Our second day in Bagan started bright and early, in order to catch the infamous balloon-filled sunrise. Whilst researching what to do and see in Myanmar, this was by far the number one thing that kept popping up – climb to the top of a temple, watch the sunrise, and be awed by the hot air balloons that float through the sky above the 2000 temples over the plains of Bagan.
Kirsty and I had hired bikes the night before, so after our alarm went off at a very early hour and it was still pitch black outside, we set off hoping we’d end up at the right temple. With no street lights and just our paper map to guide us, we still managed to make it to the Bulethi Temple, which came highly recommended as a non-touristy temple, slightly off the beaten track so the big tour buses couldn’t reach it.
We dropped off our bikes (seemingly the only ones who had chosen a traditional bike and not an E-Bike!) and made our way to the top layer of the Bulethi temple. There were already a few other early risers out to watch the balloons, so we joined them in the magical silence of the dawn.
Soon we spotted the tops of the hot-air balloons, all firing up and getting ready to fly. We had almost decided to treat ourselves to a trip in the hot-air balloons (and it really is a treat at $320 per person!) however they wouldn’t allow pregnant ladies to go in them in case of a hard landing, so the decision was made for us to watch the sunrise from the temple instead. Just as impressive, in my opinion!
Every single person sitting on that temple was absolutely mesmerised by the scene unfolding in front of us. Around 20 -25 hot-air balloons just floating through the sky, the red sun rising above 2000 temples.
It truly was magical, and without a doubt the best sunrise I’ve ever witnessed. And that’s coming from a cabin crew, who watches sunrises almost every flight from the aircraft windows!
A few vendors started setting up their little stalls selling sand paintings and postcards, but they were not intrusive and just left everyone to enjoy the sunrise.
As the balloons started to float off to the side, we got up to have a walk around the temple. The rest of the temples nearby were bathed in the beautiful light from the rising sun, which was just beautiful.
Gradually everyone started to leave, and soon it was just us and a couple of the vendors left at the temple. We bought some postcards from one of the girls, who was wearing the traditional “thanaka” face paint. It is a yellowish paste made from ground bark, and is commonly worn by the people of Myanmar to protect their skin from the sun.
We stopped for a few last pictures of the Bulethi temple before heading back to our hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast, we hopped back on the bikes to spend the day exploring some of the bigger temples around Bagan.
From our hotel in Nyuang-U, we made our way towards Old Bagan, with a rough idea of a few of the temples that we’d like to see, including the Ananda Temple, Shwe San Daw Temple, and the Dhammayangyi Temple.
Since we had the bikes for the whole day, we decided just to stop at anywhere that took our fancy! The first place we cycled past and pulled in to visit was the Htilo Minlo Temple, built during the reign of King Htilominlo between 1211 – 1231.
This was the first place that we were checked for the Bagan Archeological Zone Pass, which was stamped when presented. Around the outskirts of the larger temples are lots of little stalls selling scarves, clothes, little souvenirs and other touristy trinkets.
We also spotted some women wearing the golden neck coils which elongate the neck. They are known as the Kayan people, a Tibeto-Burman ethnic minority.
As you can see the lady in the picture above has a red-stained mouth, this was a frequent sight in Myanmar as most of the men and some of the women chew on betel nut. It is chewed for stimulant effects and is spat out after, so you will often see bright, dark red spots on the ground – this is the chewed up betel nut spit, lovely! It can also contain tobacco, and you will notice as soon as someone is chewing it, as their mouth and teeth will be bright red.
We strolled around the grounds of the temple, dipping in and out to look at some of the Buddhas inside, as well as all of the beautiful architecture.
Also on display were some of the beautiful umbrellas that a lot of the people of Myanmar, and monks especially, can be seen carrying whilst walking through the streets in the heat of the day.
We also spotted some of the traditional Burmese puppets hanging on display. These are known as “Yoke thé” and the performances originated from the royals, but are now enjoyed widely by the general Burmese public as well as visiting tourists. We didn’t have the chance to visit a puppet show but I’m sure it would have been interesting, as the puppets are controlled by only one puppeteer, and have up to 18 or 19 wires each.
Whilst exploring the temple, we were stopped by a friendly monk who asked if he could have a picture with us, so if course he returned the favour for us as well!
Kirsty and I continued cycling along the dusty roads, passing by hundreds of temples and stopping to take pictures whenever we fancied.
We happened upon this one whilst on the way to the Dhammayangyi temple, and despite the exterior being slightly run down, it was still as impressive as any of the others. As we were cycling away we spotted these monks in their gorgeous pink robes!
Our trusty bikes took us on towards the next stop, the Shwe San Daw temple. This is one of the largest and more popular temples, especially for sunrise and sunset, as it has multiple levels for seating and looking out across the plains.
It is also easily accessible from the main roads so is frequented by lots of tour buses, but was under construction from the damage from the earthquake last summer. In fact a lot of the larger temples are damaged from the earthquake, but they are slowly being repaired.
It’s obvious why the Shwe San Daw temple is a popular choice for sunrise and sunset, as the view out across Bagan truly is stunning.
In this picture above you can see the Dhammayangyi temple, which is shaped slightly differently to most of the others. The largest of all of the temples in Bagan, it was built during the reign of King Narathu, who came to the throne by assassinating his father and elder brother, so it is presumed that the temple was built to atone for his sins. Rather sinister!
As with all of the temples, even the tiniest ones on the edge of the roads, there is a beautiful golden Buddha statue inside.
After hours of cycling and the beginning of an onset of travellers temple fatigue (too many temples in one day!) we headed back to our hotel to lie by the pool and have a refreshing dip in the cool water. The perfect end to another day exploring Bagan, Myanmar.