Bagan (or Pagan if you can speak Burmese) is a spectacular ancient city in Central West Burma that expands for miles across arid land. Founded in the first century BC, the city flourished in the 9th and 10th centuries AD to become the Bagan we travel to today.
Temples and pagodas galore sit amid this epic landscape, which lend the area the iconic image you’ve likely seen in travel magazines and on travel websites time and time again. Detached from the hustle and bustle of Yangon, the city serves as the perfect place to get to grips with one of our favourite modes of transport in Burma: the humble bicycle.
But that’s enough of that, here’s the rundown on why we enjoyed cycling in Bagan a million times more than we expected.
1. See more in less time
There are several ways to get around Bagan and thus begin your day of exploring – horse and cart and mini-van being the more boring options. If you’re a true Intrepid traveller (we know you are), then biking around Bagan is literally the only way forward. The area is pretty flat with only a couple of small uphill areas, so if you can ride a bike, you can do it. Not only do you get the opportunity to get your bod moving, the real reason cycling is a must in Bagan is because there is so much to take in.
2. Creature comforts
Don’t worry about your bicycle seat getting too hot in the late morning sun, because you are likely to have a weighted cushion put on your seat to keep it cool. Now, that is great service!
3. Stop and smell the poses
A few photography stops (also know as ‘tactical rest breaks’) are a luxury only biking can offer. Don’t be afraid to hop off and get creative.
4. Get lost, on purpose
Being on a bike means you’re free to explore as much as you wish down little dirt roads (which often lead to unusual temples) too. In Bagan, we took a detour and ended up having a Thanaka facial (natural sunscreen made form the bark of a tree, which you will see all Burmese women – and some men – wearing on their faces) from a chance meeting with a local lady. And we found an ice cream vendor selling neon pink ice creams down another. Score.
5. The perfect excuse to sample (all of the) local refreshments
Stopping for a cold beverage is compulsory – water can be found at most temples from small shops. If you fancy splashing out on a drink of the slightly more fizzy (or fresh) persuasion, then Ananda Temple is the place to find quirky little cafes which will be sure to quench your thirst (and those cycling hunger pangs).
6. Take your sweet time
When the day is at it’s hottest, just after lunch, rest! Get into the air con, take a shower, relax in a restaurant, and rehydrate. Whatever you do, stop cycling for a few hours and chill. The cycling will commence again soon enough and you don’t want to put yourself through the torture of cycling through unbearable heat.
7. Cycle through the space time continuum
Though Burma’s still relatively new to tourism, it’s getting busier and busier each year. But Bagan manages to hold on to that historic charm – so cycling here really is unlike cycling anywhere else in the world. The temples, the landscape, the people – it’s like pedalling back the centuries.
8. Race to the sunset
After you’ve dodged the hottest part of the day, there’s no finer way to round out the bike adventure than by heading to Shwe San Daw temple (on your bike – hence the afternoon rest!) to watch the sun melt away over Bagan. With the horizon stretching for miles around, the panoramic view is just as awe inspiring as sunset.
Things to consider:
• Be prepared for temperatures to hit unbelievable highs in summer months – making that midday rest stop even more essential
• Make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen at the ready
• Make the most of breakfast and load up on energy for the day ahead – take some rations with you for the road
• Respect the locals by having a sarong handy to cover knees when entering temples, preferably keeping shoulders covered at all times
You can cycle yourself silly on an Intrepid trip in Burma, on which you’ll have plenty of time for two-wheeled adventures.
Feature image c/o Stefan Munder, Flickr