burma <br> bagan

From Yangon we flew north to Bagan, land of the golden temples and that infamous hot air ballon shot on the front cover of most Burma guidebooks. We checked into the Zreeti hotel located in backpacker town Nyaung Nu. The hotel is clean, has OK WiFi, a pool and is conveniently located for temple exploring, food, drink and service (note you should bring USD to pay as their exchange rate from USD to Kyats isn’t great).

Bags dumped, we headed straight over to Balloons over Bagan to book a sunrise balloon ride over the temples (when in Rome!). Deciding to skip the electric bikes and instead go for good old fashioned pedal power we scurried around town looking for mountain bikes. After no joy we settled on a couple of dutchies from Forever Bikes where the owner is super helpful regardless or whether or not you’re spending money. We also booked our taxi to Monwya, our next destination, here (135,000 Kyat).

We’d read articles about visiting the temples early morning both to miss out on the heat and the crowds so we set our alarms for 7am and off we went. We’d done some research before hand using our trusty Rough Guide but we decided to freestyle it on the first day, cycling down to Old Bagan and turning off whenever we saw a temple we liked. This worked a treat as it meant we had many temples to ourselves, especially before 10am. Some temples have stairs you can climb which give good views of the plains, although when we visited a few of the temples were closed due to damage from the earthquake – we’d heard that the Bulidi temple was a good spot to watch sunset but finding it closed we clambered up a stupa located just opposite and joined a few others for sunset.

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The next day we had a list of the temples we wanted to see  – one of our favourites was South Guni, which you can climb and due to its dirt path access is pretty quiet. We also crossed paths with a big, long silver snake here but luckily he was just crossing the tracks…

Temple number 1774 is another good one, however it’s shut because of damage but the daughter of the key holder family who’s just 11 and speaks excellent English took us on a 10 minute walk through the fields to an unnamed temple that was climbable and we watched the sunset from there with only a couple of other people. We’d recommend doing this, it’s a different experience, but do tip generously as it all goes direct to EiEi and her family!

Of the restaurants we ate in we’d recommend the curries and salads at Wonderfully Tasty and the super local salads and noodles at Perfect Food & Tea which is located away from restaurant road so offerings and prices are local level rather than tourist. Then spending a bit more on a meal at Sanon – think Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen only in Burma. This charity restaurant trains underprivileged Burmese, its super clean, great surrounds and excellent food. Plus you’re doing good!

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We left on the morning of New Years Eve but ended our visit in style with a sunrise hot air ballon ride. A great way to see the temples and to get a feel for the vastness of it all. If you want to do a balloon ride we’d recommend booking in as far advance as possible. We got the last two seats with Balloons over Bagan but we’ve heard Oriental Balloons are better (they were full) as the baskets are smaller.

Hot air dispelled we set off for Monywa…