Bagan: The Land of Temples & Hot Air Balloons
Traveling to Bagan was an interesting feat... We left Yangon around 4PM to catch our 7PM bus. The taxi ride to the bus station took two and a half hours even though it was only a couple kilometers away. We boarded the Elite Express VIP bus and were immediately given a clean wipe to sanitize ourselves with and small snack boxes full of treats. I fell fast asleep waking up around 1AM alone and stopped on the side of the road. I sat up quickly and had a mini panic attack, until I noticed everyone walking back to the bus. We must have just stopped for dinner and the bathroom, unbeknownst to me.
The bus dropped us off around 4am in Bagan. No one is a happy camper at 4am and all of the taxi drivers are eager to rip you off. GOLDEN TIP: Pay your taxi driver 5 dollars extra to take you the back route into Bagan. When you enter Bagan you are required to pay a fee of 25000 kyat ($18) for visitors tax (we thought it was a scam). Many taxi drivers know the secret way into Bagan where you do not need to pay when entering, you just have to pay a little extra to get out fee.
We finally arrived at Ostello Bello and quickly rented e-bikes to start our first sunrise tour. Be sure to get your own e-bike. Driving in the soft sand with two full grown people only ends in disaster. Within three days, I had wiped out on my e-bike countless times and even got stranded after a sunset ride where my bike suddenly ran out of juice. Thankfully after thirty minutes of waiting alone in the creepy pitch black amongst the thousands of temples, I found a nice local who drove me back to New Bagan and stashed my bike behind a temple for the company to gather later. The local informed me it is actually illegal for locals to transport visitors on the back of their bike and for that reason we had to drive the back roads to New Bagan in order for the police not to see us. Thank god he mentioned it because I was feeling a bit weary about the whole situation... The local told me all about his wife and kids and wouldn't even take 5000 kyat ($4) for helping save me! The people of Bagan are absolutely amazing!
The expansive views from the temples make all of the driving in soft sand worth it! You will not be disappointed!
Where to stay:
- OSTELLO BELLO is an amazing hostel. It is where most of the action is found within Bagan. This hostel offers daily activities for its travelers and a full restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner!
- There are many guesthouses in New Bagan surrounding Ostello Bello. This is definitely the area I recommend staying. It is close to the temples for sunrise and sunset tours and near many good restaurants.
- If you are feeling like you want to treat yourself there are many hotels such as the Aye Bar River View Resort and Zfreeti Hotel which offer rooms from $30-$50 per night.
What to do:
- Rent and e-bike and enjoy exploring the temples of Bagan. Be sure to rent your own because driving in the soft sand with two people on one bike only ends in disaster! Take it from me, who not only crashed multiple times, but ended up having to ditch my friend and have her walk the rest of the way.
- Be sure to catch a sunrise tour where they fly the hot air balloons above. Sunrises on the temples are much better and less crowded than the sunsets.
- If you aren't on a tight budget for about $250 you can ride in a hot air balloon above the temples in the morning. Be aware: If the weather becomes an issue they could push it back a few days so if you are keen sign up early and hopefully you can soar high above all of the other travelers on the temples.
- Visit the temple with the market inside.
Where to eat:
- The Black Rose - BEST AVOCADO SALAD. Poly wart salad, kailan salad, and eggplant curry!
- Shwe Ou - Yummy salads and breakfast.
- The Moon Restaurant - Delicious Burmese food with numerous dishes to choose from.
- Weather Spoons Restaurant - Diverse menu, reasonable prices.