The Land of Magic, Balloons, and Temples

Solo Travel Bagan, Myanmar – August 2015.

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Bagan is magical, truly magical. Though I arrived in the dry monsoon season (wind, not rain) making their famous hot air balloon tours impossible, I was still able to tour the area by motorbike. How to see Bagan in 4 easy steps:

  1. Rent a motorbike
  2. Pick a direction on the main road
  3. Start driving the loop
  4. Turn off any time you see a temple or stupa that interests you.

Feel free to go cross country, overland, on small paths, and wander anywhere you’d like at any pace. The only requirement is that you must remove your shoes inside all temples.

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Temple Pagoda Bagan Myanmar

The landscape is dotted with more than 100 temples and stupas, ranging from a small IMG_3867cone large enough for a seated Buddha, to an entire complex with ornate covered walkways, interior hallways and giant Buddhas. Most everything else is grassy fields, scrubby trees and dirt paths.

Because there is no proscribed path or method, I simply buzzed around the loop until I saw something beautiful or interesting. Then I’d stop and explore. Of course, there’s a downside to idyllic dirt paths: in the rain they turn to mud. No more than 150 yards from my hotel I slid and spectacularly flattened myself into the mud. And as a result spent the remainder of the day coated on one side. Not my best travel look. A local teenage boy had watched this comedy sketch with interest and came out from his home when I turned my attention from mud to photographing the temple that had lured me into embarrassing danger in the first place. Then he invited me inside (since the temples are old, many of the better preserved ones are locked if they do not have an attendant.)

I hesitated.

IMG_3906Was it kosher to go inside a gated temple? Was I going to be pressured for a bribe? Was I breaking some religious law or trespassing on culture if not restricted territory?

Or perhaps I was overthinking things and he was just taking pity on me. I learned that his family was responsible for caring for the temples and stupas near their home. So he had the keys and could tour at his discretion. He took me on a private tour where he explained the many intricate paintings and writings on the walls and ceilings. He also took me up the narrow interior staircase and across the bamboo ladders onto the roof. Just the climb to the top made me bounce with joy. There is nothing that makes me more curious or less satisfied than a rope or gate across interior passageways which states “Private” or “Employees Only.” And here we were climbing straight up through those areas and around the tops of the temples. My inner Indiana Jones fizzed in excitement.

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Pagoda bagan myanmar

Later that day I found myself enjoying the Burmese hospitality yet again. My motorbike ran out of battery much earlier than expected and I ended up stranded on the opposite side of town. Unable to find a taxi, I approached a family who was about to get into their waiting taxi for help. They did, but then lost confidence that another taxi would definitely arrive. They insisted that I join them so that they could see me back to my resort. Not only am I confident they went far out of their way in delivering me to my hotel, but they adamantly refused my offers to cover the cost of the ride. As did the driver.

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Near the police station in Bagan there is a sign which says “take care of tourists and treat them warmly.” I’m not sure the Burmese need the reminder, and since the sign is in English – maybe this is a reminder and call to tourists to witness and enjoy the hospitality.

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