From 5 AM to 7 PM, we explored Bagan’s ancient temples from air and from land. That’s right, we woke up at 4:30 AM to meet the vintage bus by 5:20 AM that took us to Balloons over Bagan’s hot-air balloon inflation and launch site in Nyaung-U.
It was still dark and cool considering Bagan’s notoriously hot March weather. All of the Balloons over Bagan customers sat in this circle, we had coffee, tea and cookies as we waited. Then our Belgian pilot Christophe gave our balloon group of 13 a safety briefing.
The sun was starting to rise as we watched the dozen or so Burmese on-the-ground crew prepare the hot-air balloon for takeoff.
The fire got things warmed up a bit.
Off we went in our little basket being carried into space – well to a height of 300 meters at least. New regulations as of fall 2015 prohibited balloons from flying less than 300 m over the Bagan Archaeological Zone.
Our seven Balloons over Bagan hot-air balloons ascended around the same time.
Our pilot Christophe explained that we were extremely lucky. The cooler, relatively windless weather resulted in clearer skies and better flying conditions. We were in the air for 1 hour and 15 minutes, much longer than the 45 minutes promised by the agency. Take a look at our favorite videos and photos to check out the experience.
The balloon itself had a GoPro camera suspended above the basket. Here’s a picture of everyone in the basket.
We were ready for landing and here’s an amazing video of us descending. Don’t worry, we came close but did not scrape that tree!
Here’s another GoPro shot of our basket after landing.
Then I heroically jumped off the balloon from a height of… 4 feet.
We relaxed in this open field near New Bagan. We were served champagne, pastries and fruit. At least a dozen vendors, mostly kids came by to sell their postcards, jewelry, t-shirts and artwork. Lucky money! Not espensive, of course. Then we got back on the vintage bus back to our hotel in Old Bagan.
We made it back to our hotel by 8:30 AM, just in time for us to dig into our hotel’s buffet breakfast. Afterwards we still had the whole day ahead of us. Yesterday we had reserved an e-bike from a local travel agency next to Be Kind to Animals The Moon restaurant where we had dinner. As promised, the bike shop owner delivered the e-bike to us at our hotel.
Since I am not good with riding on two wheels, Maurice rode the bike while I sat behind. We headed out to check the nearby Shwesandaw Pagoda. The pagoda has five terraces, each higher one offering a better panoramic view of the Bagan temples and ruins. It’s the most popular spot for watching and photographing sunsets (read: mobbed by tourists). We went around 9 AM, so there weren’t too many people. There was a swarm of twenty middle school age boys and their teacher (from Bagan) who took turns taking photos with Maurice and me. At least half a dozen times in Myanmar, Maurice got asked for photos.
Then we went to the dominating pyramid-like Dhammayangyi Temple which has a mysterious and haunted past. The inside of the temple was very dark and full of bats hiding in the honeycombed crevices of its tall ceilings. I preferred the exterior since it was huge and a very different from the other major temples. I like the pyramid shape but actually the temple was never finished and since the architects were killed and entombed in the pagoda, we’ll never know what it was intended to look like.
Then we rode the e-bike over to Sulamani Temple, my personal favorite. It was built later than Dhammayangyi and the fashion at that time was to allow more natural light into the temple. This helped illuminate many of the intricate murals like this one with the elephant.
Funny story. After leaving Sulamani Temple, we relaxed at a food stand over fresh coconuts. A Burmese-speaking frenchman flagged us over to sit with him and a young Burmese boy he was sitting next to. He mentioned he had been visiting Myanmar every year for 17 years. He recounted how different things were when he first came to Bagan: only 1 car, 10 motorbikes in town. After chatting for ten minutes, he asked us “Where are you staying? Nyaung-U or New Bagan?” “Old Bagan” we responded. “You mean Nyaung-U?” “No, Old Bagan.” He looked confused, “Which hotel?” “Thiripyitsaya.” “Oh ok.” He must have suspected young people like us would stay in budget-friendly Nyaung-U or at least mid-range New Bagan. Instead in true flashpacker style, we “splurged” on the $100/night Thiripyitsaya Resort in Old Bagan in order to be closest to the main temples.
Next we had a very early dinner around 5 PM at Yar Pyi Restaurant, another Be Kind to Animals (aka vegetarian) restaurant just across the (dirt) road from The Moon restaurant where we dined yesterday. The restaurant is owned by a very cute family. Mom and Dad had good English, her daughter not as much. The wall is decorated with portraits of Mom, Dad and their six adult daughters. We try not to have Western food, but their guacamole with pappadum was recommended and very good.
After dinner we rushed to Bulethi Temple to watch the sunset from there. Here’s a picture of Maurice parking the e-bike. Wrong temple however, so we hopped back on the bike and drove on.
The steps here got increasingly steeper and unlike Shwesandaw, there were no railings. Pretty scary to climb up and down here, especially while barefoot on the uneven, chipping bricks.
It was too hazy to capture the sunset unfortunately, here’s a view into the Thatbyinnyu Temple sitting tall on its hill. At dusk, we headed back to our resort with the e-bike after a very long day.