By Sacha Bunnik
Exploring Bagan and its surrounding countryside in northern Myanmar is like taking a trip back in time, to a place where time has stood still. It’s what I imagine rural Thailand or pre-war Vietnam would have been like 50 years ago, so peaceful and so authentic.
Bagan is home to more than 1500 temples, monasteries and stupas, all spread out over a vast area. You find them between houses, in farmers’ fields and overwhelmingly you get the feeling that they are everywhere.
We arrived early in the morning after a short flight from Yangon, the current capital of Myanmar, and headed straight to the local Nyaung Oo Markets to experience the colour and smells of the local produce.
The variety of fruit and vegetables on offer at this market was staggering.
It’s nice to see the different tropical fruits that you don’t normally see at the big supermarkets back home, like the massive jackfruit.
Our local guide Thynn explained all the different uses of everything we saw. She even showed us some natural shampoo that the locals used. My daughter Amie was not too keen to try this as it looked like a small bag of muddy water.
The main reason for any visit to Bagan is to see the temples and stupas; it’s what put Bagan on the tourist map. Our first site was Shwezigon Pagoda, built around 2600 years ago and is said to house eight of Buddha’s hairs, making it one of the most revered places in Myanmar.
It’s become a pilgrimage site and most people from Myanmar plan to visit at least once in their lifetime. The size of Shwezigon Pagoda is mind blowing, especially considering its age. The main stupa is 99 metres high and covered in gold leaf.
Lunch was at Queens Café, a local establishment where Amie and I ordered a full meal with drinks. It came to a total of $10 USD and was one of the best meals we had (the curry was not too hot).
After lunch we visited a range of smaller stupas and temples that are scattered around Bagan.
Most are located in farmers’ fields which gives them the feeling they have almost been forgotten whilst life has continued on around them.
We were able to climb on top of one stupa, the staircase was very steep, but the view from the top was worth the effort. Bagan is a photographer’s dream.
In the afternoon we enjoyed the hotel swimming pool.
Built with an infinity pool, you can marvel at the temples in the distance while you swim.
We got picked up at our hotel around 5ish for a sunset cruise on the mighty Ayeyarwady River.
Adding to this magical experience was that the boats were colourful, long wooden boats.
Nothing was more relaxing than when the engines were cut so we could just float downstream.
The magnificent sunset over the river and mountains just topped it all off.