Indiana Jones had to find his way through the Temple of Doom, but how are you going to find your way around the thousands of temples, pagodas and monasteries of Bagan?
1 Ride an e-bike in Bagan during temple exploration
Indy was pressured for time, you don’t need an escape by troop carrier or mind chart, but your clock is ticking
I’ll admit it; Dutch people are addicted to bikes. Luckily in this fairy tale region of the world, this addiction is a real asset, as an e-bike is a convenient and clean mode of transport. Renting an e-bike costs you around 7000 kyat per day. You’ll drive it like a pro on the tarmac within a few minutes. E-bikes don’t have gears, but you can drive up to 20 miles an hour. So exploring far into the temples of Bagan is fast and easy. The dirt roads between temples are a special challenge: rocks, potholes or loose sand are there in abundance to overcome. A friendly blast on the horn is customary when you are about to overtake someone. This helps you and others to be safe. Besides, it feels more like a greeting or at least an acknowledgement of the locals.
2 Add a local map to your Lonely Planet of Myanmar
Though leave your compass, it didn’t help Indy
You have a few days in Myanmar? Decide which temples you want to visit and combine a local map with your Lonely Planet. Just mark temples of interest on the local map as this one is more detailed. With busy traffic and lots of temples around choosing quickly which way to go will be of great benefit, so be decisive. You’ll soon see that not all names on the maps are the same so you’ll have to puzzle a bit to enjoy the most densely populated area with regard to Buddhist temples in the world. Beware, roads or trails might stop without a warning. This just makes exploration of the Bagan Archaeological Zone even more fun.
3 Avoid the Bagan viewing tower
If you don’t want to be spotted by other tourists and want to explore the kingdom yourself…
The watchtower in Bagan might give you a panoramic view of this stunning archaeological zone, but it is situated some distance from the most beautiful temples. Sadly, the architecture of the building itself neither respects ancient rules nor authentic standards. People like the view from the tower, but if you do you will need binoculars. I suggest instead leaving your binoculars behind and feeling, touching and smelling the temples yourself when you explore them close-up. You can better experience and promote Bagans’ heritage by visiting places which are not so touristic. Always, always treat the environment with care and respect as you are walking on holy grounds.
4 Let ancient temples pull you in
I promise no magic stones inside, but magic Buddha’s are definitely around in Ananda & Sulamani Temple
You must not miss – unless of course your huge sunhat is covering your eyes – the biggest temples of Bagan: Sulamani Temple or Ananda Temple. If you only have limited time don’t spend too much of it selecting the temples you want to see, because of the temperature you can’t see all temples on show and that’s ok, just make sure you fit these two in. The area is big and you’ll be automatically drawn to beautiful and ancient temples a mile off. Ananda Temple is the biggest and most sacred pagoda and was built in 1105. Inside you’ll find four Buddha’s all made out of a single teak tree. The other temple you will encounter, Sulamani, was created 1183 AD.
5 Choose a flashlight as weapon of your choice
Indy used a flaming torch, let’s go for the modern edition now
Although most phones may provide extra light in times of need, you probably want to spare your battery. It’s hot in Bagan, this doesn’t help your phone battery, besides you want to make the most of this moment by taking pictures and beautiful panoramas. You’ll find many temples in Bagan are adorned with ancient paintings. These are sometimes very rich in detail and protected with a fence. So to really enjoy this aspect of the golden temples, don’t stay in the dark! Tip: Be careful! Remember you walk barefoot and there is no cleaning lady to remove dust – or other objects – from the floors.
6 Be nice to sellers, but don’t give money to children
Indiana Jones took action against child slavery, how about you?
Don’t give money to children; this way you are simply promoting begging. Kids should go to school and their parents should not be encouraged to exploit them. Why not play with them? This increases their self-esteem and may help them in the long run. I remember a little bright boy collecting money from all over the world. He proudly showed dollars and loads of other currencies. Of course I wanted to pat him on the back and give him a Euro or two to complete his collection. Then I remembered; if I gave him money, his parents would never let him go to school…
7 Eat and drink in the shade of the temples
No one’s forcing you to eat monkey brains here, you’ll enjoy chicken, pork or fish with sticky rice
The views from the tops of the temples in Bagan are stunning. Inside you’ll find a place to retreat and eat. After climbing down, position yourself in front of one of the four Buddha’s. Enjoy the shade and bring a plastic rug or use one which is already on the floor. You may also encounter others paying their respects to Buddha, which only makes this stay more special. Buy lunch – which may consist of Indian, Chinese or Thai food – before you enter the temple. Don’t forget to bring water…. plenty of water!
8 Be careful for snakes, pigeons and bats
Pigeons and bats won’t attack, but snakes hide in the dark so if you fear them like Indiana Jones be aware
I haven’t seen any snakes in Bagan, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t here. Snakes don’t like the heat that much, so especially in the dark and cooler evenings you need to be aware. The temples themselves are not so clean you will find enormous Buddha’s covered in white pigeon droppings. The dark brown droppings you will encounter on floors are from bats. If you listen carefully you might hear them screeching as well. Look where you place you bare feet and clean your feet well on leaving the temple. Bring alcohol or disinfectant emulsion and plasters with you, snakes almost certainly won’t hurt you, but you could easily hurt yourself!
9 Don’t join the sunset junkies of Bagan
Indiana Jones might drive off during a perfect sunset, but real sunsets here can be tricky
Sunbeams make the temples of Bagan stand out. The golden tones are magnified and therefore make this a magical landscape. It’s a pretty sight. Be warned however, the moment you approach a temple, someone will try to sell or take you on a tour. When you’re standing on top – after conquering complete darkness and claustrophobic staircases – you might be surprised others are here as well. Together you share the terrace of the temple, a brief fleeting moment in the evening sun. Remember to shoot pictures or video and kiss your better half (as this is the moment and it better be romantic!). Don’t forget to really enjoy this place; it’s easy to get distracted by your own photography or film making, take some time to breath. This is not the Temple of Doom: you don’t have to rush, just let it all in.
Images: pic, pic 2, pic 3, pic 4