After breakfast, a drive of around 4 hours takes you to Pakokku, an old British-era trading town where the Colonial influence is still very much apparent in the architecture and atmosphere.
Originally a quiet trading post, Pakokku was transformed by the British, and now trades timber and toddy palm sugar from its useful position between the Yaw and Chindwin rivers. The town is a useful transit point for travellers making their way between Mandalay or Monywa and Bagan, and made headlines around the world in 2007 when monks from the Myo Ma Ahle Monastery started the nationwide protests that later became known as the ‘Saffron Revolution’.
Upon arrival, visit Pakokku’s open-air central market, where local products such as vegetables, fruit, handicrafts and textiles are exchanged. Stop at the thanaka market, where local women buy the distinctive paste made from ground thanaka bark, used as both sunscreen and cosmetic and visible on many a face throughout Myanmar.
Having taken a look around - and possibly stocked up on a personal supply of thanaka paste - head for town centre to visit a cheroot factory and observe wood carving and slipper-making workshops. After admiring the local artisans, continue to Kyaukgu Umin cave tunnel, a unique temple carved into a sandstone cliff probably around the 13th century. Legend has it that the maze-like temple doubled as a shelter from invading Mongols, and its 152 metres of winding corridors are decorated with stone sculptures of mythological creatures. In the main hall there is a large Buddha carved from sandstone, and a range of painted murals, never completed, depicting scenes from Buddha’s life.
Leaving the temple, cruise along the Ayeyarwady River for about 1.5 hours to Bagan.
After checking in to your hotel the remainder of your day is at leisure.
Bagan, sometimes written ‘Pagan’, is one of the most significant ancient religious cities in South-East Asia, matched only really by Angkor Wat. Burma’s capital during the 9th century, Bagan is defined by the thousands of spires and temples filling its green valley, many of them hundreds of years old. This historic city is all about the temples, but there are many interesting villages to explore nearby, and New Bagan has a lively market and tea shop culture for whenever you’re in danger of feeling templed out. To further ring the changes, you can also head off to explore the temples or villages by bike.
Overnight in Bagan
Early mornings are par for the course when travelling in Myanmar, but pre-dawn starts are well worth the effort to capture magical moments. Today is one such day when a pre-dawn transfer to one of Bagan’s viewing mounds to watch the sun rise over the temple-strewn plains is recommended. Viewing mounds have been opened in order to discourage tourists from climbing the temples, both for the long-term preservation of these ageing structures and the safety of visitors.
Our favourite mound is north-east of Dhammayangyi, where on one side you have a view of a lake and on the other, a wide sweeping view of the ancient capital’s temple-strewn landscape. Once the sun has risen take an horse-cart ride back to your hotel for breakfast.
With literally thousands of sites to choose from, it's no easy task selecting which temples and pagodas to make a bee-line for. However in true Selective Asia style we have a secret gem up our sleeve which you will visit after breakfast. We can’t divulge any information about the place aside from the fact that it is not on the tourist radar.
If time permits, continue on to a lacquerware shop where you will learn about this regionally famous, age-old process before taking a break for lunch. Your guide will be able to make recommendations for lunch: our current favourites are The Secret Home which serves home-cooked Burmese specialities based on Ma Kyi Kyi’s family recipes, and Sanon - a training restaurant designed to offer greater employment opportunities for marginalised local youth.
In the afternoon you may wish to visit the iconic temples of Ananda with its 1424 Buddhas mounted in the walls, and Shwezigion Pagoda with its golden stupa. Enjoy sunset at the temples, or return to your hotel for a dip in the pool and a well earned sundowner.
Maximum experience, minimum crowds
During your tour of the Bagan temples we ensure your day remains both flexible and personal. Having met with your guide you will be able to discuss in detail what you are looking to achieve from your time in the region. While some wish to explore as many temples as they can during their stay, others like to travel at a slower, more relaxed pace.
For many it’s the smaller pagodas tucked away in the corner of a rice field, whilst for others it’s those journeys through the countryside, following little-used dust tracks, or leaving the air-con for an hour in favour of a horse-drawn cart amongst the temples and pagodas.
Sunrise and sunset are often considered the most impressive time of day in Bagan and your guide will be glad to suggest a choice spot to take in the view. It’s important to note, however, that to prevent un-necessary damage to these ancient structures, the Ministry of Culture have restricted the number of stupas that it is possible to climb to five specific pagodas.
We do appreciate that some visitors are wary of becoming ‘templed-out’. To combat this we can create more varied days, with visits to villages, such as Myinkaba, to observe the process of traditional lacquer-ware crafting, or Bagan town centre, or just simply create more time to leisurely laze by the pool.
All our guides are highly experienced Bagan specialists, fully trained and licensed to work at the temples. Along with their exceptional knowledge of the Bagan region, the various temples and pagodas, and the civilisations that built them, your guide will know how best to avoid the busier times of day, not to mention where to catch the best sunrises and sunsets. Put simply, they’ll adapt the itinerary to suit your preferences and know every trick in the book when it comes to getting the best photos and most tranquil moments.
If you have any specific requirements or special interests, be sure to let us know and we will arrange the guide with the most suitable expertise.
Overnight in Bagan
Touring ideas in Bagan
Take to the skies
By far the best way to view the ancient temples of Bagan is from the basket of a hot air balloon, floating serenely above the plains as the sun rises and the ground mist disperses. Coffee and pastries are served as you watch the efficient ground team inflate the balloons. To complete the experience, a glass of sparkling wine awaits you on your return to the ground. According to SA’s Lionel this is ‘a not-to-be-missed highlight of any Myanmar trip’.
Explore on two wheels
If leaving the safety of terraferma makes you nervous and you would prefer to keep your feet on the ground, there are other unique ways of exploring this captivating area. In true traditional style, a fun and leisurely way to explore the temples is by horse-drawn cart. Alternatively, if you feel the need to be active, take a guided bicycle tour.
Take a break from the temples and visit some of Bagan’s outlying villages by bicycle. As you cycle, enjoy the views of rice paddies and distant temple spires before stopping at local villages for an insight into traditional rural life, to learn about the small cottage industries that are prevalent in the region and, of course, meet with the curious locals. You may even be invited to join a local family for tea.