Equipped with little more than a map and some electric scooters, we got a chance to do our best Indiana Jones impressions in Bagan, Myanmar. From sunrise to sunset we drove through unmarked dirt paths, fields, and shrubby forests seeking out ancient temples and the shrines, sculptures, and hidden passages within. Many temples allowed us to climb up top to view the vast landscapes with hundreds of other temples peeking out through the trees and mist. The grandest temples were often thronged with tourists, while others were completely isolated and an adventure just to reach. The days were ours to make of them what we wanted, but of course that meant being respectful and responsible to the place we were in.
Other than paying a modest fee upon entering the Bagan Archaeological Zone, the entire area is open to roam. There aren’t many signs, and very few roads. People are free to explore the interiors of temples on their own, and climb to the top of many of them using the stairs within. At its height, Bagan was the once-capital of a kingdom that would later become modern Myanmar. At one point the surrounding area had over 10,000 temples, stupas, pagodas, and various religious structures scattered throughout the arid region. Its long history, earthquakes, and increased tourism has taken its toll and only around 2,200 structures remain today, but preservation efforts are contsantly increasing.
The freedom to explore allowed us to experience this ancient region like no where else in the world, in a place that has a beauty like no where else either. As preservation efforts continue and Bagan’s nascent tourism industry grows, hopefully fellow travelers stay respectful and do their part to help preserve this magical place, while still finding some of their own adventure. ◆