There are numerous ways to see at least a portion of more than two thousand pagodas of Bagan; you can either go via an expensive hot air balloon, an air-conditioned rented car, the classic horse-drawn carriage, the popular electric scooter or what they commonly called as an e-bike, but nothing says adventure than pedal power.
No moment where I felt that I should have rented an e-bike instead, I was extremely happy and at peace to cycle around the town of Nyaung-U where I was staying, to the town of Old Bagan which has the most concentration of ancient temples and to New Bagan, the furthest south of Bagan settlements.
It is easy to navigate Anawratha and Bagan Main, roads that connect each town and with easy access to temples along the way. A free map from the guesthouse always come handy, though not exactly scale, but with starred landmarks to show the temples worth stopping by, specifically the most popular ones such as Shwezigon Pagoda , Shwesandaw Pagoda, Htilominlo Temple, Sulamani Temple, Bupaya Pagoda, Mingalazedi Pagoda.
But the real adventure of temple hopping is always discovering the lesser known series of small temples, where you will find yourself either alone or with another one or two visitors.
Most of the temples are maintained by certain Burmese family, who are courteous and allow visitors to enter the temples to view the Buddha statues or paintings inside, then climbed at the topmost portion for a view of the Bagan plains. What they normally expect in return is for visitors consider purchasing one of their sand paintings, and it is easy to say no if don’t interest you.
When you visit a tourist spot like Bagan, it is easy to get lost to the idea covering as much area as possible, hopping from one Paya to another, and maybe overlooking the meaning of being at this place.
At Ananda Temple I learned a valuable lesson, as I sat down at one of the gatherings in front of a golden Buddha statue. I don’t understand what the group of Burmese visitors is talking about, but the eagerness and intensity of how willing they are to listen and to understand is one of the most humbling experience, way beyond the satisfaction of going home with a postcard perfect image of Bagan.
I would never trade a day of cycling around Bagan for another sunrise or sunset view. Biking around Bagan makes me feel more connected to the place and to the people. It was such carefree days and never felt more alive despite being exhausted and with a dirty feet.
Seeing my dirty feet at the end of the day never fails to put a smile on my face, for I know every pedal push means exploration and every temple stop was a moment of realization of finally standing at a place I wanted to see for a long time.