We are back for another episode of me versus the world blog post. This time, I explored Myanmar, a once mighty kingdom of the early civilization in South East Asia.
The sole reason why I decided to go to Myanmar was because I have always wanted to see Bagan in person. One of the most photogenic plains in the world where over 2000 temples and pagodas stood mightily for hundreds of years. The temples and pagodas stretch out as far as the eye can see. I was expecting to see a place like no others, and I was not disappointed.
Instead of planning every specific detail on where to go, this time I decided to wing it and go with the flow. The result was a memorable trip that I will keep for the rest of my life. Here's the basic detail of my itinerary:
- Day 1: Sunset in Mandalay
Arrive in Mandalay, Myanmar around noon. Took a motorcycle to the see the Golden Palace Monastery (Shwenandaw Kyaung), a beautiful teak monastery, the only original building of the Mandalay Palace that was not destroyed during the World War 2.
Experienced Sunset at the Mandalay Hill and walked back pass the Mandalay Palace and to the hotel and prepare for the early morning sunrise trip.
- Day 2: Motorcycle Around Mandalay
Took a motorcycle in the early morning (5 AM) to see the sunrise at the U Bein Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world. After a few hours there, my guide of the day (motorcycle driver) took me to Mahamuni Buddha Temple to see the Mahamuni Buddha image, which is highly venerated and central to many people's lives in Myanmar. After that we went to Sagaing Hill, to climb and overlook the city of Sagaing and the Irrawaddy river from the top of the mountain. My driver insisted on showing me more gold pagodas around Sagaing, including the Shwe Kyet Kya Paya and Kaungmudaw Pagoda. We then drove for an hour to a very remote monastery called the Bagaya Monastery in Inwa, Myanmar. This is one of the best places on Mandalay hands down, so make sure to check the monastery out. After a whole day under the burning sun, we went back to the Airport and took a flight to Bagan.
Arrived in Bagan, bought an archaeological ticket for $25 (and lost it instantly, more on that later :( ) and then took a free airport transfer provided by the hotel to Nyuang U. Since it rained pretty heavily, I decided to end the day and explored the old city of Bagan in the early morning instead.
- Day 3: Biking Through Bagan
Another early morning, I woke up at 5, rented a bike provided by the hotel and proceeded to the first temple, Shwe Zi Gon. Since there are more than 2000 temples to explore, I rode the bike around the whole city of Nyuang U, Old Bagan, and New Bagan all day long. It was a long trip but very well worth it. After I finally completed my dream to bike around Bagan, I returned to the hotel, sleep and prepare for my departure tomorrow.
- Day 4: Return Home
Took an early flight back to Mandalay, and eventually back to Bangkok concluding my trip in Myanmar.
- Burmese people are very conservative. I biked through Bagan without feeling any danger at all. I decided to experiment further and left a bike unlocked and walked inside a temple. The bike was still there when I returned.
- You must take off your shoes whenever you are entering any temples in Myanmar
- Some temples in Bagan have a secret passage that will let you go up to the top of the temple. It's basically a small hole in the wall with extremely steep and narrow stairs which will lead you up to the top. Watch out for these secret passages and it may reward you with a beautiful scenery and an uninterrupted peace.
- If you are biking in Bagan (which you should), bring a map with you. Most of the signs are in Burmese and your map will be your way out of the maze.
- Don't rent a car or a horse cart for your trip around Bagan. Go with a traditional bike or an electronic one. Basically, any transportation that put you in control of the vehicle because there are many temples that aren't listed on the map, and you will be able to visit these hidden gems that are only accessible by bike.
- You get a much better rate if you exchange your USD to Kyatt at the bank than from the airport or your hotel. Simply hire a motorcycle driver to a place you wanna go, tell them you have only USD and ask them to take you to the bank before going. That's what I did and I got a much better rate there.
- Don't bother getting a SIM card here. For foreigners, it could cause as high as US$200 for a SIM. The internet is very slow and unreliable as well so keep that in mind.
- Stay in Nyuang U when visiting Bagan. The hotels are much cheaper and you get to experience the locals much more than staying in the Old Bagan or New Bagan area. The distance between Nyuang U and Bagan is not far and it is bike-able. The road consists of ups and downs, and you can stop at temples along the way to restore your stamina.
- Bagan Map: Download here
Temples worth visiting in Bagan
- Shwe San Daw Paya - Best for Sunrise/Sunset
- Htilominlo Temple
- Ananda Temple
- Thatbyinnyu Temple
- Dahmmayan Gyi Phaya
- Sulamani Temple
Now, you are prepared for the trip of your life! Without further ado, Lets travel together through Myanmar with BucketListly.
Day 1: Sunset in Mandalay
As I arrived in Mandalay, I went to the AirMandalay office to pay and retrieve my pre-booked domestic ticket to Bagan that I had to use the next day. It took them 40 minutes to arrange all this and I almost didn't catch a free bus which run on schedule to the city centre. Apparently, Mandalay International Airport is 40 minutes away from the city. The free shuttle bus really helped.
As I was sitting at the back, an AirAsia employee approached me and offered to drive me around Mandalay the next day. After he saw my itinerary, he quoted me for US$ 20. It was a good deal, also I thought (more on that later). I accepted and scheduled to meet him at 5 AM in front of my hotel ( Hotel Yadanarbon) the next day.
I was really impressed with the room and the service at Hotel Yadanarbon. I recommend this hotel to anyone who are looking for a nice hotel for their Mandalay trip.
I hired a motorcycle driver from the hotel to the Golden Palace Monastery (Shwenandaw Kyaung) for 800 kyatt (US$0.8) one way. The monastery was built with a teak wood and it is the only remaining building of the palace that still stood after most of it were destroyed during the World War 2.
Everything was built using teak woods which gave it a very mysterious look. Honestly, I prefer these teak temples more than golden pagodas you see everywhere in Myanmar.
As I was about to leave, I met a fellow solo traveler at the entrance. I decided to talk to her, expecting to exchange a few pleasantries before I go to Mandalay hill. Her name was Valerine and before I know it the small introduction turned into a deep interesting conversation that stretched over an hour. It was definitely one of the best conversations I had in years. We talked about my culture her culture, our lives and the thing we went through before we decided to travel alone. Surprisingly, the experience was somewhat similar. We were met with skepticism, and after we did it, people started excluding us from the normal circumstance and claim that our lives are different that's why we are able to travel. The truth is, we were once like them, but we decided to take a leap of faith.
Valerine also suggested many places to visit in Mandalay (Inwa) and Bagan. I took her suggestions and I was not disappointed. Another great reason to why we should talk to fellow travelers while traveling.
Next stop was Mandalay Hill. I took a motorcycle up the Mandalay Hill and I was expecting to climb a few hundreds of steps, but the driver dropped me at the escalator. Without any sweat, I reached the top and saw these amazing sceneries. Beautiful isn't it?
Valerine suggested I walk from the Mandalay Hill back to the hotel so that I can see how the locals live, and so I did.
As I walked for an hour around the Mandalay Palace, I met this little girl playing with her sister on a sidewalk. She was shy but kept smiling at me and she was willing to let me snap a photo of her. I now know why Valerine recommended me to walk back. It was this little interaction with the locals that made my trip so memorable.
Beautiful sunset at the Mandalay Palace. I'm glad I decided to walk back.
After 2 hours walking, I collapsed at the hotel and ended my first day in Myanmar.
Day 2: Riding a Motorcycle around Mandalay
I woke up at 4:30 AM and my driver were there on time at 5. A 30 minutes drive from the hotel and we arrived at the U Bein Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world. This record-breaking status didn't interest me as much as the fact that I can observe how people live their day to day life relying on this bridge.
People living their lives. Monks walking, people exercising, fishermen fishing. Although, I didn't get to see the sunrise because of all the clouds, observing and conversing with the locals are as rewarding.
Me having a little too much fun! :)
First stop, the Mahamuni Buddha Temple. There's a museum dedicated to explaining the birth of Buddha and how he influenced many countries in Asia. Very informative.
We went to Sagaing Hill next. Although it was not as impressive as I had thought, I did spent a peaceful hour up there.
My driver insisted on changing my plan and showing all these gold pagodas. Personally some of these pagodas, you can see it elsewhere. These are not exactly unique to Mandalay.
We stopped for a little local snack.
Since we had plenty of time left, my driver said he will take me to Inwa. First, I thought he knew the way but we stopped at every turn to ask where we had to go. In the end, we followed these monks who were also headed the same way. It tooku s almost an hour to reach the Bagaya monastery in Inwa, but it was well worth the trip. Bagaya is another beautiful teak monastery which I find much more interesting than all the gold pagodas I visited combined.
As I walked inside, I heard a chanting echoed throughout the corridor. I walked in further and stumbled upon this.
This was where it got interesting
After 2 hours there, I left and went to the airport. My guide asked me If I wanted to grab a lunch. He told me he knows a cheap place near the airport for lunch so I decided to go along with it. This was where it got interesting. Apparently, the restaurant was his parent's and it was not that cheap. It cost me US$ 3 for a plate of rice and a few types of meat, and chickens. Not just that, when it comes to me paying him the agreed price, he said that the previous price no longer applies because we went off course. Most of the temples we went were his idea and he should've told me about the price increase beforehand. In the end, I had to pay him US$37 and I was left feeling a little bitter.
My recommendation is to not go along with whatever they suggest and stick to the schedule, no matter how hard they insisted.
I flew out of Mandalay with AirMandalay and within 30 minutes, I was greeted with this beautiful plain of Bagan. "Finally, the highlight of this trip has come", I thought to myself.
At the Nyuang U airport. Traditional luggage waiting :). While walking out the airport, an official approached me and asked me to pay for an archaeological entry ticket which cost me US$25.
Arrived at the New Park Hotel. One of the best service I had for a US$30 per night price range hotel.
The reception asked me for the archaeological ticket, and this was the first time in my life that I instantly lost the ticket. It was only 10 minutes drive from the airport and I lost the damn ticket. Because of my stupidity, I had to pay an extra US$25 for the ticket.
I ended the day, US$25 + US$12 poorer but I had high hopes for the next day.
Day 3: Biking Around Bagan
I woke up super early, rented a bike and rode around Nyuang U. My first stop was the Shwe Zi Gon pagoda.
Nothing special here in my opinion. Just a golden pagoda like you see all over Myanmar.
These temples aren't on the map I bought but are equally stunning. Some of them are deep in a jungle and you wouldn't have noticed it if you didn't ride a bike. I can't stress how important it is to ride a bike in Bagan. If you are here, rent a bike!
I felt like I was Indiana Jones ,exploring these lost temples. There were no one around in most of the remote temples I went. It was a majestic experience.
Here's me with my companion for the day.
This is the Htilominlo Temple. One of the closest big temple near Nyuang U.
I found this little remote temple which I had it all to myself. I also found a secret passage leading to the top which gave me an overview of the scale of Bagan. You can see how narrow and steep the passage is. I had to squeeze my body in to reach the top. When you are here in Bagan, make sure to watch out for these secret passages and you maybe rewarded with a view not many will see.
Here's the Ananda temple, a gigantic temple with 4 humongous standing statue of buddhas stood at 9.5 meters high.
After a few hours exploring the outskirt of Bagan, I finally arrived at the Old Bagan district.
Another temple with a secret passage. As you can see, the view in the Old Bagan was freaking awesome!
This is the Shwe San Daw Pagoda. The best place for you to experience sunrise and sunset.
A pyramid-like a temple. It took me ages to get to this place. I biked through a maze of sand tracks and fields for hours and ended up in a cactus field grown by the locals nearby.
It gave me the sense of adventurous I have always been looking for.
I was lost in the middle of nowhere under the heat of the thousand suns, but I was grateful though. It was the most fun experience I had in years, being lost in Bagan. It gave me the sense of adventure I have always been looking for in my life.
And here's the last temple I visited, the Sulamani Temple before I went back to the hotel, packed up and ready to depart the next day.
Day 4: Going Back Home
I took an early flight to Mandalay and went back to Bangkok.
And that concludes the fourth entry to my solo traveler's journal of Myanmar. After 3 days experiencing Myanmar, Bagan was by far the most impressive place I've seen. With the freedom you got from biking and the sheer number of temples to explore, it's hard not to feel like the adventurous Indiana Jones exploring, and climbing the secret passages in lost temples.
I hope you enjoyed the post and if you are looking to visit Myanmar and would like to know more, feel free to tweet me or leave a comment below.
Again, If you have any suggestion or recommendation on places we should visit, let us know in the comment.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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