I woke up from our overnight bus ride, and felt that I am in a different world already even before stepping out of the bus. Hello Bagan. I checked my Google maps for our exact location, and saw that we missed our stop so we just went with the rest of the passengers to the final descent.
When we reached the bus station, a group of men in long skirts or longyi mobbed the door of our bus, offering their taxi services. Ruth and I tried to say no and would have wanted to book via UBER, but disoriented by the long travel and abrupt arrival, we decided to just take their taxi at around Php 500 for a few minutes of convenient ride to our hotel.
So finally, the ancient city of Bagan! The land so popular for its archaeological site where thousands of towering Buddhist monuments pop in the middle of a vast green land. In my opinion, you have to see this for yourself at least once in your life!
View from our taxi ride to our hotel. Unlike the city vibes of Yangon, Bagan is so raw. I liked it in an instant.
Normal view from our taxi ride: men in long skirts.
And traffic-causing herd of white cows! 😂
WeStay @ Bagan Lotus Hotel
Ruth was the one who saw this hotel via Agoda, and I immediately approved of it based on the published photos online! Very affordable (we only paid around Php 2000+ / room / night), the rooms looked decent, plus we have our own bathroom! Also love the photos of the hotel's poolside and garden. Check out this listing HERE.
Lobby is smaller in actual, but I really appreciate their helpful staff. When we asked for recommendations, they were prepared with their answers. We had minor boo-boos with our late check-out during our last day, and also for waiting for about an hour for our room service orders, but they were all solved within minutes.
My favorite part most prob is that WeStay Bagan offers FREE shuttle services to and from Downtown Bagan (regardless of the published time slots) since they have no E-Bike rental as of the moment. We don't have to take a cab every time we go out, which I think saved us a few bucks. Other than that, the stay is just so comfortable compared to renting guest houses (my go-to during travels). So thank you Ruth for finding this affordable hotel for our trip!
Welcome to our room! Slept well on this bed every night:
Just enough space for our stuff:
The little details:
They only have 2 sockets so bring extensions if you have lots of gadgets to charge like me (camera, phone, powerbank, etc).
These little bottles have no shampoo or body wash in them, so make sure to bring your own!
After settling, Ruth and I decided to avail the breakfast buffet at the second floor.
Tea, coffee, juice, milk, water:
Meats, tomatoes, toasts, and beans:
Soup, friend rice, mixed veggies:
More fruits and breads:
Our humble spread, hehe:
A veranda with a view just outside the resto:
After everything, Ruth and I went to Downtown Bagan to start our tour!
I must say, nothing will ever prepare you for your adventures no matter how many Trip Advisor posts and travel blogs you've read!
With all the information I've absorbed online prior this trip, I knew I had to learn how to E-Bike so I can PROPERLY explore Bagan. It's as if biking is the right AND only way to go around Bagan! And so I watched around two Youtube tutorials on handling a motor bike, and conditioned myself that I am older and a fast learner now, so learning how to bike might be easier. Ruth and I were so convinced we can do it out of need! Haha!
Now that I think of it, maybe visiting Bagan with Ruth is really meant to be!! Two girls who can't ride a bike in a place where E-Bike is the main mode of transportation, hahaha! I can't imagine if I am with someone else who knows how to bike, and I have to drag him/her to my shameful, sad childhood. 😂😅
And so, our hotel shuttle dropped us in front of this E-Bike rental shop in Downtown Bagan:
We met "Kuya Zaw" who showed us the E-Bike we will be using, or supposed to. Ruth tried it first, but not even a kilometer from the shop she told me it's scary and impossible!
Posing nalang, di na ako nag attempt! 😜
Kuya Zaw shook his head and took us back inside his shop, then handed us this map of Bagan and a bottled water (haha!). He was explaining a route while I thought, okay we might as well just take the korny way of exploring Bagan (through taxi). Huhu.
Then suddenly Kuya offered us his own car! And it's not just any car, but a mini, open-air truck! Hahaha! From morning till the sunset, his service will only cost us 30,000 Kyats. I took out my phone to compute, it's just Php 1100 for a driver service + no need for us to learn how to bike + no need to navigate on our own because we're with a local who knows the ins and outs of Bagan like the back of his palm! Yipee!
The Madams of Bagan! Hahahah! 😂✌
1) Shwe Zi Gone Pagoda
As with anything, I learned a LOT from our first.
Number 1, you can say NO to vendors. Make it firm, you're not doing anything wrong! Haha.
Second, take off your shoes, or just leave them in the car. You will not need them and just leave them at every entrance of a temple stop to respect their culture. Also, it's better to use slip-on slippers that you can easily remove and put-on hassle-free throughout your tour. I wore a comfortable and durable pair of leather slippers from a local brand named Outlander.
And lastly, if flooring is too hot especially in the mid-day, try walking on the marbled floors. Ruth and I discovered that they are a bit bearable to walk on than cement.
So here's our first stop, the Shwe Zi Gone (or Shwezigon) Pagoda, a gold pagoda that's already up in 1102 AD and is surrounded by many other temples and shrines.
Please allow me to start the tour with the negative stuff! I promise that this will not change my impression of Bagan as a beautiful destination, but I have to include these things in my blog post hoping that my mistakes will not be repeated on your own trip.
So a vendor offered and offered these garlands to me and Ruth, when another lady seller took them and placed one strand on my hands and my friend's. Ang aggresive nila! Parang na no choice ako but to buy them, haha! I thought at first that they are required purchase to enter the compound, huhu. But oh well, I always have to learn the hard way!
But that's not the worst part yet! Another vendor approached us inside the compound holding up sticks with papers stuck in its ends. Ruth was able to say no to this "offering" because of religion, but I said I'll get one just to see what it's for (I've always believed in traveling through immersion). So we went in a small "cave" and everything's okay, when the vendor suddenly opened not one, but three of these gold foils, while telling me to stick them to the buddha in front of me. Another vendor went inside with us holding her garland and told me it's for another 1000 Kyats. I immediately protested and went out to look for Ruth at nag sumbong na talaga ako na hinaharass nako, hahaha! I ended up paying for all three gold foils I didn't purchase, and felt badly robbed.
Not to leave a bad taste, but I guess these are just lessons from my personal experience that I want to share to those who are planning a trip to Myanmar. Say no if you don't want to! Well-trained naman ako sa Quiapo at Divisoria, but this is another level of persistence! Be polite but firm. If hindi talaga uubra, we just walked away, looking straight ahead (sorry!).
The buddha inside a really tiny shrine where I had to stick the gold foils as offering:
Now that I've let that one out, let me take you around our first temple ....
Every detail overwhelmed me! I didn't know which side to turn or which temple to go into. Everything's so intricate, and even sparkling.
Took turns taking photos with Ruth, thanks girl!
Our second stop is a 1113 AD temple by Prince Yazakumar, notable for its well-preserved frescoes on its interiors featuring Bagan's oldest paintings. It is also in this temple where you will see two stone pillars with inscriptions written in four ancient Southeast Asian language.
A market at the entrance, with a lady wearing a yellow paste on her face. Thanaka is made of ground bark, worn by both Burmese men and women not only as makeup but also to keep their faces cool during the hot time of the day.
3) Htilominlo Temple
This temple was named after King Htilominlo, who reigned when the structure was built. The temple is three stories tall, but not all floors were accessible when we were there. On the first floor, it featured four Buddhas facing north, south, east, and west -- A recurring formula for most of the temples we visited in Bagan.
Had to take advantage of the play of light for this dramatic shot, hehe:
Original drawings on walls:
We also saw interesting stuff in the market outside the temple. Bought hand-beaded wallets for only Php 100+ each! Nakaka budget-Gucci!
4) Leaning Tower of Bagan
Also known as the Khay Min Ga, this is one of my favorite stops! No markets by the entrance, no tourists, just me and Ruth and these towering man-made brick pagodas with the clear blue sky!
Saw our mini-truck at a distance and thought that the background looks cool for a photo op!
5) Ananda Phaya
The Ananda Phaya stood out with its white exteriors and interiors after constant maintenance and repainting. It is said to be one of the four surviving temples in Bagan. The temple layout is in cruciform, housing yet again four standing Buddhas facing the different directions.
Looks like a Thai Buddha:
White walls with old paintings... Ruth and I will often wonder if these are the original or just replicas:
Lunch Break: The Moon
When we entered this garden-ish restaurant, we were welcomed by a sign that says "Be Kind To Animals". Ahh... I knew I was in the right place! The Moon is one of the original vegetarian restos in Old Bagan. Ruth said it reminds her a bit of Sonya's Garden, maybe it's the rustic, open-air feel of the place. I love the service of their restos, plus everything's also super affordable! I also never had a hard time looking for vegetarian dishes in Myanmar, so yey!
Just a preview of their all-vegetarian menu:
Almost got a shirt to support their cause, hehe!
What we ordered: Ruth's vegetarian burger, tamarind curry with rice for me, and green mango salad to share.
As with all our dining experiences in Myanmar, we received a "freebie" with our meal. A waiter handed us these tamarind haw flakes for dessert, and super sarap sya!!
6) Thatbyinnyu Phaya
A mid-12th century temple created during King Alaungsithu's reign. The Thatbyinnyu is also said to be the tallest temple in Bagan. Ang haba din ng lakarin heading to the temple, and to me it looks like a university at a distance.
Although almost all in gold, we saw different sizes and facial expressions from the buddhas. Some of them seem to smile at us! 😬
Outside the temple is a nice view of the clustered red brick pagodas. Will never get tired of this!
Basket bags and straw hats are everywhere in Bagan, sarap i-business! 😂
Cute painted wheels stacked together as their public trash can:
Another mode of transportation in Bagan is the kalesa:
A very peaceful sight:
Large cactus "wall" spotted while we were on our way back to our truck:
7) Dhammayangyi Temple
If I were to choose just one from all our stops, the Dhammayangyi Temple is my top of the top favorite. I think just by the looks of it, it's the most well-preserved from the others that we went to that day. I think it's also the largest from all the Bagan temples.
I think what greatly added to the experience is meeting a local who toured us around the temple, and he was armed with interesting bits of trivia and history.
Kuya Sam Lwin points out how to spot an original brick from the reconstructed ones:
The original bricks have little to no-space in between, just thin lines:
While the newer bricks has these visible, half-inch of cement holding them together. They were added to maintain the old structure from falling apart.
Kuya Sam Lwin showed us how temple workers of the ancient times were punished by the king when the bricks weren't laid out perfectly in his standards. Their hands were cut in this arm guillotine:
More Kuya trivia: Some of the old passageways were covered with brick walls to preserve and keep the old structure of the temple from falling apart. When you knock on some of the newer walls, you'll hear that it's hollow and leading to the old passages. Some of the buddhas were even stuck inside.
A sleeping buddha and twin buddhas standing side by side can only be found here at the Dhammayangyi Temple, and nowhere else in Bagan:
Old paintings on the walls:
Old floorings were also preserved:
As expected, the tour didn't end with just good byes. But unlike the usuals who will just ask for money after their service, Kuya Sam Lwin asked for our time. He unrolled canvasses upon canvasses of artworks that he has been holding on to during our whole tour, and showed us his beautiful paintings and stone carvings. He said he is an artist.
Most of his works depict buddhism imagery, and I find them all intricate and beautiful!
Ruth and I decided to get one at around Php 700-900 each. It felt nice to support an artist and also at the same time appreciate a historic structure through his mini tour and not just pass by the temple's halls and take photos as how we did it earlier on. So thank you, Kuya!
Later on, we saw more painters and paintings around the other temples, so Ruth searched the internet and told me they're common in Bagan and we were scammed. I felt so sad that Kuya might be a scammer because I didn't felt deceived while we were with him, so I talked to Pax (a friend who already went to Bagan last year) and asked her if she knows anything about these painters. She said that regardless, whether its the garlands or the paintings I bought, just think of it as helping people who are all just trying to make a living. I felt better after that.
8) Shwesandaw Pagoda (Sunset Viewing Deck)
It was around past 5pm when we reached Shwesandaw Pagoda, which according to Kuya Zaw is the touristy sunset viewing deck of Bagan. We paid 25,000 Kyats or Php 900+ upon entrance for Bagan's tourism and architectural preservation. It's also the ticket to the other temples and pagodas although they don't really check it but make sure to keep this ticket! We were also able to use it again the next day for another sunset pagoda viewing deck.
We climbed the steep steps to reserve our spot. There were lots of tourists already when we went there:
Walking around every corner of the temple, I saw almost all the pagodas and shrines we visited throughout the day:
These Korean unnie and oppa brought their own balloon with them and fearlessly posed by the edge of the temple! Ang witty nun balloon!! 😂 Btw, the famous hot air balloon of Bagan is not till October, after the rainy season! 😩
But with or without balloons, to me this view is enough. 💛 Medyo buwis-buhay shot for this souvenir photo! Hehehe.
Later on, it started to rain so we decided to call it a day and descended from the pagoda...
It was the longest and most jam-packed day in our whole trip, but also the most fulfilling. Ruth and I decided to have our carbs-overload dinner in our room after a long hot bath and foot scrubs! 😂
To be continued....
Watch my Day 3 in Myanmar IG Stories here:
Read more on my Myanmar 2017 trip HERE.