I was in Burma last week on a whirlwind tour of the country. One of our stops was in Bagan, one of Burma’s ancient cities. Over 4,000 Buddhist temples were commissioned by Bagan’s kings during a 230 year building frenzy that ended in 1287. And many of these temples still remain, strewn out across a vast dust plain the size of Manhattan.
Most tourists visit the temples via their sturdy tour bus with their local guide in tow. The Lonely Planet suggests hiring a bicycle to get around the sights. For the more romantically inclined, there were horses and carts available, though those passengers I saw bumping along on the back of them lost their romantic notions once their butts hit the dusty trails.
However I discovered the most superior way to travel across the temple dotted land that no other travel guide has figured out. I put on my shoes and turned on my GPS and went running between the ruins.
Because there’s loads of villages dotted around the area, there was a network of trails that I could easily follow. So I would pick out a temple on the horizon, and run over to that. Then I’d pick out another one, and checking my GPS, make sure I was running away from where I began.
Sometimes the trails would peter out and I would end up running across someone’s field. Fortunately this year’s harvesting had already been done, so I didn’t destroy some farmers’ crop at the expense of my daily exercise. And the Burmese farmers themselves smiled as I sprinted past them. Not like Irish farmers who’d be after ye with a shot gun for the mere thought of trespassing.
There were some incredibly beautiful buildings I visited on my run. Stupas covered in golden leaf with towering Buddhas lurking inside their massive solid teak front doors. Red bricked edifices with tomb-shaped domes and wall paintings from centuries past. There were even some temples I could climb up on narrow, steep steps to see the kingdom stretching out before me.
No one seemed to mind at all a white woman touring the temples this way. Only thing I bore in mind was not to go inside religious places given my shorts and t-shirt attire. And it was surprisingly cool with a gentle breeze blowing across the plain. But then again, I do live in Cambodia where the heat can at times be oppressive.
And once the mid-morning run was done, it was off for some re-fuelling. A guidebook tip led us to an Indian restaurant, Aroma 2, where curries and condiments galore were laid before us on banana leaves.
And, at the end of the day, I refreshed myself with a cold Mynamar beer watching the sun set on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. A nice way to complete a day of fast track sight-seeing.