Sunrise over the pagodas at Bagan – one of the most iconic pictures of Myanmar, a traveller’s dream to witness that magical moment when the sky turns red and pink and the balloons float over the vast space with the ‘htis’ of the pagodas peaking out of the morning fog.
It all comes at a price – with Bagan being the number one tourist destination in Myanmar, there are also busloads of tourists wanting to witness the spectacle. The pagodas with the best views are overcrowded from 5 a.m. onwards with buses moving along the sandy paths to the best viewpoints. I therefore chose a calmer and maybe a little less picturesque location but enjoyed a beautiful sunset in a calm atmosphere.
My alarm went off at 5 a.m. and I rented a little electro-scooter at my hotel to make my way towards Bu Le Thi pagoda, my chosen lookout for my first sunrise (fingers crossed, my first attempt on the previous day was caught up in fog). Luckily, I had downloaded the app “MapsMe” for guidance since it was pitch-black outside and the little signs indicating the sandy paths towards the pagodas off the main road are not visible in the early mornings. There are only a few pagodas which one is allowed to climb – and I beg you to follow the recommendations of the locals for the ones that are designated to mount on. Since a lot of the over 3000 pagodas have suffered great damage during the earthquakes that hit the planes in the 1980’s and are also slowly succumbing to time, the uncontrolled climbing of thousands of tourists on already shaky stones does accelerate the damage to this beautiful cultural heritage site (and will end in the construction of modern lookouts that will certainly take away some of the charm of the place).
So I arrived at Bu Le Thi pagoda just in time to find a comfortable spot on the top. It is fairly cold in the early mornings so come prepared. From then on, I just enjoyed the views over the planes, the first rays of morning light slowly illuminating the peaks of the pagodas, the morning fog slowly lifting, giving sight on the multitude of little temples around you. The sky turned from bluish-pink to orange-red and the balloons set a beautiful contrast against the colored sky. I guess the pictures explain themselves, no commenting necessary.
Just one more thing, if you are any photography-addict like me, I’d recommend planning at least for three sunrises at the pagodas. In case you miss one due to bad weather conditions, you have one sunrise for shooting all the pictures you’d feel like you are compelled to in that beautiful setting, and you have one morning left to just sit back and enjoy the views and the atmosphere. I did this on my last morning in Bagan before taking the bus at 8 a.m. towards my next destination and it was definitely the best decision.
Pagodas illuminated in the soft morning light.
The dimensions of the place really left me speechless – you can spot pagodas all around you. More then 3000 pagodas have been built throughout the reign of King Anawratha and his successors. Every citizen contributed to the building of the shrines and pagodas at the time, and even today, everybody is still contributing to the maintenance and restoration of pagodas and temples throughout the country. The Burmese, in their deep Buddhist faith, take absolute priority in donating towards their temples and monasteries. Even the very poor give what they can – the strong Buddhist faith is a reuniting power in this country throughout the different ethnicities. It was truly humbling to see how they take care of each other and their faith.
All the more it is worrying to see how the government treats the Muslim minority of the Rohingya people in the Rakhine state. I truly hope that this issue will be solved in this beautiful multi-ethnic country.