Exploring the Temples of Bagan

  5:00am arrival in Mandalay, getting ready to start riding

We began our cycling in Myanmar with two days of riding across the country's central plains. After a small section of highway leaving the Mandalay bus station (where we'd just arrived after an overnight bus ride from Yangon), we were soon following rural roads where the little traffic was mostly made up of motorcycles.   Traffic jam between Mandalay and Myingyan

The paved roads were in deceptively bad condition, extremely uneven and despite largely flat terrain and no wind, we struggled to maintain a decent pace. With the rainy season passed, we were grateful for the little villages where banyan trees lined the road and provided respite from the otherwise shadeless, hot, and dusty setting.   Riding across one of several sections of road covered in sand

The food options were pretty limited on this stretch of road, but the roadside meals that we tracked down were cheap and delicious, our favourite being the coconut donuts fresh out of the fryer.

Truthfully, the most pleasant part of the riding, by far, was interacting with locals. We were constantly met with smiles and mengalabars (hellos), children would run to the road where they would line up to greet us. We broke up the ride with an overnight in Myingyan, a non-descript town where only cyclists would have any reason to stay. We were definitely the only foreign tourists in town.   Breakfast at a Myingyan teashop

In contrast, when we arrived in Bagan we found it to be completely crawling with tourists. Thankfully there are thousands of temples dotting the Bagan Plains so there is plenty of opportunity for quiet exploration. We spent several afternoons on the narrow sandy trails, far more suited to oxcart travel than anything else (including bicycles).   Cycling past Thambula Paya, South Plain

  Peanut harvesting, South Plain

Any of the temples accessible by tour bus were overrun, with both tourists and souvenir hawkers (and tour buses did not hesitate to ride on the tiniest of roads). The sunset viewing spots were particularly terrible and after various attempts at finding a “spectacular view” we realised that it was much more pleasant to avoid any of the places recommended in the guidebooks.   Tourists waiting for the sunset at the famous Shwesandan Temple

  We watched the sunset standing in a field instead

It was so hot during the day that we did our touring in the early mornings and the late afternoons with a nice long break in between. We were enjoying our daily routine until our third night when Yann was up all night with a nice case of food poisoning (punishment for eating Chinese food at an Italian restaurant in Myanmar).   Lesson learned: stick to local delicacies

We extended our stay in Bagan by a day as Yann was unfit for temple viewing, let alone cycling. While Yann slept for two days I set out by myself, still hoping but failing to visit everything on my list. Yann's list was significantly shorter, so other than feeling like shit, he wasn't too disappointed.

Stats for Mandalay to Bagan:

Days of cycling: 2 (+ 3 days of temple riding)
Days of rest: 2 (sick days for Yann)
Kilometres cycled: 252
Metres climbed: 1011

Partially sponsored by Mountain Equipment Coop Expedition Support

1 comment:

Margox said...

Mmm! Coconut donuts sound tasty!