Bagan in Myanmar has always been a dream of me. I can’t even remember how long I’ve been dreaming of travelling to Myanmar one day, to Burma. To BAGAN. To see the pagodas, stand there in quiet and suck in all the beauty. I wanted it to be one of these very rare magic moments in life. One of these moments you’ll always remember. I wanted it to be as in the movies. Or at least as on those breathtaking cheesy pictures you see of Bagan ALL THE TIME.
And then I’m standing there, nearly crying. Nearly stamping my foot like a little child. Nothing but really NOTHING is like I thought it would be. This can’t be. Somehow. Somewhere. What if I turn around? Nothing. It just doesn’t touch me. It just doesn’t look the way I imagined it. And it doesn’t feel that way.
What’s wrong with you?? The picture really looks good?!! Yes, you’re right. When I’m looking at the pictures now I also think it was kind of beautiful. But it just didn’t feel like that back then.
Ok, maybe it was because of the weather. It rained for the whole two days I was staying in Bagan. No romantic sunset, no mythical sunrise. But I’ve tried. I’ve tried really hard. I got up at half past four in the morning, took my rented bike in the pouring rain and got completely lost. I never imagined Bagan to be so huge.
I didn’t stop. Somewhere. Somehow. Maybe over there? Armed with a screenshot of a picture my friend Sebastian from Offthepath took of Bagan I was searching for the ultimate view. Stopped at every souvenir seller to check out the postcards. IT MUST LOOK LIKE I ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WOULD DO. SOMEWHERE.
Not what I was looking for.
No sunset, no sunrise, no wafts of mist. But it wasn’t only the weather. It also sucked because of all the tourists. Yes, you can’t spot them on the pictures, but they are everywhere. In masses. Yes, masses. And it was just Bagan itself that sucked. Maybe because my expectations were way too high. And sometimes if you hope for too much, if you think this will be awesomesauce. Then it just sucks. Kind of the way New Year’s Eve often sucks.
But I have to admit there was one thing I really liked about Bagan. But this wasn’t because of Bagan but because of Myanmar, of Burma itself. The people here are incredibly great. (Not all of them but more about this soon.) They are heartful, open, interested, helpful, passionate and just there when you need them. Like this one time I had a flat tire (which I didn’t even notice). Then someone is driving next to you and says: “Hey, you have a flat tire. If you have five minutes I will repair it for you.”
And while some of them are watching TV in temples, others are completely devoted to their religion.
The people I’ve met in Bagan kind of made Bagan a better place. But Bagan itself with its temples and pagodas and the “once in a lifetime thing” really really sucked. Maybe it was all my fault. Maybe it was well deserved punishment for lying to a monk in Yangon. Maybe. Who knows.
Have you been to Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)? Or have you been disappointed by another place from your bucket list?
Thinking about travelling to Myanmar (Burma)? Then you should read this: All you need to know when travelling to Myanmar (Burma)
Thanks Yvonne for adding this as your Epic Moment of Adventure in 2013! Love this story and the whole journey and just added it to my own Epiclist! After backpacking all over Thailand and Malaysia, Myanmar sounds like a great next destination!
Thanks a lot for sharing!
Stan / Epiclist.io
I was in Myanmar January 2015.
Yangon sucks big time! It is so filthy. Black Mold grows on the exterior of the appartment buildings. Hotels mask the mold odors w/ mothballs. Made me sick! Beware of the over charging taxi drivers/guides. $35. per day, 9am to 6pm is the going rate. NOT $75.! Maybe $40. for 2 people.
These people are just out to take your money. Greedy people abound. Men chew bitter leaf and spit everywhere. Discusting! Filthy mouths, by bitter leaf or over sugar sweet teeth rotting away. Some streets are newly paved now but the sidewalks are war torn and cement rubble is almost everywhere. Traffic jams consume so much time. Drivers are very impatient and won’t stop beeping their horns! This is a very loud and dirty city. Road rage will likely get worst as cars are recently in abundance in Yangon, now that ordinary people are allowed to buy them. Overall the mentallity in Yangon sucks! Criminals love sugar as do many of these people.
One day sight seeing pagoda’s is all Yangon is worth, and not yet! Wait untill all are finished restoring.
The word on the travelers circuit is that it is too early to visit Myanmar. 5 years from now prices will likely balance out and the pagoda’s and temples will be finished restoring. Maybe the people will learn how to keep a hotel bathroom clean.
BAGON: Hounding sales people at the pagodas and temples just won’t quit the HOUNDING for their ‘give me good luck, I need (your) money’ sales tactic. Same lines you get from everyone. It’s a ‘PITTY ME, PITTY ME, BEGGING ROUTINE. And the artist selling sand paintings are liers! Those images are mass produced. They are not the artists! The worth is about 3 to 5 dollars. Not the $25 to $50 they try to get.
The hot air “Baloons over Bagon” was actually worth the expense for the sense of magic. But not on a clowdy day. One hotel desk clerk, good english speaking, stole a bracelet from my room. It was written all over her face. I didn’t confront. I let her eat herself up with guilt. Most of These people are very weak. You’ll see it in their weak chins.
Inle Lake is more mello. You’ll get to interact with the country people without the hounding. The boat rides on the lake are full of tourist traps but still quite entertaining. Just expect them to ask 4x what the real price is (in most cases) and then bargain them down. I would like to return to Inle Lake Only.
Woah! Avelena, seems like you shouldn’t travel at all in Southeast Asia with an attidude like this. All the things you didn’t like about Yangon were exactly the things I DID like. Don’t expect Myanmar to become a Disneyland. I do hope Myanmar keeps a lot of the authentic way it was like BEFORE all the tourists overrun the country. I don’t need a country to be “restored” before I visit. I want a country to be as authentic as possible. And if they like to chew betel nuts – I mean, honestly – it’s a part of their culture! Why should they stop doing this, just because YOU think it’s disgusting. And I’ve met wonderful people there. Friendly, humble and welcoming. We have a saying in Germany… “Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus” – “As the question, so the answer”. Maybe think about your attitude…
2 years later, but thank you Yvonne for that great answer! Some people just should stay home.
She does have some points right but in most odio the ones that she’s conplainnong about Burmas way of being is kings of funny, like, did you really missed all that besutifulness? So sad you spent the money in not enjoying the greatness of the easy way of living over here!
Regarding the article. I thought the same the first day. But the next day we went to those places nobody visits and we enjoyed so much! Finally loved Bagan, but the different one, the one that no one sees.
I find it frustrating when I see people have this kind of “experience” in a completely foreign country. It is clear that the OP is a spoilt first world westerner who has had nothing but joy in her life since her early childhood. Knows nothing about poverty and only cares about keeping her dress clean in a 3rd world country.
Country’s like Myanmar are to be enjoyed for what they are. Not spoken about like trash because it is not as clean as the visitor’s beautiful first world booming economy, super clean country.
I’m afraid I have to agree with the last post..
Avelena, I think you have missed the meaning of ‘travel expands the mind’.. Having enjoyed traveling through Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand I’m looking forward to Myanmar. I travel not to change anything.. that’s too egotistical, I travel to explore and enjoy the wonderful diversity of human life and if anything, appreciate a little more what I have by comparison.. you left that country to head home, the people there have to stay and make the best with what they have.. your flight probably cost you more than they would earn in five years.. drop the arrogance.. it shows you to be wealthy in dollars but poor in heart ..
I went on the birthright trip to Israel when I was 23. Everyone told me that as a (half) Jew, I’d feel so special in Israel. Feel connected to the place and the people. What I saw was religious extremism. Xenophobia. Ecological overtaxing of the region’s limited resources. I didn’t feel special. I felt more than mildly horrified. At the wailing wall, the group sang ancient Jewish songs. I screwed up my heart, and dug as deeply as I could muster, but it never got more interesting than the way any ancient ruin is interesting. Oh well. Can’t win ’em all!
I had a really great time in Bagan. With a bike it is easy to escape the tourist masses (except for sunset points). The people where nice. Although I travel quite a lot in Asia, I did not like Yangon that much. But it is a fast changing town, so maybe I will be thankful in the future, because I got a glimpse at it at the current status.
Interesting. I actually liked Yangon most of all the places I’ve seen in Myanmar. And I hope it won’t change that fast 😉
Oh, I had such a great time in Bagan..dream 😀 in spite of rains & bad weather. Trust me I didn’t get to see any magical sunset or sunrise..even though I was there 3 days in a row dot at the sunset view points still It was a heart rending, soul satiating experience <3 I just fell in love with Bagan or say Burma..Burmese people are the best of the lot compared to other south Asian countries. May be you will believe what I am saying by my pictures I posted of Bagan in my Instagram, do check it if you are interested. ( https://www.instagram.com/twobirdsbreakingfree/ )
Sorry Yvone, for the kind of experience you had in Bagan, that is why I read your blog at the first place, it was shocking why would Bagan suck for you. I had the same dream as you, and when I climbed to one of the temple for a panoramic view of the whole Bagan archaeological site, I felt so content, so happy. The feeling was out of this world. Oh and I pity Avelena, she must be in a culture shock, but I am sure travelling will broaden her mind. For her I can only quote this quote 🙂 " "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not." – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I went to Myanmar this year and I liked it. I loved the 18th hour train ride, amazing experience! Bagan dissapointed me a bit, didnt look like I know from the pictures plus pretty lots of tourists. Renting e-bike is a great thing! Really loved Inle Lake, it was sooo beautiful in the morning. But Myanmar is way to expensive! They wanted to charge me 10$ for one magnet (!!!) and this is the price after i tried to bargain! I didn’t buy it at the end.
My country is in pictures, so simple and rustic. Thank you very much
Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’ve been to Asia during rainy season but reading your experience is definitely having me think twice about planning my trip outside of rainy season
Thank you for sharing the trip, I will be going to Yagon next month. I hope my trip will be lucky
All these complaints about filthy people, bad manner, etc.- what a privileged and selfish bunch of people you are! Nobody ONCE mentions all the genocide, political repression, rape and torture that has been synonymous with Myanmar all these decades (since Ne Win and now continuing with- surprise- Islamaphobe Aung Saang Suu Kyi).
Myanmar is a despicable and vile nation for its human rights violations, not for its shabby pagodas.
Not that my country, the U.S. is any better- we spend all our time bombing people, selling weapons and holding the world hostage with nuclear war threats. Nice going Homo Sapiens!
Travel experience is very much, but what is important is whether I love traveling or not? Does it give us a feeling of sublimation? Feel it