The trip to Bagan was a hell of a ride!
I wanted to take a night bus from Yangon to Bagan and, after reading many horror stories about transports in Myanmar, I decided that my only reasonable option would have been a VIP bus and the JJ Express was my choice.
The guesthouse was supposed to take care of it but in the evening they told me that it would have been easier to book the bus myself the day after in the morning, and so I did. The only problem was that it was holiday time in Myanmar, and when I got to the ticket office in the morning there were no more tickets for the evening. Not only was the VIP bus fully booked, but the other busses as well. After a few phone calls and wondering between the different agencies on the road, I managed to get a seat in a bus that was far from being VIP but still did its job and took me to Bagan in one piece.
10 hours later, at 4.30 am, I was in Bagan with a really stiff body, but in perfect time for my first sunrise!
Any picture of Bagan is worth more than thousands of words. I really don’t think that I need to describe how beautiful and unique this place is.
Exploring Bagan is really easy: you can rent an electric bicycle for $7 a day or a normal one for $4. I personally wouldn’t even consider a normal bike, it's way too hot and dusty but I saw a few people going around with them and they were alive so it might be doable. You will easily find a map to get to the most popular temples through the sandy paths. They can be a bit tricky sometimes, due to the sand, especially if you are trying to record videos with your phone, but they are manageable.
On my first day I followed the map to go to the popular temples for sunrise and sunset and the one with the best views but after that I started to explore the smaller sandy paths, crossing herds of cows, discovering smaller and more hidden temples with beautiful paintings and solitary views. This was my favourite part without a doubt!
At the entrance of the temples you will often find vendors that will want you to look at their goods, mainly paintings, and some of them will indicate to you the best views of the temple or tell you the story of the places. They’ll never pressure you to buy things, just have a look if you want.
Bagan gets very hot! I didn’t have any sunscreen with me but I managed not getting totally burned using some thanaka: the typical burmese make up. To obtain this yellow paste that you apply on your face, you have to grind the bark of a specific tree by rubbing it on a stone with some lotion. The result when you apply it to your skin is a fresh feel, hydrated and protected from the sun. There is an extra plus: everywhere you go, people will tell you that you are really beautiful and, for a split second you will forget about being sticky, sweaty, covered in dust and that your hair is getting more and more similar to a mop head. You will actually feel pretty. I loved the thanaka!
I spent 3 full days in Bagan and I did half a day trip to Mt Popa.
I was disappointed on Mt Popa to be honest: the view were nice but not breathtaking, plus the fight with the monkeys and the fact that I had to do the 777 steps to get to the temple, barefoot, stepping on the animal’s shit, was annoying to me. I read that taking a guide there is really interesting, so you might want to do that if you decide to go. Otherwise you can get there with a $10 shared taxi. The drive there is astonishing: small villages in lushy green fields, carts being pulled by cows and a few people waving at the passing cars from the side of the road.
I was happy with 3 days and an half in Bagan but I took it easy, taking long breaks on the hottest hours along the river or in some shaded and windy spots. If you are short on time, 2 days is enough.
Time to leave the beautiful temples of Bagan and proceed with my trip towards Inle Lake, see you there!