Bagan is located in northern Myanmar, slightly to the west. It can be reached by an extremely bumpy four-hour bus ride from Mandalay—the result of poor road conditions. Bagan boasts endless plains dotted with pagodas and monasteries, which during the rainy season are a lush green, but when we visited had been weathered by the hot sun and prolonged absence of rain. The kingdom was said to have been ruled over by fifty some kings, with over 10,000 religious structures being erected between the 11th and 13th century. Our guidebook explained that those places of worship seen today have usually been rebuilt in their entirety, often bearing minimal resemblance to their original construction. Despite its historical inconsistencies, Bagan remains one of the most photogenic destinations I have ever visited.
Spending two and a half days in the ancient city meant catching two sunrises and sunsets. With temperatures during the day often reaching in the mid forties (Celsius) during our stay, there were no hot air balloons in sight at dawn. On the first day, we caught sunrise from Shwesandaw Pagoda. The sun never quite made a full appearance on this particular morning with the cloud coverage. Given that it was low season, it was also easy to find a spot to set up my tripod. I took the following photo with a 200mm prime.
After heading back to town for breakfast, we decided to make a side trip to Mount Popa (post to come). In the afternoon, we dodged the heat by staying in the shade, but when the sun started to set, we set to watch from North Guni Pagoda.
That evening, we learned that where we were staying, a few people had organized to venture out by taxi at three in the morning (in compliance with the local curfew) to capture a meteor shower from the temples. It was supposed to be highly visible because of the new moon. A group of us decided to tag along on our motorbikes, but ended up losing the pack because a piece of my tripod had fallen off while riding and we had to backtrack in order to find it.
Despite not knowing where they were planning to watch the shower, we were able to find Shwesandaw Pagoda in the darkness with the map and flashlight function on our phones. By then, it was almost four and I quickly set up my equipment to capture the meteors, only to realize that my photos bearing the Milky Way were far more stunning.
This shot was quite lucky, as the sun had risen to perfectly align with the top of a temple.
Our second day, we decided to join a scooter tour with our guide bringing us to some of the area’s most famous temples. We stopped at Ananda Temple that was in the midst of being capped in gold leaf – a process that would take almost 20 years to restore it to its former glory.
Sulamani temple was flanked with vendors selling souvenirs.
At this point, we took a break for the afternoon and went back to our respective hotels to hide from the heat. While lounging, a group of monks had lined up outside of where we were staying, presumably to file into their monastery for lunch.
The tour continued in the afternoon with a visit to a local lacquer ware workshop and ended with our guide bringing us to North Guni Pagoda for sunset, confirming that we had selected a good spot the evening before.
After two and a half days in Bagan, we set off for Lake Inle—a last minute decision as we had initially planned not to go, but to instead spend more time in Bagan and Yangon. This post is to come.