of history, waiting for the sun to rise over the horizon and the balloons to fire up. Other travelers shoulder to shoulder with you, waiting for the same moment you are. You’re sitting in silence, marveling at the world and how different life feels in Myanmar. In a far off city, that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Bagan – An Ancient City
Bagan, a city founded in second century AD, you’ll find this town located in Central Myanmar. Today it is split into Old Bagan and New Bagan and is most famously known for its ancient pagodas, of which over 2,200 still stand. Before earthquakes hit Myanmar and destroyed a lot of the land, over 10,000 pagodas could have been found in Bagan. Restoration took place after a series of pagodas were built. However, because of tools and techniques used were different from what was used years ago, Bagan has yet to make the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bagan is the kind of place where extreme tourism hasn’t yet affected the city. The locals are still friendly, offering a warm smile or a kind wave. Most people aren’t looking to rip you off. Instead they are helpful, offering advice on which pagodas to enter or how to get around.
In order to enter Bagan, you must pay a fee of 25,000 MMK, which will allow you entrance into the Bagan Archeological Zone for three days. Entrance into some temples requires you to show your pass, while security will randomly ask you for proof you’ve paid to enter Bagan.
Due to earthquake and tourism damage to the pagodas, the government has started to seal many of them off. The steps to climb to the top of the pagoda may be gated off. While they are working on closing all pagodas, there are still a few open to tourists.
You’ll see many stray dogs and puppies in Bagan. Don’t attempt to approach them or pet them. They are stray and may bite you. If that happens, you must assume that the dog has rabies. Find a doctor immediately to get a rabies vaccine.
The only tourist trap I ran into while visiting Bagan was kids walking around telling you that they collect different currency from around the world. Be aware that they turn around and sell the currency back to other tourists for Myanmar money, MMK.
The currency used in Myanmar is the Burmese Kyat, MMK. At time of writing 1 USD = 1,515 Kyat
While many dialects are spoken through Bagan, the main language is Burmese. However, many locals, especially those working in tourist places such as hotels and restaurants will speak a few words in English to fluent English.
To enter the pagodas, your shoulders and knees should be covered, and shoes should be left outside.
And as the Sun Rises
And just like that, the sun rises and paints the sky a pinkish-orange. Outlining the hot air balloons rising above the pagodas. Your breath catches and a tear rolls down your cheek. You’re sitting with strangers, happy that someone else is seeing the beauty with you, witnessing one of the most magical things on this earth. And something that has yet to be ruined by extreme tourism.
Bagan, a special place. And one that should be on everyone’s bucket list before it becomes an Instagram sensation. Head here before it’s too late. Before all the pagodas are closed, or worse, ruined by natural disasters or tourists. Before the people in Myanmar get so burned by tourists they begin to hike up their prices and rip you off. Head to Bagan before it loses its sense of beauty and uniqueness.
If you plan on making a visit to Myanmar, read Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting Myanmar
If you have a week to spend in Myanmar and you’re looking for ideas where to go, read One Week in Myanmar – Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake