A sleepless night in Bagan

Religious epicenter of Myanmar

‘This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about.’ Rudyard Kipling, Letters from the East (1898)

The overnight bus from Inle to Bagan was easily one of the worst nights of my trip. No happy pill can beat a mix of freezing AC, terrible road conditions, bright lights and loud burmese TV shows. After what felt like an eternity, I got dropped off at a highway bus station in the middle of nowhere. Surprised by the darkness, I checked my phone: 3AM! That’s one of these moments when cab drivers feel like the most powerful people in the world. Exhausted by the recent bus journey, I agreed to the quoted price and hopped on what turned out to be an e-bike.

3:30AM: Arrival at Zfreeti Hotel. What’s the last thing you want to hear at that point?

‘So…our check-in time is at 2pm. Please take a seat in the lobby.’

The cab driver (still waiting on his tiny e-bike) could smell a business opportunity: ‘Misterrrrrrrrr! I can take you to see sunrise! Only 10 dollaaaaa.’And there we went…chuggling towards Bagan’s Archaeological Zone.

As time passed, paved roads turned into dirt roads and away from the street lights complete darkness set in. Mr. Cabbie stopped eventually and pointed into the darkness: ‘You go and climb there! I come back 6am! See you.’ And off he went.

I don’t think I have ever been more grateful about the iPhone flashlight feature. Somehow I managed to find the dusty footpath leading to the base of the ‘sunrise temple’ and started the steep climb to the top.

Bagan plains in sunset light

4:00AM: Only then I realized that the sunrise wasn’t happening for another 1.5 hours. As I sat there in the darkness, the first morning chants started to resonate across the vast plains from a nearby monastery. It must have been hundreds of novices, repeating the melodic prayers of the head monk. The starlit sky combined with the ongoing chants created the most peaceful atmosphere, which was soon enough ruined by the arrival of a Chinese tour group. Be prepared to fight for a good spot as the upper platform gets packed by tourists at around 5.30AM.

Bagan sunset panorama

The views were worth the sleepless night. As the sun rose, thousands of pagodas started to appear on the horizon; the remains of an ancient civilization. A place more unique than anything I had seen before.

‘A gilded city, alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sounds of monks’ robes […] one of the finest sights in the world’ – Marco Polo

Bagan by daylight

As far as the eye can see, pyramid-stacked red stones, gold domes, and reaching spires of more than 2,200 scattered temples and pagodas comprising the largest collection of Buddhist structures in the world.

Bagan temple from far

Doomed to be spoilt by tourism, Bagan is one of the must-see destinations over the next couple of years; a highlight on par with Angkor Wat, if not better.

Mysterious temple in bagan

Travel Advice

Stay: Zfreeti Hotel

Eat: Weather Spoon’s

Next: Welcome to Myanmar’s monk capital

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