Bicycle Touring Bagan

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It may be a sweltering 42 degrees outside, a temperature hot enough I can’t quite even conceive it, but there’s really no better way to see Began than by bike. And so, after breakfast we rented a pair and set out through the sand and patched pavement towards the temples. I had imagined the temples to be a sight in which you drove from a city to view. Instead, they are littered everywhere throughout the city (or really, town). Even from the roof top of our hotel you can see small, red stucco buildings popping up all around. During the 11th and 12th century Began’s king went on something of a building frenzy, commissioning around 4000 buildings. Though not all remain today, it is none the less an incredibly impressive sight. This morning, before the heat of the day would require us to retire to the air conditioned comfort of our hotel room, we biked through Old Bagan to see the highlights. Pictures below.

My first observation was, where are all the tourists? It is off season, but most everywhere we went, whether to view a temple, or eat a meal we were rarely accompanied by more than a couple other tourists. Most people were locals, either visiting themselves, utilizing the still in use temples, or trying to sell us something. It was a bit disappointing to see a beautiful temple set amongst palm trees with waves of sand fluttering around the base, and then, touts and their stands. They aren’t awful, and usually go away after a firm no, but still, it takes away from the experience a bit. Though I feel mean doing it, completely ignoring seems to be the most effective method, perhaps they think we don’t speak English, or just very quickly get the point, but just like in India, silence seems the best way to go. Overall they haven’t been too bad, I’m guessing during high season it’s better since there are much more tourists to distribute amongst.
Around sunset we wandered to one of the temples you can still climb up (you know you’re not in the US when…) to watch the sun disappear over the Ayeyarwady ,illuminating the remains of the ancient city. It was postcard picture stunning, and made the heat all seem worth while. the only thing that could have made it better would have been having the place to ourselves.
I don’t know where they all came from, but the sight was swamped by tourists and gigantic tour buses. I still want to know, where area all these people during the day? Package tours, probalby. The bulk of Myanmar tourists are still package tourists, which means a good portion of their money is going to the government. A questionable move in my opinion. One condition Alex and I agreed upon was distributing our money locally and minimizing government payment. Personally, I wouldn’t be OK with seeing Burma with a tour group and directly supporting the government, and I’m not sure how other people are. But then, seeing the hordes of package tourists at sunset I was reminded there are many people who chose comfort over responsible travel. And in a country such as this, being informed is absolutely essential. It’s a tough decision deciding to come here or not, and while more people are agreeing you should go (responsibly) is disheartening to see so many people who have made the decision to give money directly to the government. Even lonely planet says to avoid package tours!
Despite this, I’m having a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoying the country. They say you really come to Bagan for the people, and I think that’s true, they are really wonderful. Most everyone we’ve talked too has been exceptionally nice, even our bus driver, who didn’t speak any English insisted on inviting us to tea at one of the stops because he felt bad about the breakdown.
I certainly want to come back and see more of this country, I’m a bit sad to only be spending a week here, but there is much else to see before August, and a lifetime to return.

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