What’s interesting in a remote place 600+ kilometers away from the city and worth 8 to 10 hours of land travel? Simple, HOT AIR BALOON.
Not only that, a premium bird’s eye view of the world’s oldest and widest collection of Buddhist’s stupas and pagodas completed way back in the 13th century. Trust me, this will be your most memorable sunrise/sunset experience ever.
Bagan is one of the oldest town of Myanmar (Burma) famous for the 10,000 temples that used to adorn the land during the Burmese Pagan Kingdom. Today, there are still 2,000+ towering pagodas which you can visit and actually touch, or shall I say experience. Some pagodas may be gated but other safe structures can still be explored to get a better feel of the ancient town.
Read on for the things you shouldn’t miss when you stay in Bagan!
Explore the Temples
Bagan is the seat of religion, history, and culture of Myanmar north of Yangon proper. People practice Theravada Buddhism which is claimed to be the oldest form of faith in the country. It started way back in the 3rd century BCE and it’s amazing to know that people still maintain their belief up to this date. If you wish to explore the temples, you need to secure a ticket for USD20 which will grant you entrance to Bagan Archaeological Zone. The area is 104 square kilometers (40 sq mi), so it is wise to rent a bike to tour around.
Learn the Buddhist’s Faith
People practice Buddhism in Myanmar, and they consider Bagan as an important place for their religion. To avoid disrespecting this belief, you should know a thing or two about their faith. First, when entering a temple, always remove your shoes/slippers. Sometimes the flooring may be too hot to walk upon. Always keep yourself on the white marble or flooring of the temple because they are relatively cooler than the other areas. Second, knees and shoulders must always be covered. If you dressed inapt for the occasion, you may have to rent/borrow a sarong to wrap yourself with. And lastly, try to learn Vipassana or meditation. This is the primary way of realizing enlightenment with Theravada. I have to admit, I tried but failed. I guess I would need a hundred days spent with the pagodas alone!
Ride the Hot Air Balloon
Aaah! The highlight of the day! The best way to enjoy Bagan is to see it from 2000 feet above the ground. There is something that the height gives you, I guess it’s the adrenaline of going up in the air but still feeling secure with your quiet and trusted balloon basket (or however you may call it). It’s a totally tranquil and serene experience. Hot Air Balloon gives you the quiet air tour helicopters or plains are lacking. It lets you enjoy the scenery and take it all in utter silence. It made me completely retrospect which I couldn’t do at work or in the city. I guess it’s the beautiful sunrise, the Bagan temples, and the happy locals that were very generous to me.
Just be ready with a lot of cash when planning on this trip. A hot air balloon ride will cost you USD300-USD500 per trip per head. The air tour can last up to 45 minutes, enough time to take gorgeous airborne photos.
See the Sunrise/Sunset
I know, it’s not much of a big thing. You can enjoy the sunset/sunrise on a beach, on top of a mountain, or just in your cozy veranda. But, trust me, Bagan has a majestic way of celebrating the day.
During sunrise, you see the mist blanket covering the whole area as it slowly fades along with the sun rising. It is like uncovering a treasure that has been long forgotten. And since the temple used to be furnished with Kiln-fired brick and stuccos, the temples just stand out in a glorious earthly-orange hue. Also, the temples are pointed in design to reflect the shape of Mt. Meru – the mythical home of the Hindu Gods (similar to Mt. Olympus in Greek Mythology).
Words may fail to describe how enlightening a Bagan trip could be. Maybe it’s the peaceful ambiance of the place, the helping nature of the locals, or the mere fact that it’s far from the city. Anyway, hot air balloon season is from mid-October to April, but I wouldn’t suggest visiting from March-April because of the harsh heat (can reach up to 42°C).
There are three companies operating hot air balloon rides – the Golden Eagle Ballooning, Oriental Ballooning, and the one that started it all, Balloons Over Bagan. Plan your visit ahead of time because tickets easily sold out during the peak season. Locals accept both Kyat (Myanmar’s currency) and US dollars but better go with Kyat.
Other than that, I guess I’ll let you learn from your own experience. Safe trip!