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Bagan – A Worthy Rival to Angkor Wat

Arriving at the out of town bus terminal in Bagan we were met by a group of taxi drivers making fare offers which were obviously managed by collusion. The demand for “going to town 15 000 Kyat” was ridiculous. I hastily took my phone to contact Grab and get a reasonable fare rate. Another offer “12 000 - 3 people 4 000 Kyat each”.

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Google Maps showed that the hotel was about 5 kilometers away so these demands were extortionately high. But no Grab. So time to negotiate. With much shouting we managed to get the price down to 8 000 Kyat.

But this initial experience of Bagan left a bitter taste. The rate for “each” seemed to be the theme of many offers here.

Driving into Nyaung-U we stopped at a building at the side of the road. Foreigners are required to pay 25 000 Kyat (about USD19) each to enter the Archaeological Area of Bagan! For locals it’s free.

I now empathise with all people who are discriminated against based on some arbitrary physical attribute. A few days before we had a “foreigners only” entrance fee to a pagoda. While 100’s of locals plus anyone else who looked like a local (looked Asian) just walked in.

One understands that the area needs to be maintained but shouldn’t everyone pay?  At least something?

The temples and pagodas in the Bagan Archaeological Site  are religious but definitely not too pious. The only requirement is that you remove your shoes and socks!

The entrances are noisy business areas selling cheap souvenirs and memento’s, clothing and the products of the area.

The roads are around the main areas are hectic. They are noisy with constant hooting and the exhaust blast from cheap Chinese motorbikes.  Motorbikes, busses and cars compete with the horse carts and bicycles plus pedestrians for their share of the dusty, narrow roads. It all seems to work fine with “no rules” Asian style.

Travelling around Myanmar we had our first experience of the Asian three tier pricing system. One price for locals, a higher price for expats (who have a better idea of the local prices) and premium prices for foreign tourists.

While one can understand poverty alleviation. One understands the need for revenue. It’s hard to accept a government condoning and supporting completely discriminatory behaviour. Or one city like Bagan having completely unregulated taxis.

Sightseeing in Bagan

By Horse Cart  

For the first day we negotiated a half day sightseeing of some of the major temples and pagodas by horse and cart.

As arranged Kyet and his horse Toe arrived on schedule at 8am. As Kyet introduced himself and smiled his betel nut stained teeth were obvious. Over the next four and a half hours we visited a number of sites in Nyaung U and Old Bagan. While Kyet chewed away at betel nut and became more and more languid as the day wore on.

By the time we’d visited the following sites we had our first bout of being “templed out”.

  • Schwezigon Pagoda
  • Ananda Temple
  • Htilominlo Temple
  • Dhammayangi Temple
  • Upali Thein
  • Bupaya - river jetty
  • Gawdawpalin Temple
  • Alodawpyi Pagoda

By Bicycle With Your Own Agenda

The next day we decided to do our own thing and hired bicycles (MMK 2 000 USD 1.50 per day) from Tun Tun at Forever. He had also arranged our half day horse cart sightseeing the previous day (MMK 20 000 USD 15). And finally booked our ferry ticket to Mandalay (USD 40 per person). We paid the ferry ticket in kyat at a very good exchange rate and he included an early morning pickup from the hotel and ride to the ferry jetty.

After our previous half day on the horse and cart and looking at a map of the area we had a rough idea where we wanted to go. We did what we wanted to despite the roads not always being clearly sign posted and the spelling of the names of pagodas and temples not always consistent 

There were a few minor navigation hitches but with the help of the map and Google maps  all went well.

Sightseeing by bicycle allows you to set your own agenda and has the added benefit of getting some exercise.

  • Buleti Pagoda (view point for valley) - climbing up and down will activate your adrenalin. It’s steep (very steep!) and the stairs (more like climbing a ladder) are an inconsistent height.

The view is worth it. As you look out over the valley you get a better idea of how many there are. Painter selling his art and as you look down you realise that if you fall it’s going to be very messy. For him it’s his office!

  • Sulamani Temple
  • Thabeik Mauk Pagoda
  • Pya Thadar Pagoda

As we rode through West Pwazaw we were stopped by a man manufacturing lacquerware items in his home factory. We said we wouldn’t be buying anything but he insisted that we should see how these products were manufactured.

Starting with a painted, layered bamboo carcass, he etched a design into the surface. With certain elements using more than one etcher may be used. After that the long process of adding colour by colour each one taking days to oven cure.

After watching this I realized how much work goes into producing one item and that the price paid for all this work was actually very cheap.

It was a hot day and on the way back to the hotel we stopped in at the Min Nan Thu Village for a Coke.

  • Our final stop was at the Lay Myet Hna Temple.

The midday heat was getting to us and by lunch time we had a relapse of being “templed out”!

    Lessons Learned

  • Google maps is an essential app
  • A local SIM card is an excellent investment
  • Being “templed out” is a common ailment of tourists
  • Removing your shoes and socks has nothing to do with bringing mud and dust into the temple or pagoda.

About the Author Patrick Millerd

On a mission to help others expand their horizons. Who knows where they can end? Passionate about learning and embracing the changing world. Adventurous and skeptical but optimistic!

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