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The Ancient City | Bagan

Bagan by Chinh Le Duc.jpg


Arriving in Bagan, Myanmar was a surreal and bizarre experience to say the least. The ancient, battered coach stopped, ‘Bagan,’ muttered the driver. We were the only people to get off the coach, confused, wary and cautious. It was the middle of night, and with no light pollution, or lights of any kind for that matter, to guide the way we were blind and lost in a country we had no previous experience of. We stood in the darkness for about 5 minutes, regretting our decision to visit a city off the traditional backpacker trail of South East Asia. Our bags were heavy and we were tired. Eventually, a man approached us and, in perfect English, asked us where we were staying. We had not booked a room, always preferring to wander round new places before deciding on where to stay, so opened our battered, crumpled Lonely Planet and pointed to the first hostel we saw. The man led us through the darkness to an old wooden horse and cart. Too tired to question this, we wearily climbed onto the back of the wobbly contraption and, within minutes, we were at the door of our hostel of choice. We fell asleep fully clothed as soon as our heads touched the pillow, and awoke late the next morning to the sound of complete and utter silence. 

We wandered into the late morning sun, rented bikes and bought ‘temple passes’ from our hostel owner, again conversing in perfect English, and cycled off down a deserted street. The sun was rising in the sky, and the temperature steadily increasing. What we saw as we peddled slowly along the dirt road left us speechless. Orangey red temples, or pagodas, lined the way. Pagoda after pagoda, some small, some big enough to get lost inside when exploring. Explore we did, having the luxury of being the only travellers in the area. Barefooted, hot and sweaty, we climbed walls and stairs, the top of the pagodas leading the way to incredible views. Many pagodas concealed statues, winding passageways, secret rooms. Barely believing our luck at having stumbled on such a place we cycled from temple to temple, leaving our bikes at times and exploring on foot. >>>


Peaceful exploring shattered when we stumbled upon a painting seller, who insisted on showing us his entire collection of pagoda and monk paintings. We haggled and bargained for a while before purchasing a sunrise painting, the colours of the sky matching those of the temples and Earth. Continuing our exploration, we cycled and wandered for the rest of the day, pausing only to reward ourself with a pint of Myanmar Beer. 

Late afternoon sun turning to dusk, we returned the bikes to our hostel and walked slowly down the deserted, pitch black road. As our eyes grew accustomed to the darkness we began to see the night sky clearly. We had never seen as many stars, and the longer we looked, the more appeared. It may sound too cliché to describe an experience such as this as magical, but no other word does it justice. We found dinner in a small, family run Indian restaurant where there was no menu, but we were presented with an array of tiny, delicious spice dishes, warm, doughy bread and fragrant, delicate rice. We returned to our hostel, pausing to marvel at the glow appearing from the night sky, and fell asleep into the deepest sleep either of us could ever remember having.

Rucksack Magazine