The plain of Bagan is one rare place, very special with a unique atmosphere. We stayed in New Bagan 3 full days, in a homestay that was probably of the cheapest options available there (the town is a little pricey now that tourism has boomed).
Weather you stay in New Bagan or Nyaung-U, you can find e-bike rental shops on every street corner which seems to be the new trend. That said, it is also in our opinion the nicest way to get around Bagan. It gets extremely hot throughout the day, so cycling seems just like a painful option (without mentioning that the archaeological site is really big and the roads are sandy…). It is really more fun to go around with an e-bike!
There are thousands of temples in Bagan which makes it impossible to see them all even if one wanted to. Still, we made an effort to visit the most famous ones in the mornings, then wandered around the plain in the afternoons on the lookout for good sunrise and sunset spots (when we were not looking for an avocado salad…) A few years back it was still possible to climb on most temples, however now only a handful are officially opened to get to the top, and because there are so few they get crowded in the evenings. As a matter of fact, we made that experience on our first evening: we ended up watching the sunset through people’s phone and camera screens…
But the magic of Bagan is that there still are a few secret temples, accessible by stairs, that little people know about, you just have to find them! Unfortunately even those are slowly being shut down by brick walls to prevent people from climbing. We had made some research on blogs prior to our visit and followed other travellers steps and advice, but most temples we’d read about were already closed down. But we still managed to find 2 extraordinary temples known from only few and it was amazing! The feeling of satisfaction, the excitement when you enter a temple in the evening and you find stairs that lead to the top of it to find only a few other tourists who want the same as you, enjoy a peaceful moment, is indescribable… We were torn between wanting to tell everyone and keeping it to ourselves to avoid more people from coming… How selfish!
During our stay, we watched 2 sunrises and 4 sunsets, each was special and different. Our first sunrise, we actually didn’t see it! We were so tired from the previous days that when the alarm rang at 5 am, we decided to sleep through it. It was probably for the best because the temple we were planing to go to had actually closed down as we found out later that day… So the second morning we woke up for our actual first sunrise and it was magical! We were freezing on our e-bike on the way to the secret temple we’d found the day before. We were the only ones there. It was still very early and dark when we arrived, we waited for some time. Adrien had read that it was hot-air-balloon season so we were excited to see them. Eventually another couple joined us.
The view may not have been as great as on the top of the famous temple, but to be only 4 at the top was priceless. Eventually the first rays of light pierced through the clouds. We were still going around the top of the temple looking for the hot-air-balloon but saw nothing…. Maybe we had read it wrong. We focused our attention on the sun coming up when suddenly, just as we gazed around us, to our left we saw 10 giant balloons popping out from the ground. It was like they had appeared from nowhere! They were very close and we were in the perfect place to see them take off. It was an amazing show: as the sun still shyly hid behind the horizon line, one balloon slowly went up in the sky… then another… then another… until the sun finally made its grand entrance all the balloons were up in the air. It was like an orchestrated spectacle, we didn’t know where to look any more. The balloons slowly drifted and passed very close above our heads. It was perfect, it was a glorious start of the day!
We stayed a little longer after the sunrise to warm up and watched the balloons fly far across the plain, then headed back to the homestay for breakfast.
For our second sunrise, we went to another temple which was little more well-known. It was a very different show, further away from the balloons but with a better view over the plain and the many pointy shapes showing through the vegetation. It was harder to appreciate with a group of Asian tourists commenting on everything and with the sound of 20 cameras going on at the same time, but it was still precious.
Sunsets were just as amazing but with a totally different atmosphere. Our favourite will remain the last one: just when we thought we would miss it because we were too far and couldn’t find a good place, we spotted a men standing alone at the top of a temple waving us to come over. It was a perfect last sunset in the mystical plain of Bagan.