Are you planing your trip to Burma just now? Or thinking of going one day? There’s no better way to prepare, than reading that blog post. Honestly, I wish someone had told me those things before. There are things that you need to know in advance to explore Bagan with joy. Here we go:
1.Rent a bike or e-scooter — There’s no better way to explore the beauty of Bagan than driving around yourself, the freedom and opportunities are endless and aluring. Never ever (promise that!) get talked into talking the taxi, that would be a shame!
2. Not all who wonder are lost — So get lost. Following the map can be misleading and tiring as all temple signs are written in Burmese only, best practice is to let go of any plans and just immerse in a beauty of the place. It’s good to have a map with you though, just in case, but more as a reference tool than as a real guidebook.
3. Take comfortable cloths covering your shoulders — yes, shamefully the blue dress I was wearing was a faux pas as I was too naked for most religious sites plus that dress kept getting caught in the spokes of a bicycle leaving me literally naked (not funny at all). Shirt + trousers or a long dress would be a much better idea. Just to my defence: I bought new clothes.
4. Bring a torch — some temples have beautiful wall paintings; some have hidden, secret steps to reach the roof top, they’re sometimes covered in a total darkness inside. The wonderful thing is that you can freely explore most temples— inside and out!
5. Wear shoes that are easy to take off — in order to enter the temple you have to take off your shoes, you don’t want to undo your laces every time.
6. Make sun lotion your best friend or get a hat — the sun is a killer, protect your skin and nose! They sell foldable hats in Bagan, very convenient to carry around and a must if you forgot to take yours. If you are into local customs you might apply Thanaka— a natural make-up, a yellowish-white paste, that protects women’s faces from sun.
7. Be careful when you climb the temples — the steps are not only unbearably hot but also might be the home to few snakes!
8. Learn hello and thank you — Hello: Mingala ba! Thank you: Kyeizu tin ba de!
9. Be kind to locals — they are good Buddhist and very rarely will try to cheat you, give them the benefit of a doubt and believe in their good intentions. But having said that:
10. Be assertive — many painters and self-appointed artists will try to show you their shops; if you aren’t assertive enough, you will end up decorating your entire house (plus your friends and neighbours) with the Burmese art. I got one painting to support the local artist, which I carried with me at the bike rack, so whenever I was asked to buy another one, I just showed that I already had one.
11. Pay the entrance fee, don’t be cheap! — I’ve read on many websites how to avoid paying 20 USD tax. Come on, Bagan is such a wonderful place, be grateful, pay the fee.
12. Take plenty of cash — always bring new, clean US$ bank notes which are not damaged in any way. ATM is still a novel concept in Myanmar. That applies to the whole country, you won’t exchange your hard earned money, if the bills are not in a perfect condition. And one more thing: the larger denomination, the better exchange rate — worth keeping that in mind!
13. Book your ballon ride early — if you crave for the hot air ballon adventure you need to pre-book it quite early as the tours fill in rather quickly. Be ready to spend around 300US$ and make sure you visit Myanmar in a right season (balloons only run between October and April). The experience is not exactly the same as it used to be (you won’t fly directly over the temples anymore), but still I don’t know anyone who would be unhappy about the trip. Outrageously expensive (for that amount of money you can fly three times over Cappadocia) but worth it.
14. Sunrise is a must! — If you are pressed for time and have to choose between sunrise and sunset, definitely go for sunrise! You’ll see the balloons and the light is so much better. Now a burning question comes: Which temple to choose for sunrise watching? I wouldn’t mind recommending a classic one: The Shwezigon Pagoda. Just be ready to embrace the crowd.
15. Carry spare camera batteries — Burma is extremely photogenic, if you are into photography it’s a heaven on earth, Bagan is a small place, more like village, I’m sure you won’t get electronics there.
16. Visa — Last thing, which might sound trivial, but actually isn’t: please check all visa requirements and apply online (if that is your case) well in advance coming to Burma. They’re not really helpful at the airport, so it’s better to check twice if you have all the legal documents at hand with you. Just a friendly advice.
Can you touch the robe of a monk? Can you kiss in public? Is Myanmar safe for women traveler? What are you up to if you call someone with your finger? How to say good morning or thank you in Burmese? Myanmar Tourism Office prepared a wonderful and very informative booklet about local savoir vivre. Have a look!
That’s the end of my Burmese adventures. Is there any other thing you would like to know? Ask me! Since then happy traveling or settling in! Bon chic, bon voyage xxx