Blazing Heat: Bagan, Myanmar

It was hot. Like, Dante's Inferno hot. We had come off the overnight bus mere hours before, in the twilight hour of 4AM, to be let in by our generous hostel without a charge for an extra day. Most others were forced to start temple gazing at those inhumane  hours–both exploring and sunrise watching. Though it wasn't the best place we stayed in Myanmar, thank you, May Kha Lar, for letting us pre-temple nap. 

After a few hours of rest, we hired a horse cart to take us around the temples of Bagan. The downside of having a hotel that let us sleep early in the morning? Touring and finishing sightseeing Bagan at the hours that most people do not tour Bagan, which is between the aforementioned Dante's inferno/inhumane hot between 10AM and 4PM. Those smart ladies and gents that were forced to go at the less civilized hour would temple-view between 5AM-10AM, then rest during the fiery afternoon, only to wander over to the temples around 4PM to take in the sunset of the area. So, it was a little SNAFU on our part but it did work out really well in the end.

First, I would like to mention that I had fleeting hopes of seeing Bagan's temples on bicycle. I had started my love affair with bicycles back in Mai Chau while cycling through rice paddies and then really let it blossom in Hoi An, where I cycled among hotel, beach, and dress fittings. D laughed and said, "I'll be laughing at you and waving to you from the horse cart." 

I mean, how hot was it going to be, really? Hoi An hot? That was hot and bicycling was smart: the speed of the bike on the road would create a nice little wind tunnel. Well, it was hotter, with non paved roads, and no delusions of a beach or pool in sight. At 10AM, I got into the horsecart with D. Even so, the heat was an absolute struggle for me. Sheesh. 

Bagan itself is a bit of a mystical place. That said, I didn't find the area 'spiritual' or soul cleansing or anything else that travelers donning elephant-parachute pants will tell you. No, this place was impressive because around the 11th century AD, it was the center of an empire and its rulers wanted to proliferate their political and religious Buddhist influence. How? By going on a temple building spree that lasted two and half centuries, erecting, according to Wikipedia, 10,000 temples, of which about 2,000-3,000 remain or have been restored to date. Pretty epic view.

The horsecart driver was helpful in giving tidbits of each of the dozens of temples that we visited, with English that was much more prolific than we expected. He would tell us the highlights of each of the temples, the year built, and its significance in history. English in Myanmar overall was better than expected. I would go as far as saying that it is better than it's neighboring Thailand's English. Considering the country has not only been away from British rule for about 60 years, but also under a military regime, certainly enough time and force to eradicate the English language, the country still has people with passable English skills. Cabbies to hotel staff were among the best, able to communicate most details, while food vendors were amongst those with the poorest language skills. This is where pointy language prevailed.

In addition to having informative English skills, our driver took us to more temples than I'll pretend to remember. D & I didn't spend much time at many of the sights, so not only did we hit the main attractions in record time, we also hit 2nd and 3rd tier temples, many of which were a worthwhile see and visits that other travelers make on a 2- or 3-day expedition of Bagan. Hopping quickly through most of the temples gave us ample time to do two things: spend extra time at a couple of our favorite temples and an extra hour at sunset point.

Nearing sunset.. ok, it was still two hours away.. we drove up to one of the temples that visitors are allowed o climb. This temple was to be the last stop of the day. With only a handful of people occupying the top terrace, I was able to fully drink in the 360° scenery. Serene, peaceful, and infinitely flat, I agreed. A few chatty folks were already up there and we all formed a bond. An hour and a half had passed before the entrance of the temple swelled with parked bikes, cars, and tour buses. Soon, our little band of brothers was broken and the scene was a bit less serene. The sunset was beautiful nonetheless, but we escaped before the grand finale.

Regardless of not seeing the actual sun set, the time spent at the top before the crowds ascended was a nice way to wind down a temple-packed day. "It's just a sunset. I don't get what the big fuss is about. It happens everyday," quips D. Indeed. I was just glad I didn't bike the day.



  1. Do you know what's the current entrance fee for the temple area?

  2. According to my friend D, it was $10. Are you headed there yourself?