It was 6am when the overnight bus reached the ancient city of Bagan. The passengers around me began to rustle–reaching for bags and shedding layers of warm clothing. I rubbed my eyes and looked out the window. Taxi drivers had already crowded the door, and the sky was growing pink.
It had been nine fitful hours of attempted sleep, but it didn’t matter. I had arrived to the place that topped my bucket list for the last five years—one of the world’s greatest archeological sites—16-square miles of pastoral land, decorated with more than 2,000 Buddhist monuments.
I jumped in the first cab I saw and headed to the hostel. And after a quick shower, I rented an electric bike and spent the next two days exploring.
Winding down dirt roads and sandy paths, I rarely saw other tourists. I found myself completely alone, under the domes of crumbling pagodas, built in the 11th century. Large Buddhas made of stone sat in the shadows of the entrances, guarding the ancient relics. Faded murals, covered in dust, adorned some of the walls, and unfamiliar languages were etched into the bricks.
The few people I did come in contact with were mostly locals. Some were peddling postcards and myriad of souvenirs, others wanted to practice English. All of them were kind and curious.
Both of my nights were spent watching the sun set over the temples. The larger constructions became illuminated, and the world around me became dark. My days started early, as I rushed to find a quiet pagoda to climb. Morning mist blanketed the earth and roosters crowed to greet the new day. The sky brightened, and a sliver of sun appeared in the horizon, painting the sky shades of orange, yellow and deep pink. These are moments I’ll never forget, and ones that will continue to remind me of just how beautiful this world really is.
Where I stayed: Ostello Bello Bagan. For me, this was the perfect accommodation for my time in Bagan. It’s a hostel, but feels more like a bed and breakfast. The rooms were clean, the breakfast was filling, and the staff was extremely helpful in recommending temples and restaurants.
Where I ate: The Moon (Be Kind to Animals) was a bit expensive for local vegetarian food, but it was good, and right near the Ananda temple. Black Rose was adjacent to my hostel, and served cheap, fresh local cuisine. The salads in particular were impressive. I ate there several times.
What I did: I rented an e-bike for two days, which I strongly suggest over a traditional push bike. It was about $8 for the day (go for the faster model) and in fairly good condition. Outfitters are plentiful, but I went with the one across the street from the hostel. It took a solid two days to see all of the major temples, so I got up early to watch the sunrise, and came back to the hostel during the heat of the day for a nap, then back out around 4:00 to wrap up and watch the sunset. I asked the staff at the hostel for temple recommendations and used the map they provided to get around. I did get lost quite a bit, but it was all part of the fun.