We caught the MGRG ‘express’ from Bagan to Mandalay (12 hours). This involved walking down a sand dune in the middle of the night (ok, 5am, but it was very dark) and then shuffling along a narrow plank to get on board. Once there, however, it was a very comfortable and enjoyable ride. Breakfast and lunch provided, and two! flushing toilets. Luxury.
Apparently there are over 2,000 monuments in Bagan, in various states of repair/disrepair. Earthquakes have caused major damage, the most recent in August 2016. Some temples were closed due to the latest shakeup.
There are plenty of ‘must see’ monument lists but the two places I most enjoyed were not described in anything we read – it was more happy accident. Get your own transport, bring your headlamp and go for it. We travelled by mountain bike (A$4 per bike per day), small e-scooter ($10 from the hotel, but on the street $7) and large e-scooter ($10 on the street – and the most comfortable ride for this passenger). Taxis offer tours, but can’t get to many of the more interesting places – or you could also try horse and cart. Many of the roads are narrow, bumpy and sandy. You can’t hire motorbikes and we heard it was because foreigners were having too many accidents.
Favourite spot no.1 was the Wi-ni-do Group. We were looking at the stupas behind the main temple when a guy came out of a nearby dwelling and asked us if we wanted to look in the main building. Turns out he was the key holder, and gave us (and some other passing tourists) a look inside. It was remarkable – the interior paintings were extremely well preserved – and strictly no photographs allowed.
The second was building no. 1401. The staircase was unlocked and we climbed up onto the top for fantastic afternoon views of the area. No one else was around.