Bagan might be one of the most magical places on Earth: a real-life Narnia, where a seemingly endless number of temples rise from the mist-blanketed, grassy plains.
Historically Bagan was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan from the ninth to 13th centuries, the first kingdom in what would eventually become Myanmar. More than 10,000 temples and pagodas were constructed in Bagan during the kingdom's height, and today around 4,000 remain. Any trip to Myanmar would be incomplete without a visit to Bagan, and the best way to see these temples is to get up close and personal, using the many bicycle trails that wrap around them like labyrinths.
One way to see Bagan by bike is to go with a professional tour guide. Grasshopper Adventures has several full-day bike tours to some of the best temples in Bagan, along with less-frequented ones that are free of the massive amounts of tourists who flock there during the high season.
One of the most memorable tours is the Bagan Sunset Ride. The day begins with a bike ride through Bagan's back roads to get to the temple plains.
Shwezigon Pagoda is a Buddhist temple located in Nyaung-U, a town near Bagan, Myanmar.
The route takes cyclists on sandy paths that wind through the high grasses that connect temple to temple. The tour is capped with a private sunset boat ride along the Irrawaddy River. Board the boat in the early evening, grab a cold beer and a plate of local snacks and watch as the sun dips behind the mountains, washing the temples in a purple glow. Following the cruise, Grasshopper Adventures will drop you back at your hotel.
For a more DIY-style adventure, many shops and hotels in Bagan rent out beach cruiser bikes or motorbikes. Beach cruisers will cost roughly $1 for the day. Motorbikes are around $5.
Mounted atop your trusty steed, you are now ready to tackle the temples on your own. Many hotels and shops in the area have maps of the temples in the Archaeological Zone that is Old Bagan, which is where most of the iconic ones are located. Bagan is a very safe destination and is relatively small, so exploring on your own is fine. Most people speak English, so if you happen to get lost you will have no trouble finding your way back to your route.
The peak heat in Myanmar is in the afternoon, so it's best to save your temple exploring for early in the morning or later in the day. Starting later in the afternoon means you will be in a prime location for the sunset. Many temples in Old Bagan are climbable and are wonderful perches to catch the spectacular sunset colors that paint the Bagan sky.
Be sure to get to the temples early enough to get a good seat, as they can get crowded. Nothing makes you feel more like you're truly in another world than racing the sun down dusty paths on a rickety beach cruiser past fields of peeking pagodas.