Bagan, Myanmar – Part 2

We begun our second day in Bagan with an early morning hot-air balloon flight! It was nothing less than amazing. I had flown in a hot-air balloon only once before, in Cappadocia, Turkey, back in 2013 (you can see the pics here).  And it was Jonathan’s first time. I have to say that I think the landscape of Cappadocia was more stunning, but the view of Bagan from the air, with its hundreds of temples dotted across the landscape, glowing in the dawn light, wasn’t far behind. It was incredible to see the vastness of the Bagan ‘complex’ from such a height – seeing it from the air really made me appreciate the greatness of the place. I’d highly recommend spending the bit of extra money whilst in Bagan and take a balloon flight.

We spent quite a few hours that day wandering around Myinkaba searching for the perfect piece of lacquerware. There isn’t much in Myinkaba, except a few workshops dotted amongst a few dozen homes. Myinkaba is the place to purchase laquerware in Myanmar. The people of Myinkaba have been producing lacquerware for generations, with many workshops producing their own unique styles and patterns. There are so many lacquerware workshops in Myinkaba (a small town located between Old Bagan and New Bagan) that it can be a little difficult to decide what to buy and from which workshop. Take some time to browse through a number of stores, talk to the store holders and get an indication of the price you should be paying. Most places have set prices, but will go down 10%-20% if you bargain hard enough. We spent close to 3 hours going back and fourth between the workshops, before finally setting our eyes on a particular piece, then bargaining on a price. We finally left with a stunning three piece lacquerware set (I had my eye on the piece in the first workshop we visited), which we now keep on display in our lounge room.

The remainder of the day was spent wandering around Bagan on our hired push-bikes, visiting the temples of Shwezigon Paya (with it’s beautiful gilded zedi), Htilominlo Pahto and finally watching the dusty sunset from Shwesandaw Paya.

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Essentials

To Do:
Hot-air ballooning! Just check out the photos above! Perhaps not quite as spectacular as hot-air ballooning over Capadoccia in Turkey, but it’s pretty good. Seeing all the temples, pagodas and stupas from the air at sunrise is absolutely spectacular. We spoke to a couple who have flown in hot-air balloons all over the world and they said they flight in Bagan is second only to that in Capadoccia. We flew with Balloons over Bagan, who are the pioneers of hot-air ballooning in Bagan (being the only outfit until about a year ago when Oriental Ballooning showed up) and seem run a well-oiled business. They employ experienced and well-trained pilots and have not had any incidents since their establishment in Bagan in 1999. I’d definitely recommend splurging on a hot-air balloon flight whilst in Bagan. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Shop:
If you want to purchase Myanmar lacquerware whilst on your trip, Bagan is the place to buy it. The small town of Myinkaba, located between Old Bagan and New Bagan, has been producing lacquerware for generations. There are a number of workshops in this town, so it’s worth taking the time to look around and compare styles, prices and quality. I purchased a beautiful piece from Shwe La Yaung Lacquareware Store, located on the main road of Myinkaba. I found a piece I fell in love with and the owner of the store was very helpful and informative. But do shop around before making a final purchase.

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Bagan, Myanmar – Part One

Bagan is one of those unique places, a place unlike anywhere else I have visited, although it is often likened to Angkor Wak in Cambodia. The Bagan archaeological zone, which an 100 square kilometre area and home to more than 2000 temples and pagodas, comprises of Nyang-U, New Bagan and Old Bagan. Each town is very different, Nyang-U being the tourist hub, New Bagan being the ‘new’ town which locals now live after being forced out of Old Bagan in the 1990s when the military government hoped to make the area into a international tourist destination (which also resulted in some bad restoration works), and Old Bagan where most of the largest and most exquisite temples can be found.

We spent our first afternoon meandering around the temples near Old Bagan, being amazed at the size and complexity of them. We were pleasantly surprised not to find too many tourists around, especially since it was the ‘peak’ season for tourism in Myanmar. However, there were many Myanmar people from places other than Bagan, who had camped there, along with their cattle, to celebrate the annual three week Ananda Pagoda Festival.

We finished our first day in Bagan with a sunset view over the Ayeyarwady River from Bu Phaya temple.
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Essentials

Getting There:
We chose to fly to Bagan rather than taking a bus. We flew from Heho airport to Nyaung-U, from where we took a taxi to Old Bagan. The taxi should cost about 8000 kyat. We flew with Air KBZ and found their service quite good. Although we were quite relieved to complete each flight unscathed, as all the aircraft, ATR 72-500s, appeared to be quite old and being Myanmar, we were not sure how well or how regularly they were serviced.

Stay:
We stayed at the Hotel @ Tharabar Gate and thoroughly enjoyed it. Located just outside the gates to the archeological site of Old Bagan, it is conveniently located close to many of the major temples. The entire Bagan area is rather compact, so it’s not difficult to ride a bike to New Bagan or Nyaung-U either. This was our little accommodation splurg during our trip and it was well worth while – beautiful bed linen, a large sleek room and stunning bathroom, lush gardens, a stunning pool area and not forgetting the delicious breakfasts – I couldn’t get enough of the bircher museli, nor the waffles and pancakes. Everyone needs a bit of pampering once in a while, right? Deluxe rooms are US$240 per night, and suites are US$400 (we obviously got a deluxe room).

Eat:
The only pitfall of staying in Old Bagan is that there aren’t many dining options near by, unlike in New Bagan and Nyaung-U. However, we did enjoy the meals we had at our hotel (although a bit pricey by Myanmar standards – a pasta dish was about 6,000 kyat and woodfired pizzas 12,000 kyat), as well as a couple of meals we had at The Moon Vegetarian Restaurant. The Moon does an excellent guacamole served with papadums (2500 kyat) and great fresh fruit lassis (1500 kyat). They also have an array of interesting salads.