Little-known Lily fact! I was an anthropology minor in college. Like many anthropologically inclined students, I occasionally daydreamed about following in the steps of the most illustrious member of the field, especially during lectures about archeology. I am talking, of course, about Indiana Jones. And in Bagan, I could live out all of my dreams of exploring ruins and discovering ancient curses, minus the Nazis and and the lost Ark.
Bagan is a plain that is about 40 square miles in size, filled with over 2000 Buddhist pagodas and temples built between the 9th and 13th centuries. They’re in various states of disrepair. Some have been restored, but most are crumbling reminders of the once-glorious Pagan Empire. They range in all sizes, from giant structures housing (literally) a thousand gold buddhas to tiny pagodas barely large enough to enter. Unlike Angkor Wat, there are relatively few tourists around, and because there are so many temples and sandy backroads criss-crossing the plain, there are plenty of opportunities to explore in peace.
Rent a horsecart or a motorbike for the day and go find some remote temples outside of the main road through Old Bagan. Go down side paths that wind through tall grasses and trees to find seemingly unexplored ruins. Poke your head in and see what’s inside. Just be careful! Bees and snakes call these temples home too.
Climb a pagoda or two. Make sure you go up Shwensendaw to see the specatular view, including the nearby Ayeyarwaddy River. Head somewhere a bit quieter to watch the sunrise or sunset. There’s nothing quite like watching the thousands of temples turn pink in the changing light.
Just beware of temple fatigue. With so much to see and do, burning out is a real possibility, especially in the unrelenting heat. Spend at least a few days here so you can take strategic breaks to relax. Otherwise, all of these beautiful temples may start to look the same.