My Return Trip to the Heritage and History Bursting Plains of Bagan, Myanmar

As a traveler I usually embark on journeys to places I have never been to before. This rule though, comes with a few exceptions. Among the places I have returned sooner than I expected was Bagan in Myanmar. I always feel I have some unfinished business after I arrived home from my first trip there in March 2013. The itch to resolve that became the sole reason why exactly three years later – I penciled a plan for yet another jaunt to this ancient city. This time, I arrived as a solo traveler and armed with a lengthier period of time in exploring this olden city crawling with centuries-old temples and pagodas.

Temples, pagodas and monasteries of all sizes dominate your view. I spent a number of afternoons parking my e-bike on a random spot and striding aimlessly until I discover obscure ruins where I will find a quiet time to be alone with my thoughts
Got my Electronic-Motor Running

Riding an electronic-bike under the scorching sun of the summer month of March, I explored far and wide, stopping only to take photographs of the scattered ruins of many kingdom’s pasts. Yelling a series of ‘Wow’ to the wind as my spirit rejoices, I marveled at the spectacular and timeless vibe that lingers in this place. Enveloped by small pockets of towns fused with scores of small hotels and guest houses, Bagan is inhabited by some of the friendliest and nicest people I’ve met. My experience this time around, easily encompassed another memorable collective incursion into the history-rich plains of Bagan.

Consulting my map but still ending up getting lost and having more fun
Passing through off-the-beaten sandy trails, I was able to visit some of the most obscure temples and pagodas and accomplished covering more ground. As vast and tenacious the landscape of Bagan is, there is so much to see and discover. For five successive days, I awoke early before sunrise with an eagerness to explore. The bursting heritage and antiquity of this place served as the only motivation I needed.  

Kingdom of Pagan

Bagan is known as an ancient city situating in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar. The ruins that now lay scattered in its golden powdery plains, are from the kingdoms that flourished during the 9th century until the 13th century, when it served as the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan – the very first kingdom that consolidated all the regions under one rule and is also credited for introducing Theravada Buddhism and establishing the Burmese ethnicity and culture in the whole of Myanmar. During the peak of this kingdom, more than 10,000 Buddhist pagodas, monasteries and temples were built right on the vast Bagan plains.

What better way to remind you of Bagan’s timelessness than the many remnants of its many temples, monasteries and pagodas that still stands as far as the eyes can see.
After incessant invasions attempt by the Mongols, the Kingdom of Pagan eventually fell and the once glorious territory was reduced to pouches of settlements, at no point in history ever regaining its former glory. Old Bagan however, became a central pilgrimage destination for Buddhist pilgrims and a few more hundred temples and pagodas were built sometime between the 13th and 20th centuries. Battling forces of nature such as cyclones and earthquakes – many structures were damaged through the neglect of time. 

The Bagan sunset takes into another level of visual pleasure as the towering pagodas and temples serves as a beautiful foreground to the fiery setting sun in the horizon
Today, over 2,200 pagodas and temples serves as beautiful ruins and stunning reminder of that wonderful storied past. Slowly opening up to tourists, the country of Myanmar has managed to conserve these significant relics by establishing the Bagan Archeological Zone – which covers the whole Old and New Bagan region. This conservation effort also helped put Bagan in the map of travelers worldwide and is seen by many today, as comparable to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat complex. As a self-described archeology-junkie, I believe this city can hold its own candle and dishes a unique appeal to travelers like me who desires of historic ruins and magnificent scenery to photograph.

Traveler Meet-up and the Bagan Sunset

Upon settling in at my cabin at Bagan Lodge and Resort, I met with a Lithuanian girl named Egle through a mobile app and decided to meet up in the afternoon. Egle, I later learned works at a nearby hostel called Ostello Bello. After downing one bottle of Myanmar beer she told me about her ‘secret spot’ to best watch the sunset. Renting an electronic bike for each of us, we rode towards the lesser crowded temple she was telling me about to watch the famed sunset of Bagan.
Me and Egle atop his 'secret place' where less crowd of travelers watch the sunset from
Not soon after, I find myself sitting atop a temple with Egle along with three other travelers. The seconds that passed by became a moment of quiet solitude. As I stare at the beautiful undertaking of nature when the golden round shape of the sun slowly dives into the fiery horizon of the sky. Marveling at the visual feast I whispered a prayer of gratitude for being there at that exact moment. “I don’t want to be somewhere else” I told myself. “This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life”  

The solemn sunset and the striking visuals it brought, injected my insight to this place with an increased fascination. The next day, I would start and repeat the process for the next five days. I would rev my limited electronic bike engine to 50 kph and battle the unforgiving heat with the hissing wind kissing my face. Temple after temple, pagodas after the other; I hopped from one to another taking self-portraits and meeting locals along the way.

The Timelessness of Bagan

Other than Egle, I was fortunate to cross paths with a number of locals; each one displaying a genuine smile and a probing curiosity to my origin “Where you from?” many of them would ask me. “Ah Philippians” they would repeat back to me after I tell them “from the Philippines”. A lot of them sell souvenir items – but everyone engaged me in a friendly demeanor because most of them, other than wanting to earn from tourism, just wanted to practice their English by conversing with other travelers. One young girl named Zuzo even tried teaching me a few phrases in Japanese and Spanish. “I don’t go to school but I learn Japanese and Spanish from tourists” she tells me. “Come, sit here teach me your words in your country too”. I told her to remember the words “Salamat” and “Magandang Araw” if ever she meets another traveler from the Philippines.

This is Kune she pointed me another #temple 'good view up there' then when I was about to leave did she only mentioned the sand paintings she is selling. "Just please take a lookie". I ended up buying one painting of two monks walking side by side for only 2,000 kyats
In the succeeding days whenever I passed by the corner where she sets her stall selling cold beverages under a decade old tree – she would always recognize me and wave her hand. On my last day I stopped by to say goodbye and communicated to her that I might return next year. “Next year, my store bigger” she tells me in a confident manner. “I’m sure it will be” I replied as I gave her a thumbs up while I drove away aboard my electronic bike. 

My remembrances of Bagan have definitely occupied a bigger portion in my memory bank. The timeless atmosphere prevailing over these desert plains brings forth an abundance of heritage and history with it. As a traveler eager for new knowledge, exploring this part of the world is getting kind of addicting.  Just like how young Zuzo’s small stall shall expand someday, I feel like the lure of this ancient city is becoming stronger to myself as well.