My trip to Bagan was a solo trip. Traveling alone to Myanmar is safe, and I encourage to anyone.
The Trip: A flight from Singapore with a stopover at Yangon: The trip began after a long day’s of work. Post office, I headed straight to the airport on a Thursday night, and reached Yangon at 11 pm in the night. I had the hotel car, fetch me from the airport. Nothing exciting about that part of the trip, other than sitting near some international development consultants traveling to Yangon for work, and reading about the economics of the country in the plane.
The night was a short one as I made it to the hotel by 12:00, only to get up at 5:30 for the flight in the morning. I reached Bagan at around 12, and was greeted by its rustic streets. Bagan’s history speaks for itself when you see its pagodas.
The country: Myanmar is opening up for business. With a growth rate of 7% only slated to increase, the country is pegged to be the next Vietnam. Flight magazines, highlight tourism in the country, as ‘cultural tourism’ – trying to differentiate Myanmar from the neighbouring Thailand. Pictures of women with brass neck coils stretch out of these magazine. With the country closed to tourism for several years, there is indeed a lot to see in Myanmar. Apart from Bagan, there is Inle, and the Shan state (also known for the Kayan women with brass coils around their neck)
The Pagodas: Built between the 11th and the 13th century, Bagan pagodas, much to my surprise, are styled after the Andhra style in India. The pagodas are modeled after Mount Meru – the holy abode of the Hindu gods.
Hotel: Bagan has several hotels. A great choice is the Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary. This hotel is one of the few hotels, located close to the Pagodas. In addition, its location on the bank of the river, makes it a very picturesque. The spa is very relaxing, and incredibly well priced. An absolute recommend to anyone traveling to Bagan.
The swimming pool, on a lazy summer afternoon looks like this:
A must do: Touring Bagan on a Horse cart: The fun part of the trip began post lunch, when I went to book a ride to see the hundreds of pagodas strewn all around Bagan. When I reached the reception, I was recommended a horse cart as the best medium of transport for temple gazing (in summer, when hot air balloons are not available). This sounded like fun – How many times do you get to travel across a horse carriage in a countryside? As this option excited me, it also piqued the interest of another solo woman traveler behind me. This was Jenna, an American woman from Vietnam, also traveling alone. We connected instantly and began our trip though the rustic streets of Bagan on a horse!
The rest of my trip was then defined as a series of adventures, as follows:
1. Exploring the pagodas on a horse cart: This is a cheap, and very relaxing way to explore the different pagodas styles.
Post the evening with the temples, we tried some local food
2. Sunrise at temples: Waking up at 5:30 to see the sunrise at a pagoda
3. Exploring the Shwezigon Pagoda: This is a great place to get a glimpse into the religious lives of the Burmese. The temple is swarming with people, offering prayers and food to the deities. The pagoda is golden, given the numerous gold leaves pasted on the pagoda.
4. Exploring a local wedding: This really is contingent upon finding a good guide. I was lucky to find one, who took us to a local Burmese wedding. The bride was the only girl in the family to find a suitable groom. She had 3 elder sisters, and a mother – who depended on her to rear poultry and till agricultural land in the countryside . Her husband worked in Yangon, with the government. Post marriage, she is to stay with her family in Bagan, for 2 more years – as they needed her help for farm-work 🙁
5. Puppet Art: The Nanda restaurant in Bagan, is a good place to catch a traditional puppet show, while eating a traditional meal. I sampled the Burmese red fish curry, and it was honestly, a mix between Bengali and Thai food. Needless to say, I loved it.