Sunrise, Sunset, over Bagan.

Same story today, 5am wake up. Get ready, check sky. Looking much better than yesterday, bike guy waiting for me, no hesitation this time as I sped off to the pagoda from last night.

Arriving nice and early there were only a few locals putting out their wares for the day. It was a beautiful clear morning and I was super excited for the sunrise. A few more people slowly arrived but no more than 10. So it never felt crowded. As the sun rose it sent a golden light over the pagodas of Bagan.

It was seriously one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and as the sun rose higher it just got better and better. It’s definitely nice to be able to walk the whole way around the pagoda and get different perspectives and photos of the place.

Sitting watching the sun climb higher and higher was a total lesson in contentment and I soaked up the atmosphere. Around 7am I decided it was time to move, and, after a quick walk around the nearby pagoda, off I went.

Today I had a rough plan to explore old Bagan’s temple complex and palace and try and see some of the pagoda I missed yesterday. It was great driving around this early, it was cool and even less people were about than yesterday.

After stopping off at a few cool looking pagoda I found myself by one of the main sights, Shewsandaw Pagoda, I wandered around here for a little while, but it’s definitely a shame you can’t climb up it at the moment.

My next destination was the golden palace of Bagan. I parked up just off the main old Bagan street and walked through past several cool pagoda, eventually arriving at the gates of the palace. I can’t remember exactly how much it was to go in, but it’s definitely not a must see place in Bagan.

It was a nice change of pace from the pagoda, but it’s not original and it doesn’t take long to wander around.

I left the palace and went back to my bike, my next destination, via a few more pagoda which were pretty cool, was to reach the river Irrawaddy. Arriving there I parked up in old Bagan and walked down some steps to check it out. Loads of locals were arriving and departing on boats, and a boat trip was offered to me on numerous occasions.

I opted to sit in a restaurant and have a drink while I watched the river world go by, though they seemed a bit shocked that I wanted to come in to their restaurant. I grabbed a coffee then departed, thinking it was maybe a bit too early.

I meandered down towards new Bagan as the heat of the day grew and grew. Only stopping at the more interesting pagoda. I checked Google maps and found another riverside place to try, and it was worth it.

Called the riverfront restaurant, they were super friendly and I had a lovely sweet pineapple shake, and another delicious tea leaf salad. Sat overlooking the river and mountains it was good to be out of the sun for a bit.

It was almost 2pm and I was feeling like a nap after being up so early. I went back to the hotel and set my alarm ready to try sunset again. This time it was better, still a bit too cloudy but much nicer than last time. Still with only a handful of other tourists sat with me. I chatted to one local from Mandalay for a while before his tour group of 4 ladies wanted to leave.

Once I had watched the sunset I was pretty tired, and headed back to the hotel, grabbing a beer in the bar bit foregoing the night swim. After the amazing sunset the day before I decided to have a bit of a lie in after a week of 5/6am starts. Today was my last day, I had a night bus booked at 7pm to take me to Inle Lake.

I had covered most of the temples and decided to spend the morning at the pool, where I saw an amazing rainbow in the clear sky. I also managed to get an extra 2 hours to checkout. I headed back to Moon for my lunch, trying a coconut curry this time. All the food has been amazing there and I would definitely recommend it. After the food I walked towards the river, checking out a golden pagoda that sits up high on one of the bends of the river.

I wasn’t sure what to do with the rest of my day, so I had a wander through New Bagan before heading to the riverfront restaurant from yesterday for sunset. I was again the only one there and had a front row seat to an amazing sunset. Fisherman glided past on their boats up and down the river and the golden pagoda lit up with the last rays of sunshine.

It was then time to catch my bus, so I walked back to the hotel and sat waiting patiently. A mini truck arrived packed full of other tourists and took us out to the main bus station. I got on the bus and almost immediately fell asleep, looking forward to Inle Lake.

Biking around Bagan.

So I woke up at 5am and started getting ready, looked outside and it was full on thick cloud. So I went back to bed for a bit and got up for a swim and breakfast at the hotel. No sunrise today!

I walked across the road and rented an electronic scooter, charged and ready to go for 6000 kyat for the full day till 9pm. I was a little worried at first but it was either this, cycle or walk, and I was excited to explore.

Off I sped on the main road through Bagan, and luckily there was hardly any traffic, and the roads are in pretty good shape. I headed up towards Old Bagan and the temples started coming thick and fast. I was given a map and you can download one from a keychain you get when you pay the Bagan archaeological fee.

However I decided to go rogue and try and be a full on explorer. So at some point I turned off down a dirt track towards some of the huge brown pagodas. I stopped off and made sure I remembered to turn the bike off so I wouldn’t run the battery down. I then wandered slowly through the pagodas, each one seemed to have a Buddha inside.

They were beautiful, old and it was a surreal experience finally being here after reading and hearing so much about it. There were pagodas of all sizes just on their own, but also bigger complexes with outer walls and doorways to explore. I definitely felt like Indiana Jones and was sure I would find some ancient treasure.

After taking some fun pics and probably being far too excited about it all I headed down the next dirt track I could see, the paths here are quite small and sandy but I found it pretty easy going. It was only when the sand got a bit deeper that the bike struggled and I learnt to avoid this pretty quickly.

I actually was looking for a pagoda that I could climb up to get some good views, and later there would be some random locals asking if they could take me to some, bit I heard that after the earthquake in …… A lot of the pagoda were shut as it’s too dangerous to climb them.

I continued on, stopping at ones I liked the look of, jumping on and off the bike as I pleased. Then I saw a huge temple near one of the places I had stopped, so I worked out which path seemed to lead there and headed over.

It turned out this was one of the more popular points of interest, called Dhammayan Gyi temple. You could go inside this one and go through huge corridors and small windows taking you in and out of the building. There were even a few shacks outside selling drinks and snacks.

After this I continued my exploration until about 1pm, realised I had been driving around for about 4 and a half hours so decided I would head back to Moon in New Bagan for lunch. This time I had a bright green mint and lime drink, and tried the traditional Myanmar tea leaf salad.

Now this salad is literally one of the tastiest things I have ever tried. Fermented tea leaves, tomatoes, onions, and a load of crunchy beans and nuts all covered in garlic and chilli. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted and I felt bad for the aubergine curry I had next. It still tasted good but nothing like the salad.

After cooling down a bit in the restaurant and chatting to a guy who worked there, I stopped off at a couple more pagoda but it was super hot by this point, so after driving around through Old Bagan and up to ….. I drove straight back to the hotel and chilled out for a couple of hours.

After sunrise had been a miss I was looking forward to the sunset, and went back out on my bike at around 5pm knowing sunset was just after 6pm. The guy in Moon restaurant had given me a couple of tips on where to go but as I drove up the main road out of New Bagan the sky was dark and flashes of lightning were visible on the horizon.

I passed one of the guaranteed spots pretty quickly but wanted to check out the others, this was a big mistake as I then struggled to find them, only managing to find some small banks that you can view the sunset from.

So I quickly headed back to the spot from earlier, just making it about ten minutes before sunset. Although it didn’t really matter as it was again a bit too cloudy for a decent one. It was cool seeing the lightning and rain in the distance, I soon realised it was heading my way and jumped on my bike, getting back just before the heavens opened.

So I ended the night with a drink and swim at the pool as lightning illuminated the night sky above me.

Mingun and the cracked pagoda.

I was up early again today, knowing that my bus to Bagan was booked for 2pm I deliberated on what to do. I went down for a breakfast of noodles and fruit and spoke to the reception for help. I wanted to know if I could make it to Mingun, an area North of Mandalay, and back by 2pm.

Luckily for me if I left in the next ten minutes I could make the 9am boat up the river, so with the help of the hostel staff I was racing there in the back of a tuk tuk.

After sitting around from 8:45 the boat was acually ready to leave for 9am so myself and 4 other tourists walked a very unsteady plank of wood up to the boat and we sped off up river. The journey took around an hour and it was great, I spent it bird watching and looking for river dolphins, unfortunately I didn’t see any of the latter.

Once you arrive in Mingun you pay a small tourist fee, and decide if you want to walk around yourself or let a local latch on to you and take you around with the expectancy of a tip at the end.

A young guy latched on to me and I let him take me around as he promised me some thanaka paste. It’s a traditional paste made from a tree, they rub the bark onto a flat stone with some water to create it. Then apply it to areas at risk of sun damage.

Thanaka’d up the first sight was the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, a huge unfinished pagoda, first the king who was building it died, then it was hit by several earthquakes. It’s very impressive even unfinished and it’s cool seeing the huge cracks going down through it.

Next up is the Mingun bell, the second largest in the world and the largest uncracked bell. I got to stand in it and listen to people striking it with a huge piece of wood before I had a go myself.

The 3rd sight is the white pagoda, almost blinding to the eye in the sunlight. Hsinbyume pagoda is striking with its wavy design and golden pagoda at the summit. I wandered around here in awe.

I stopped for a drink as it was getting pretty hot at this point and chatted to my guide. Then we went to see a small pagoda with some interesting Buddha inside. One was made completely from one teak tree, another was stone and another made from metal. It was nice but probably not a must see.

The huge traditional boat just outside was pretty cool, again being carved from one huge tree. The last stop were the huge lion sculptures that are now missing their heads. I thought they looked more like elephants but was assured they were lions. At this point I went my seperate way from the guide, giving him 5000 for his troubles. He started asking for US dollars and I think was a bit disappointed I didn’t have any.

I spent the next hour wandering around checking out all the fried goods and trinkets lining the main street. Then it was back on the boat and back to Mandalay. I took a motorbike taxi back to the hostel with 30 minutes to spare till my bus.

Then it was a 6 hour, 96 Mile journey of stopping every 10-15 minutes to let people on and off. Even when I thought the little mini bus was full they pulled out plastic stools for more people to sit on. I was super excited to get going to Bagan, it’s probably the main reason people head to Myanmar.

I arrived at the station around 7:30pm and had to take an expensive taxi -12,000 kyat into New Bagan where I was staying. There are 3 areas you can choose from, the others being Old Bagan and Nyaung-U. It’s pretty same same with anywhere you stay as they kind of surround the main temple area. You have to pay 25,000 kyat for a 3 day pass to the Bagan area. About £12 which I didn’t mind at all if it allows them to keep the temple complex in good shape.

I checked in and immediately headed to a vegetarian place I had heard of called Moon (Be kind to animals) it was a 15 minutes walk from the hotel and I saw my first pagoda in the darkness just off the main road. The food at Moon was amazing, I had a tea leaf curry with rice, it tasted so fresh and garlicky. I couldn’t wait to try more on the menu.

Heading back I was up early (again) to rent an E-bike, am electric motor bike at 5am to go see the sunrise from one of the pagoda.

Exploring the ancient Cities of Myanmar.

Today I was up super early, I got everything ready the night before including a shower so I could get up 15 minutes before Min Min was picking me up. This was still 4:30am but I was excited enough to not feel too tired, Min Min was waiting for me outside and off we went towards U Bein Bridge, the longest wooden bridge in the world. It’s located south of Mandalay and is a popular spot for sunrise and sunset.

On the way we stopped at a pagoda where the monks were washing the face of Buddha, people arrived to pray and attach gold leaf to the body of the Buddha. It was a nice little start to the day.

We drove out of the City and into the countryside, arriving at U Bridge at around 6am. It was so quiet and only 2 other tourists around, unfortunately it was also really cloudy so I wouldn’t get a good sunrise. I still loved walking along the bridge and taking with the locals, I even found a little chameleon friend.

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Once I had walked to one side and back it was on to the next part of the tour, the ancient Cities. We stopped at a huge broken pagoda, destroyed by an earthquake, I had the freedom to explore the whole place, and I had it all to myself. After about 20 minutes or so I was ready for breakfast, with Min Min waiting just across the road from me.

Breakfast was a traditional Myanmar dish consisting of thick cold noodles with egg and a chilli, garlic peanut sauce. It was delicious and came with a banana plant soup. I ate it so fast the lady serving in the little covered shack was asking if I needed more! Even the little side dish of bean sprouts with a slice of lime tasted really good.

Once breakfast was finished it was back on the bike to continue onwards. We now headed to Innwa, one of the ancient Cities of Myanmar. The bike journey was so cool, passing by old temples, banana tree groves and rice paddies. We passed the old ancient walls of the City and really went off road.

The main place to see is a huge stone temple that you can explore, with a white and gold pagoda adjacent to it. I really enjoyed this place, it was a beautiful building and again I wandered around without seeing anyone else.

After I had been on my little adventure around the area, we continued to an old tower that had also been damaged by earthquakes, we didn’t linger here as you’re not able to climb it so no exploring!

The next stop was a small partly damaged pagoda with some cool Buddhas and great views of people working in the rice fields. This place was so peaceful, with villagers going about their morning duties and the scent of incense filling the air.

Our last stop in the Southern area of Mandalay was an old wooden monastery. I believe it’s used to teach children, but I couldn’t see anyone around, just a few squirrels and some dogs guarding the steps up, so I didn’t dare to climb them.

Next on the agenda was Sagaing hill, to get there we drove back up towards Mandalay before crossing the river over the …. bridge. Min Min stopped for me to take some pictures of the Irrawaddy river up close, then we started to ascend the hill.

Again I had to get off at the steepest part but it was definitely worth it as we reached the top and I took a short uphill walk to reach Soon U Ponya Shin pagoda, I hadn’t done any research on this so it was a great bonus. The bright blue curve of the temple along with all the Buddha inside was amazing. Plus the view of you walked a little further up over the whole river delta was spectacular.

We drove back down and stopped at one more pagoda, a controversial one that the government had painted gold against the community wishes. This one was good but I was a bit pagoda’d out at that point. We continued our drive and stopped for tea at a little teahouse while we waited to go to the next temple.

This next one was really cool, mainly because we got to watch the monks there chant and ring their bells before queueing up for food from one of the nearby villages. There was a lot of ceremony involved and it felt great to be able to watch it. They eat lunch at 11:30 and that’s their last meal for the day.

It was a long drive back into Mandalay but interesting to watch day to day life and the locals would always wave and smile when they saw me going past as a westerner.

Arriving back in Mandalay Min Min wanted to show me one last point of interest, Shwe In Bin monastery. I’m so glad he did as it was a beautiful wooden building with lots of intricate design. Monks walked peacefully about and I probably spent more time there than in some of the others places due to its beauty.

I was soon back at the hostel and ready to relax after being out for over 8 hours it cost me 20000 kyat for the whole day with Min Min, including food and drinks, he was so great and explained a lot about Myanmar life. I chilled out till the early evening coolness and had a wander around the hostel area. I don’t know if I was just in the wrong place but it felt like there wasn’t really much in the way of shops/restaurants or bars in Mandalay.

That evening I walked up the night market which wasn’t great, before finding a little restaurant on the street called Shan Ma Ma. It was similar to the night before, you ordered your main dish then got some sides and soup to go along with it. After explaining I only ate vegetables I was soon tucking into we great food again.

Suddenly the whole street went dark and I realised it was a power cut. My second of the holiday. Luckily the restaurant had a back up generator so I finished my meal with a beer before walking back some very dark streets and I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.