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We spent 5 magical days temple hopping in Bagan with kids…4 kids in total, actually! If we were traveling at a “normal” pace, 5 days would’ve been enough to see many of the temples in Bagan, plus a few half-day trips to various surrounding sites. However, because we’re traveling long term, and with kids, our pace was significantly reduced. We spent a few hours each day temple hopping on our E-bikes, and the afternoons lazing around our hotel pool. It was a fantastic combination of exploration and relaxation. I left feeling fulfilled, although there was plenty still undiscovered. To me, this is the perfect way to leave a place.
We took the night-bus from Yangon, so everyone had a rough night’s sleep. The kids were up around 5am, and we pulled into the Nyaung U bus station at 6am, ahead of schedule!
There were a number of taxi drivers and English-speaking middle men awaiting our arrival. The first to get to us was in his early twenties, and quite pushy. He was quoting us 30,000 kyat ($30 CAD) to get to Old Bagan, and told us it would take an hour because the road was bad. I tried to pull up the Uber app to compare pricing, but there’s no Uber in the Bagan Archaeological Zone. Instead, I turned to good ole Google. It said the drive would take 16min with light traffic. I decided I didn’t like the swindling middle-man, and we walked away looking for someone else. Luckily, there’s always another person willing to take a fare! The next guy offered us 2 cars for 24,000 kyat ($24 CAD) after a bit of negotiation.
Then, less than 5min down the road, we came to the check stop for the Bagan Archeological Zone. I paid the 25,000 kyat ($25 CAD) per person fee (kids under 10yo are free), but Randy was a bit perturbed. We were already feeling a bit taken advantage of, so this just added to it.
We arrived at our hotel, and they were even able to check us into our rooms at 7am. This was a huge relief, since we were all pretty tired from the night’s bus ride. However, it was quickly offset by the difficulty trying to pay!
The price was quoted in US dollars, but when I tried to pay with my US$ credit card I was told their machine wouldn’t accept US dollars, only kyat. They quoted a particularly horrible exchange rate. And then they added a 5% fee to the credit card transaction. It’s not abnormal to have a fee added, although 5% is quite high. The 5% fee, on top of a poor exchange rate, was enough to change my mind about using the credit card.
After deciding to pay with US cash, they couldn’t give me change in US$. This was too much! I (unreasonably) demanded my change in US cash, and they finally told me that I could pay later once the bank was open and they could procure my change in cash.
We finally trudged up to our room to have a bit of a rest. Our time in Bagan was not off to the best start!
We rented e-bikes, little electric scooters that max out at around 40km/hr, for our temple hopping. I was a bit nervous initially, so decided to go for a practice ride without a kid on the bike with me! It’s a good thing I did! I went up the street, then turned around to come back. While I was turning, I tried to slow myself down, but got my hand stuck on the gas while I was trying to brake. I finally stopped, with a bit of help from the truck I ran into!
Thankfully, there was no harm done, and we were soon on our way, kids included. I was sure grateful for the helmets though! I joked that we got our crash out of the way at the beginning, but this ended up not being true! (There was another minor crash a few days later, but I’m happy to say that time I wasn’t the one doing the crashing!!)
Driving around, with the wind in our faces, and temples lining the roadside, was an incredible experience. The sheer number of temples in Bagan is staggering. There are countless dirt roads and tracks winding around the archaeological zone, connecting one to the next. Some are big and famous, drawing large crowds throughout the day. But, many are small and quiet, and it’s easy to have them all to yourself. These were the ones we searched for.
Many of the temples have a “key holder”. Typically, either the key holder, or someone from their family, would let us into the temples. They were responsible for keeping the temples clean, and ensuring the tourists respected the area (taking off their shoes and wearing appropriate clothes). It’s customary to give the key holders a small amount of money for opening the temple, or showing us around.
We had an impromptu “guide” show us his favourite temples. They were the “sunrise” and “sunset” temples with a good view but not much of a crowd. He was selling artwork (of course), so I bought a painting in exchange for his guiding services. We returned to one for sunset that evening, and the other for sunrise a few mornings later, so his information was definitely useful!
Our mornings were spent exploring the temples. During the afternoons we lazed around the pool, hiding from the sun as much as possible.
We visited the busy Shwezigon Pagoda in Old Bagan, but our kids ended up being so much of an attraction if detracted from the experience. It’s also very similar to Shwedigon Pagoda in Yangon, but not as good!
Ananda was the other “popular” temple we explored. It was a bit more interesting than Shwezigon, but still very full of tourists.
We spent the most time at Thatbyinnya Temple. Calais and Kacela enjoyed sharing their newly gained knowledge of the Buddhist religion with their new friends! One of their favourite things is giving an offering, and then following it up with a prayer or wish.
And they loved wandering and exploring both the outside and the inside of the temple.
They especially loved the ones we were able to climb (including Thatbyinnyu)!
It was great to see the big temples, but the smaller, quieter ones were the best.
My favourite area was down the road straight East of New Bagan. There were so many temples. Some of the temples we could climb, and others we just explored from the ground. The one that stands out most for me though, is this one. Than Pyin Swa. The Pagoda near the road is pretty, but the large monastery laying in ruins behind it, was the one I loved.
I immediately exclaimed “oh wow” as I crouched through the doorway.
The air cooled, and I felt like I’d been transformed into another world. Pigeons flew overhead, vines dangled from the long-forgotten ceiling, and it just had this amazing feeling.
I think the kids even felt it…or they thought it was a fun place to play! Either-way, they spent ages making up a game on the front steps. I just love watching them use their imagination, and a few bamboo poles, to entertain themselves in front of an 11th century ruin! What a childhood!
Our time in Bagan was special. We left feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. It’s somewhere that already calls me back, but I’m sure it’ll be very different by the time we’re able to visit again. I’m so grateful for these travel opportunities, and the ability to share this part of the world with the girls, before it changes forever.
This was the only reasonably priced hotel with a pool, and we used the pool enough to be worth the cost of the hotel room! The rooms were also huge, with a queen bed, single bed and a seating area. There was plenty of room on the floor for an extra child (an extra bed was a whopping $20/night, so the kids slept on the floor!). Breakfast was good, with something different offered every day, and the pool was refreshing in the afternoon. The pool isn’t heated, and is in the shade from about 2pm onward, but this didn’t stop the kids from enjoying it. Plus, the shade meant we didn’t need to worry about sunscreen, hats and sunshirts. You can find the hotel here!
Cost: $75 US/night ($93.92 CAD) for a large family room.
We rented E-bikes from Than Dar on the main road in New Bagan, and scooted around the countryside. Phone: 09 256321321, 09 258085792, 061 65273
Cost: 3500 kyat ($3.50 CAD) per bike per day. This was a deal because we rented 4 bikes for 4 days. The typical rate seemed to be about 5000 kyat/bike/day ($5.00 CAD).
This restaurant was right next to our hotel. It offered the typical complete menu where you pick the type of meat, and they bring a number of veggie and tofu side dishes.
Cost: Veggie 2000 kyat ($2.00 CAD), Meat 3000 kyat ($3.00 CAD) per person (they didn’t charge for the kids!)
We let the kids order spaghetti Bolognese, and the adults had veg coconut curry, deep fried tofu, carrot salad, pumpkin curry and mixed veggies.
Cost: 9400 kyat ($9.40 CAD) per family
I had the BEST pumpkin & ginger curry with coconut rice here. I think I ate it in about 3 seconds flat, it was to die for! I’m still dreaming about it! The kids ordered pizza and it was actually decent. The portions weren’t huge, but I thought they were reasonably priced for the size.
Cost: 10,000 kyat/family ($10 CAD)
Another fantastic restaurant in New Bagan. It’s aimed at tourists, but is still worth eating at. The setting is inside a cute garden, and everything’s spread out so we didn’t feel like the kids were bothering the other diners too much. They even have a basket with a few different games to keep the kiddos (or adults) occupied while waiting for the food. It was the most expensive place we ate at, but it was worth it.
Cost: 17250 kyat/family ($17.25 CAD)
Randy picked up pizza one day for lunch so we could sit and eat by the pool. The hotel food was mediocre at best, so we wanted something else quick and easy. The pizza was over-priced, but that’s what you get for ordering Western food in Myanmar! It was okay, although I wouldn’t be in a hurry to order it again.
Cost: 27000 kyat ($27 CAD) for 3 pizzas (we split this between 2 families).
Avg Daily Cost in Bagan: $144.05 CAD
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