Photo above: Boris Le Montagner
Everyone has a special place to hide when in need to escape busy day-to-day life and let go of worldly concerns. While some prefer the simplicity of nature, others seek the spirituality of a monastic retreat or on the contrary, the comfort of grand hotels. Taking advantage of the Waso Full Moon Festival, Nikita Black sets off to Bagan for three days to forget all about Yangon and find luxury, calm and voluptuousness.
Motivations to visit Bagan are as numerous as the temples it holds. While it is an obvious tourist destination both for its historical and religious pasts and presents, it is also for many a sanctuary for the spirit. Set 380 miles away from Yangon’s bustling streets and clogged traffic, Bagan is a place to go when in need to relax.
Its open spaces, trees, river, faraway hills and its majestic plain of decaying temples make the old religious capital a unique place to slow down and put yourself into perspective while facing its vast and grand, yet fragile past.
The beautiful thing about Bagan during the rainy season is that there are hardly any tourists and that although it might occasionally rain a little, the weather is very enjoyable. Climbing Mount Popa doesn’t seem quite as tough. The sandy tracks of Bagan are not so dusty which makes it easier for bikes and cars to get around, and the crowds that gather for the sunset on the temples tops are much more manageable. And even though the hot balloons do not operate between April and September, many other activities await visitors.
Undoubtedly, the pagodas remain Bagan’s major attraction. With over 2,800 temples, of which some are still in use, Bagan has a lot to offer for those on a pilgrimage. The most famous ones, such as Ananda, Dhammayan Gyi and Shwezigon are always busy due to their history and grandeur, but many smaller ones exude something just as special and spiritual. Anyone can find their own favourite abandoned temple that may well treasure precious hundred year old paintings falling apart. There are pagodas hidden deep in the plain, others are rooted on the banks of the Ayeyarwadi River. More awaits the traveller who sails over to the opposite shore: four temples which, if visited before noon, will make all prayers come true. It requires to set-off by 4am but the scenery, the journey and the effort blend together into a feeling beyond words.
At dusk and dawn, Bagan’s natural beauty is particularly awe-striking. Admiring the setting sun, and later the high rising moon erases any notion of time, while the glittering backdrop of stars behind the high shadows of sleeping temples touches emotions deep down. Similarly, the rising sun over the plain would make anyone feel wholesome in this world, as a tiny speck in the masterpiece of creation.
At the end of the day, a good way to maximise those revitalising moments is to order a bottle of wine, shrimp tempura and admire the reflection of the Waso full moon on the surface of the pool … before taking the symbolic cleansing dive that definitely washes away any remaining tension.
Getting there: Flights to Bagan operate daily and take one hour and a half, count US$300 for a late minute weekend return ticket . VIP buses also travel there in about nine hours, for around US$25.
Staying there: To indulge in Bagan’s most beautiful pool and enjoy breath-taking views of the river, visit the Thiripytsaya Sanctuary Resort. Set in the Archaeological reserve area, it is a haven of peace and you can ask to have the TV screens removed from your room, should you need a real break from the outside world. It hits the spot if you want to imbibe the essence of centuries of Buddhist tradition and enjoy a luxurious retreat.
Eating there: Restaurants in Bagan have been flourishing with the influx of both foreigner and local visitors. Standards have gone up, and now even fine Italian dining is available at the The Library. For good Myanmar food, look for the well-hidden Teak House, which has made a name for itself in only a couple of months after opening. Another interesting dining spot for traditional Myanmar food is the Myu Myu restaurant: you will spot an eclectic mix of crowds there, as even celebrities occasionally drop in for a curry. Although quite far away, the best view definitely goes to the Popa Mountain Resort restaurant. Within Bagan, you might want to try the panoramic restaurant at the top of the controversial Nann Myint tower.
Shopping there: Bagan has many options on offer for those who want to bring back special presents for their loved ones. Lacquerware is of course a highlight, as some very traditional shops still treasure ancient techniques. There are some very small yet renowned workshops that are definitely worth the visit. If you are in a bit of a hurry and don’t really have time to search for these or watch a demonstration, directly head off to Momo Lacquerware. Then, for anything else from sweets to wooden puppets, baskets, bells and bracelets, head off to the lively Mrauk U market.
Discovering more: There are many festivals in Bagan … although not during the rainy season! Be sure to make it back here in January for the one month long Ananda Festival. This is one of the biggest religious festivals in the country. Also jokingly referred to as a “shopping festival”, due to the flourishing bazaars that take over the city, it is in essence a big moment for Buddhist pilgrims. Wealthy families donate food to hundreds of travellers, while theatre troupes entertain the crowds. For those in search of local culture, check out the puppet shows and Bagan dances organised in restaurants (Nanda operates all year around), hotels (The Thiripytsaya) and at the Dendaree Hall.
Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort
Bagan Archeological Zone, Old Bagan
Phone: +95 61 600 48, +95 1 255 333
Sponsored by Sakura Group