Cycling around Bagan, Myanmar is like pedalling back in time.
Bagan was founded in the first century and it was during the 9th and 10th centuries that it flourished and the temples we see today were constructed. These days they still stand, although crumbling, and retain their silent elegance.
Located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, it is the largest and most concentrated collection of Buddhist religious structures in the world. Although tourism in Myanmar is currently growing, it still has a lot of historic charm and remains largely unchanged.
It is possible to get around Bagan via horse and cart or even mini-van if you are craving modern comfort – but what’s the fun in that? If you are a true adventurer, biking between each of the temples is the most exciting way to explore.
The area is mainly flat, so the only challenge is dealing with the heat. A cycling trip around the temples will keep you fit and healthy and will also allow you to take much more in. Here are some tips that you should know before you begin your journey:
1. Get Up Early
If you can drag yourself out of bed earlier, you’ll not only enjoy riding around in cooler temperatures before the sun begins to bake the plains – but you will also have the chance to see the temples against the beautiful backdrop of the sunrise. It is a good idea to rent your bike the night before, as the bike rental place may not be open early enough.
2. Drink More Water Than You Think You Need
The heat can reach incredible highs, especially during the summer months, so make sure that you are drinking water throughout the day. Drink more than you think you need, because it is sometimes difficult to realise when you are dehydrated. Also, be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
3. A Sarong is Essential
A sarong is one of the best items you can bring with on your Bagan trip, as it is lightweight and serves so many purposes. You can wear it as a headscarf to keep you cool and shield your scalp and face from the sun. You can wrap it around your shoulders or legs in order to be respectful and not show too much skin when visiting a temple. You could even use it as a picnic blanket if you stop to have some lunch.
4. Test Your Bike First
There are several bike rental places around Bagan where you can rent bikes cheaply – but make sure you give your bike a short test ride and an inspection before you pay for it. Some of the bikes are old and may be in poor repair, which is not something you want to notice when you’ve already paid and started pedalling and it’s too late.
5. Relax, It’s Not Possible to See All of the Pagodas
At its zenith Bagan had around 13,000 temples and these days you’ll see around 2,200 left standing. You’d have to be able to cycle at light speed to be able to see all of them on your trip, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself and rush between them.
It’s better to choose a few temples you are really interested and explore them in detail, noting the exquisite carvings and statuary. These really are gorgeous buildings and a lot of time and effort went into making them as beautiful as possible.
Have you cycled around Bagan? Let us know about your travel tips in the comments below.
Kelly Dunning is a Canadian freelance travel writer. She lives a nomadic lifestyle with no fixed address – working from the road for the last 5 years with her partner Lee, a web-designer from England. They have traveled to over 40 countries and they offer travel tips, stories and inspiration on Global-Goose.com.