Saturday, November 28, 2015
Viking River Cruises’ Viking Mandalay sailed briefly this morning for two hours south from our overnight anchorage to Bagan, Myanmar. We were strongly encouraged to be up at 5:30 a.m. to see the hot air balloons flying over Bagan during our morning sail south, and I was not disappointed that I jumped out of bed to do so.
As the sun rose over Bagan, dozens of hot air balloons gradually took to the skies. I grabbed my camera and had the bar staff whip me up a cappuccino, and spent an enjoyable 90 minutes before breakfast at 7:00 a.m. watching the balloons ascend into the skies, largely silhouetted by the rising sun.
Most guests also awoke early, which created a nice, convivial atmosphere up on the Sun Deck. It was a striking way to begin the day, and another little sign that Viking – in conjunction with Pandaw – has planned this itinerary out thoughtfully.
If you’re curious, Viking doesn’t offer the ability to book one of these balloon rides. Operators are few, and a ride can apparently cost up to $400 USD per person. I don’t know the exact reason, but I’d guess that relatively lax safety standards of such rides probably makes the Viking lawyers nervous.
Bagan is one of Myanmar’s undisputed “must-see” sights. It attracts everyone from locals to backpackers to organized tourist groups that, on my visit, were predominantly made up by guests from France and Germany. It’s also the staple of every Irrawaddy river cruise itinerary, and today was even the site of a 100 kilometre marathon; though why you’d want to run a marathon in this heat is beyond me.
Bagan is made up of nearly 2,000 individual temples and stupas of all shapes and sizes, scattered across the landscape. Many of these are clustered close together; close enough that you can actually walk between them. Constructed largely over two centuries between 1050 and 1280, Bagan’s temples are to Myanmar what Angkor Wat is to Cambodia, or the Acropolis is to Athens.
Obviously, visiting all of the temples here is an impossibility. My Rouge Guide to Myanmar (Burma) guide book states that you could spend a full year here and still not manage to see everything that Bagan has to offer.
Entry to Bagan typically requires a $15 fee for foreigners, but Viking takes care of this for you, which makes visiting this mysterious area as easy as hopping on the bus. We visited some of the big-name temples during our day, including the massive Ananda Paya that was completed in 1090 for King Kyansittha. With four entrances instead of the more-customary one, its floorplan resembles that of a Greek cross inlaid in a square.
Our Live Voyage Report from Viking River Cruises’ Myanmar Explorer continues tomorrow with another day of exploration along the Irrawaddy River! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.