10 Photos of the Legendary Bagan Sunrise and Sunset

In a league of its own. 

Stepping off the overnight JJ Express bus after close to almost 24 hours of traipsing airports and bus stations, I was greeted by a mob of boisterous men. It was around 4.30AM, and in the early morning darkness their faces were hardly recognizable. I could see, however, that they all had some kind of jacket on up top and traditional Burmese longyis below. It was chilly. I did not know how long they had been waiting there and whether they had slept at all during the night, but their persistence and vigor with which they asked us passengers if we wanted a ride to our hotels made it clear that they were very physically and mentally ready to work.

Groggy and confused, I barely registered the surroundings and different offers thrown my way before I found myself sharing a taxi with a Swiss guy for 5,000 kyats per person (Burmese currency, roughly US$5). It was surely cheaper than if I had gone on my own, but it could have been even much less if I had activated my bargaining mode sooner. Just like their counterparts in neighboring countries, Burmese drivers will attempt to overcharge you. But unlike their aggressive and overworked counterparts in places like Thailand or Vietnam, Burmese drivers are more amicable and willing to compromise, and oftentimes they will eventually agree to your price as long as it is not outrageously low.

That, for me, is one of the loveliest things about traveling in Burma. Even when two parties cannot agree on a final figure, one will not try to make the other feel like he has just acted like an a-hole. 

As the car rolled onward, I smelled a pervasive and pungent smell of what I assumed to be burning leaves. It might have been that of burnt trashes. I never got around finding out what it really was, even though I was in the depth of it every morning and evening when I biked back and forth between my hotel and the temples. The only thing I know for sure is that it truly turned Bagan into a multi-sensory experience.

When the taxi driver dropped me off at my hotel, he suggested that I should go see the sunrise, one of Bagan’s most famous “specialities”. I shrugged off his suggestion, saying I was too tired while in fact, I was just skeptical of the hype. I checked in my room and surfed the net (get yourself ready for the super slowwwww internet in Burma!) before drifting off to sleep.

The next morning, I learned what skepticism had cost me:

_DSC0920Hands down the most spectacular sunrise I have seen to date. 

For the rest of my stay, I would wake up at the ungodly hour of 4.30AM and pedaled my lungs out in darkness to Shwesandaw Temple, which, though always packed with people, offers unsurpassed views of the 2,000 and counting temples dotted across a sprawling dusty plain. Normally, I would always steer clear of overcrowded places, not because I consider myself superior to other tourists but because I cannot focus on my photography if I do not have some personal space.

Yet for the first time, I did not feel in the slightest degree inconvenienced by the crowd. There is something so magical and unifying about the sunrise and sunset in Bagan that makes you want to share them with as many people as possible. I am not sure if this always happens, but in my case the sun would receive a standing ovation from us watchers after it finished its job.

_DSC0889 _DSC0884 _DSC0880_DSC0948Similarly, I would drop everything I was doing and climb to the top of any temple that allowed me to come sunset time.

_DSC0846 [Read more…]