At sunset, all tourists seek a place to watch the wonderful spectacle of the temples of Bagan. Who knows better than the drivers of all the wagons of horses on the way? It's the best way to visit Bagan. It is difficult to imagine what Bagan must have been, since only the most important religious buildings were made of permanent materials. The royal palaces and Kyaung (monasteries) were built of wood, so what's left is only a frail but beautiful shadow of what Bagan must have been in its period of maximum splendor. Nobody really knows how many temples were built. Supposedly, the official figure in the late 13th century was 4,446. In 1901, a study revealed that there were 2,157 identifiable landmarks still standing.
The 17 o'clock. It's the official time for "caneball" in Myanmar. At this time the sun's heat is less strong and young people gather on the streets to play a game of caneball or simple have a quick go. It's easy to join them for part of the game. Doing it in Old Bagan has the magic of playing next to the temples which are more than 800 years old, sharing touches with men dressed only in a longyi (a kind of sarong that men in Brmania wear) rolled up like a diaper . The best temple to have the opportunity to join the game is Dhammayangyi, the largest temple of Bagan.
Bagan has an older area where almost all of the city's temples are located, most of which date from the 11th and 12th centuries. A few years ago the government decided to move the inhabitants of this "city monument" and create a new population further south called New Bagan. All the roads are made of dirt Old Bagan and it's flat without any hills, which allows you to take lovely photos, especially if the weather permits, of hte more than 4000 temples located at different distances. There are several ways to get around old Bagan. Burmese Tourists buses have organized packages consisting of foreign tourists in vans with local guides. There are independent travellers who move by taxi, by carriage or by bicycle. There are at least 2 or 3 hotel and guesthouses or hostels within Old Bagan. You can see trucks full of people being transported from New Bagan Nyaung U or Old Bagan to any of these two populations. The souvenir vendors are found in Old Bagan. They can be a little difficult, but by putting on a smile, bargaining may eventually even become fun.
This pagoda is the prototype of Burmese pagoda, with a bell-shaped stupa that is painted gold. It reminds me of the Shwedagon Pagoda but its proportions are smaller. It is an important pilgrimage center. Inside one can see monks praying. The room in which there are 2 spirits or "nats", is intresting. In the corridor leading to the temple there are vendors offering products such as sand drawings, opium scales made for tourists, shirts, statues of Buddha, etc.. The tour, like in most of the pagodas in Myanmar, must be done barefoot.
Dhammayangyi Temple is the largest temple in Old Bagan. It was built by the King Narathu in the 12th century. Its structure is similar to the Ananda Temple. You can't climb the exterior of the temple, but it's worth observing, at least from the outside. There are internal stairs that take you up a little to get good views of what can be seen from this temple. It's common to find children playing there after 5:00pm. The sunset is especially beautiful from this temple, whose western walls turn a beautiful reddish colour.
Renting a horse drawn carriage is a very cheap option in Bagan if you do not want to go cycling on the roads of Old Bagan (the area where there are thetemples of Bagan). The price is negotiable, but you could hire the cart for 4,500 kyat (about $ 4.5) for the whole day in March 2009. It is interesting that they are often closed, but you can ask them fold the awning, which greatly improves the views and is ok if the day is not too sunny.
This small pagoda dates from about 162 AD. Supposedly Bupaya is the oldest building in Bagan, built by Thamuddarit, the founder of Bagan. Bupaya means gourd-shaped pagoda. It's an ideal vantage point with river views. Despite being a small pagoda, it's visited by the Burmese who come to Bagan for sightseeing. It had to be rebuilt after the earthquake of 1975.
Among the eight people in our group, we all decided to hire a taxi to take us on a day trip to the Old Bagan. One of the first places where we went was this small monastery that's near the tiny village of Taung Be. The building is made entirely out of wood, and every year the people apply a layer of oil to it to protect it from the rain. It is a 13th century building, where inside you can see some beautiful wooden statues. On the inside its magnificently paneled ceiling is emphasized. It's visited by a lot of tourists, you'll love it.
It's interesting to rent bikes one day to sight-see around Old Bagan. Renting a bike allows you to move freely and independently and you'll discover more places than with a guide. Bicycles can be rented in many places, with the cheapest prices at 1,000 kyat ($ 1)/day and the highest at 5,000 kyat ($ 5)/day. You just have to be a little careful not to go through a place that could flatten a tire. If this occurs, it's difficult to find someone to fix it for less than 500 kyat ($ 0.5). Note: These prices are from March 2009.
The quickest and easiest option to tour Old Bagan (the temples of Bagan area) is to hire a taxi for the day. There is probably a monopoly of taxis in Bagan because the prices are very stable and very expensive. It was almost impossible to spend less than 30,000 kyat (about $ 30) in March 2009. I don't recommend this option because of the high prices. The quantity and quality of the information provided by the drivers is a bit higher than the horse carriage drivers, but it's not worth bragging about. The only way to get quality and quantity of information is to hire a tour guide.
The Bagan river is very nice, as can be seen from different locations in Bagan. One option you can choose is to travel in a small motorboat between the Jetty port of Nyaung U in the main part of Bagan, and the XXX stupa within the Old Bagan part of town. The boat usually costs around 9,000 kyat, or about $9, to rent in March 2009, but you should be able to lose quite considering how short the journey. If the day is foggy you can not see anything in Old Bagan (the area of the temples), so that the ride does nothing.
The temple is situated between "Old Bagan" and "Nyaung Oo". It was built in about the year 1218. It consists of a two-story building sourrounded by a wall, with terraces that decrease in size. Legend has it that the king had to choose one of his five children as his heir. In order yo do so, he picked up a white umbrella, which was the royal symbol, and decided to point out with the umbrella who would be the future king. Htilominlo, was elected his son, built this temple in the same place where the umbrella fell. It is s possible to admire here horoscopes which were written to protect the temple from destruction.
The construction of this temple, in Old Bagan, began in the 11th century by King Narapatisithu, and was finished by his son Htilominio. It's one of the largest temples in Old Bagan. This temple was built in a more modern style. It has 4 gates, with the eastern being larger than the others. At each door there is a figure of Buddha. At the entrance of the temple there is a really nice souvenir saleswoman called Pyu Pyu. Go to her if you want your face painted with Thanaka or if you want to prepare a Burmese cheroot. Despite her quality, it will cost about half a dollar or more than other places in the market.