One of the many perks of being an expat in Asia is the fact that we have the most idyllic locations at the most affordable rates just around the corner. High in our list of family destinations was the ancient city of Bagan, located in the Mandalay region of Myanmar. Bagan houses the remains of over 2000 temples and pagodas, as old as the 11th century, still surviving to the present day.
This last February, taking advantage of the school holidays, we decided to visit this incredible location. We chose to fly to Mandalay, which is just a one hour flight from Bangkok. And since Bagan is only a three and a half hours drive from Mandalay airport, we decided to travel by car, and witness the most modest and rural areas of the region.
Although the roads are basic and in poor condition, and it was dusty and a slow drive, this was definitely a highlight of our trip. We simply could not imagine what we’d witness there. It is well known that Myanmar is a country that has recently opened its doors to development, and we just didn’t expect it to be as primitive as it was.
We were surprised by the lack of infrastructure, the primitive basic straw huts where people lived, the hard labour conditions and the lack of tools or resources to make it easier to handle life. It was a truly humbling experience to witness how most people in the area lived and went about their daily lives.
For the remainder of the trip, as this was a family adventure, I thought I’d give you an account of it through my children’s recall of the trip, their highlights and best memories from Bagan. Here are their top 7 pics from our epic adventure:
- Exploring the temples freely, climbing on them, finding dark passages and stairs to the top of the pagodas; my children felt like Indiana Jones!
- Hiring a carthorse on one of the days to explore Bagan. We loved the slow pace, getting to meet our driver Aung and his horse. Aung took us to very local places and told us about their way of life, it was fantastic.
- Hiring electric bikes to zoom around the whole of the Bagan area. At a faster pace than the horse and cart, we were able to drive through most of the area in one day, covering the busy markets of Nyagun U with many treasures and unusual things being sold there, over to the bustling riverbank, ending the perfect day with sunset drinks overlooking the stunning river views at the Bagan River View Resort.
- Finding surprising treasures and beauty in the most isolated of places – our favourite temple was completely deserted; inside we saw exquisite statues of Buddha, paintings and the most spectacular ornaments which were 1000 years old. So allow yourself to misplace the normal map routes and venture into your own private adventure.
- Viewing amazing sunsets from the top of the pagodas and the spectacular views of the Bagan landscape. Just ensure that you pick a temple that is safe for your children to climb, as there are no safety measures in place.
- Visiting a lacquerware workshop. Fine and decorative lacquerware is famously crafted and made in villages in the region, and is a laborious process which takes about 6 months to complete, and produces intricate pieces that are hard to resist.
- Playing with the locals outside a temple with a chin lone, a small sports ball made out of rattan used in a game similar to volleyball, where players are only allowed to use their feet, knee, chest and head to touch the ball. A very fond memory for my very sporty son, and he is enjoying learning this new skill!
For me specifically, as a parent, this was a very special trip. One of those trips where the children get to open their eyes wide open and learn the hardships that some people still go through. My children learnt compassion and felt empathy for these incredibly warm and friendly people. They also got to appreciate how little one needs to be happy. They enjoyed the freedom of having no strict schedule. We went where we felt like going, when we wanted, how we wanted it. It was incredibly liberating to go around dusty, old buildings, barefoot, without a care in the world. Being exposed to such undeveloped circumstances gave us very rich conversations which moved us all. A truly humbling experience, one that we won’t forget for a very long time to come.
I find travelling with my children to be such a transforming experience. It gives us an (almost) complete break from technology, which helps us bond as a family and connect in a very special way – one of my favourite memories of this trip was riding with my son singing our own tunes out loud at sunset … priceless!
In this case, with a lack of global comforts, they explored and embraced what the country had to offer, and got to get out of their comfort zone and experience things they wouldn’t have considered back home.
Travelling is a magical experience, and will expose your children to much knowledge and an enhanced perspective about the world we live in, one that simply cannot be learnt any other way. We will always have these unforgettable memories with us. Some of the best experiences of your life are created by experiences such as these.
We are so grateful to be able to experience places such as this. And a stunning place like Bagan, relying solely on tourism, needs more of us to witness its beauty.
So, have you planned your epic adventure yet?