Bagan Travel Guide: A First-Timers Guide to Bagan

Travel Guide: A First-Timers Guide to Bagan

In the expansive area of Bagan, Myanmar brims with culture, heritage and mesmeric views. The enduring architecture of the pagodas built by people long gone, dot the region providing visitors with a lick of their opulent past, helping them build memories which would last for an eternity. Standing as a testimony of the power, affluence and craftsmanship of the dynasties that built them, temples in Bagan are a legacy of the Pagan Empire which once thrived in this region of Myanmar.

When we embarked on our journey to Myanmar, we had little idea about how fascinated we would be by the time our visit came to an end. My husband, Vikram and I had been invited by the Ministry of Tourism, Myanmar to experience the country’s beauty. We started as tourists only to return as lovers of the country.

I often fail at finding the right words to describe my captivation of certain places, so it really did take me more time than it usually does, to put together a guide for all of you in words that would do justice to the experiences I enjoyed in this lovely country.

I have witnessed the magnificence of Borobudur in Indonesia and not very long ago, Angkor Vat took our travel experiences up a notch. Bagan reinforces the fact that every place is uniquely special and a comparison would only scar our experiences. With Myanmar being relatively less explored by tourists than other places that we have been to, I can say without a doubt, that this is the time when people really should travel to the country; before tourism tramples on its virgin beauty and strips off its natural façade, mostly without intending to do so, simply because tourism no matter how sustainable we attempt to make it, has its own impact which may not always be translated positively.

In an attempt to provide you with a vivid picture of my experience at Bagan, I give you a compilation of some great tips in this Bagan travel guide.

 

Bagan – A Heritage, A Legacy, A Haven

Once the capital city of the powerful Pagan Empire than ruled most of present-day Myanmar, Bagan has aged beautifully. While it may not offer the same magnificence as in its fledgling days, there is something intoxicatingly beautiful about the place that would have you return more than once to get a taste of its fabulous experiences.

More than 10,000 temples and pagodas once called this place home, but time ravaged many and the 2,200 that remain today endeavour to recreate the awe and amazement that the place would have once enjoyed.

 

Day 1

Seated on a flight in Yangon which would have taken us to one of those rare places on Earth where temple tops peek out of the trees painting a visual treat in hues of green, blue and brown; I hoped that Bagan would be everything I heard and read. As we touched the runway in Bagan, I realized that the views from the sky were my preview to a magical four-day trip.

We were warmly greeted by our guide who was waiting with a taxi at the terminal. A pleasant hour’s drive took us to Aureum Palace where we stayed in utter luxury for the next three nights.

Nestled quietly amidst the rising pagodas in the Bagan Archaeological Preservation Zone, Aureum Palace spoils travelers who have a weakness for luxury accommodations. The tasteful décor, the quaint architecture of the villas, the intricacies of the woodwork in the villas, the warmth of its staff, the deliciousness of the foods served at its restaurants and the serenity of the private lake knitted together an elaborately enchanting experience that delighted us in every way.

Seated in the Jasmine section of the resort, our villa was located on the private lake that offered breath-taking views of Bagan. I couldn’t imagine a better place to stay. The soothing waters of the lake, the ancient temples rising above the trees, the gentle breeze sweeping over the palms and the refreshing greenery of the place offered more experiences that quickly transformed into memories, etched forever in our travel diaries.

 

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We had arrived at Bagan before sunrise. Shirking off all weariness from our travel, we excitedly looked forward to enjoying a hot air balloon ride that had been scheduled for us. I am sure you would have come across beautiful pictures of Bagan in travel magazines or on your Instagram feed. Lovely as they look on paper or on web pages, nothing beats the experience of being there and swooning over the theatrical work of man and nature that are in total harmony at Bagan.

Our hot air ballooning was arranged with a company named “Balloons Over Bagan” that used red balloons. I was later made aware that there were two other authorized hot air ballooning companies in Bagan, one used green and the other used yellow balloons. Every morning the three colours would create a beautiful panorama in the sky.

 

A red and white bus scuttled up to the resort at 5:00 AM, and I was in complete disbelief when I learnt that it was going to be our ride to and from the hot air ballooning site. I guess living in an urban city has definitely spoiled me. I often end up choosing comfort over experiences. But there was no choice here, so experience it was, and a brilliant one at that, as these buses were from the time of the World War. We sat awkwardly on one of the wooden benches in the bus as it began its bumpy ride.

With the site in view, the means of transportation to the site was no longer of accord. All I could think of was floating in the skies. After a light breakfast, we hopped onto the balloon’s basket eager to be a part of the views that we had endearingly gazed at in magazines. The winds were on our side, and the weather promised to oblige. So we got to enjoy the full duration of 45 minutes of the flight {I am told that some rides could be as short as 20 minutes when the weather is less favourable}.

 

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The balloon lifted off from the ground up in the air and with clockwork precision, the sun began to light up the Earth and skies, as if it knew its role just like a seasoned actor does. We were asked to sit down for the launch, and shortly after were given the OK to stand. We were accorded a bird’s eye view of magnificent Bagan, as the golden glow of the rising sun cast a magic spell on the hundreds of temples and pagodas below. Experiences are what make us who we are. This is one experience that will last a lifetime in our memories.

Stepping back on land after our avian journey was disappointing because the skies offered so much in terms of beauty. But we didn’t know that terrestrial life in Bagan was equally exciting. After a glass of champagne, we chugged back to the resort on the same bus 🙂

 

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We reached our resort at 8:30 AM and decided to lie back and lose ourselves once again in memories of our early morning experience

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It wasn’t until 4 in the afternoon that we decided to set out exploring the area on a horse cart

That reminds me of another thing about travel. I have realized that sometimes it takes us to travel to another corner of the world to appreciate things closer to home. Horse carts hardly fit the category of adventure for Indians, and here I was, reminiscing my childhood days in Varanasi – a city known for the Holy Ganges in addition to horse-drawn carriages. Take me back to India and ask me to ride on a horse cart and I would gently turn you down, but in Bagan I was certainly enjoying the ride and soaking in the views. Travel does change us, for good.

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We returned to our resort at 5:00 PM exhilarated by the experiences that we had gathered through the day, but it wasn’t to stop. We took an elevator to the private watch tower {Nann Myint or Bagan Tower} of Aureum Palace, where Vikram and I lost ourselves in the spellbinding views of Bagan augmented by the final rays of the sun as it gracefully dipped into the horizon. Standing stalwartly at a height of 196 feet {60 meters}, the tower has an outdoor rooftop that treats its visitors to a breath-taking 360 degree view of Bagan along with the untamed Irrawaddy meandering in the distance.

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We had a sumptuous dinner which was accompanied with traditional entertainment that brought the day to a delightful end as we retired to our villa. We also realized that the serene environment of Aureum Palace livens up every evening with traditional dancers, puppeteers and folk music performers taking the stage to entertain guests.

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End note: Bagan is a fabulous destination. I have never been anywhere like it. Some of the times it enthralled us; at other times we weren’t sure whether we would enjoy it like the bus or the horse cart ride. But every moment in Bagan was brimming with experiences… experiences that we miss deeply now that we are back home.

 

* There is too much to lay it down for you vividly in just one post. Stay tuned for Day 2 of our stay in Bagan.

** If you like this article, please share it on social media using the share buttons at the bottom of the post.

*** Disclaimer: This review was done on an invitation from the Ministry of Tourism, Myanmar. Due judgement and care has been applied by the author to remain objective and unbiased in the review.

 

Images of me have been retouched by Vidhya Sakar

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* I love bringing together a bunch of conflicting items and weaving my own sense of one-ness to them. *

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