By Nina Ornstein
After a well-deserved rest stop in Bangkok and then Yangon, we were ready to explore the many layers of Myanmar. We were Bagan bound and with Yangon is the main port of entry for tourists visiting Myanmar, we encountered many traveling on a similar journey. Yangon to Bagan to Inle Lake like us, or reverse, perhaps throwing in time at the beach on either the Bay of Bengal or the Andaman Sea. Reading back through the postcards my parents had sent home from their visit to SE Asia in 1981, I was able to gauge the routing options. Let’s just say they took the scenic version (see below). They were backpacking, my mom and I were definitely not (shout out to the invention of 4-wheel rolling carry ons!). You can arrive to Bagan by bus from Yangon (6hrs), by boat from Mandalay (18 hrs) or plane from anywhere domestic (1hr). We took the plane which was a complete no brainer, but check out the route my parents took below. Notice how the former names for Bagan and the Ayeyarwaddy River were Pagan and Irrawaddy River!
Approaching Bagan, it was clear we were in for a treat. From my airplane view, middle Myanmar seamed to be rugged, baron terrain that remained mostly unpopulated. When Bagan came into view, I was taken back by the lush oasis of palm trees before me, elegantly swaying in the breeze with the light of the sunrise. Stupas and temples were peaking through the canopy as far as I could see, already offering the history and culture we came to experience. We landed simultaneously with the hot air balloons, the timing and scene were impeccable. Hopping off the plane at the miniature Bagan airport, we immediately noticed that the air smelled of eucalyptus, a reminiscent scent of Todos Santos, Baja Sur. Our observation proved to be the beginning of many surprising similarities we encountered between this oasis and our beloved pueblito in Mexico. I must say how impressed my mom and I both were with the flight service, schedules, prices and hustle in Myanmar. Our lap around the world included 11 flights total and they were all on time (or early!). Say what? A man with a Seattle track jacket came and offered us our taxi to the hotel, surely it was a sign, being that I was born near Seattle. The early morning drive to our hotel was instant magic. My mom and I were in complete awe of our surroundings, gasping, pointing and taking blurry pictures with our phones on the 15 minute drive through the archeological fields. We had finally escaped the Asian mega-cities and were beginning the adventure.Because Bagan is a must on everyone’s travel list in Myanmar, planning was easy. In fact, we did little to no planning, more extensive research so we could make educated decisions along the way. We dropped our things are the hotel and set out by foot to explore a little. Our hotel was locate directly on the Ayeyarwaddy River right in the heard of Bagan’s archeological zone. There were actually ancient ruins on the hotel grounds with a meditation space. A cultural amusement park to say the least, it remains difficult to believe that it is all real.Meandering through the dirt roads and temples, my mom and I felt nostalgic for walks around the huertas in Todos Santos. We found a simple restaurant near by with a thatched roof, delicious food, a dog that looked as if he could‘ve been related to my dog, Roxy, and great views of the local scene. It was time to let it all sink in, shake off the effort we had put in to make it this far, and get in our travel groove. I’ll continue with our Bagan itinerary with highlights that include renting an eclectic moped, climbing temples for sunrise and touring the region by horse and carriage and boat. Stay tuned!