The first thing you think of when you hear “Bagan” – is temples, temples and more temples. And yes, whilst there are over 2000 stunning temples, big and small dotted around the plains, there is more to do in Bagan than explore just the temples. Now, I am a foodie as well as an explorer and an adventurer, and I would not be doing Bagan justice if I didn’t tell you about some of the mouthwatering food that I ate here.
You can’t leave Bagan (or Burma) without trying the tea leaf salad – or laphet thoke as it is known. I first tried this in Yangon, however found that the tastier version of this dish made with fermented tea leaves, ground nuts and an eclectic mix of ingredients was at the Green Elephant Riverside Restaurant. The atmosphere at this restaurant is really nice, set next to the river with tables set on a wooden deck. Certainly a nice place to take a break from exploring Bagan.
And if eating fermented tea leaves doesn’t tickle your fancy (I can’t say I was the biggest fan – it was a bit too pungent for my liking, however my rule is – to try everything once) then try something a little more palatable like the crispy duck at Sarabha Restaurant. Moist, succulent with an outer skin crisped to perfection – I would recommend this dish anyday!
If you fancy some European cuisine – then look no further than Star Beam Bistro in Old Bagan, close to Tharabar Gate. With the Temples as its backdrop and set amidst colourful parasols – with a simple yet delicious menu – you will want to eat here time and again. Their smoky aubergine salad and the grilled fillet of river fish – my mouth drools at thought of these dishes!
Food aside, the village of Myinkaba in Old Bagan is also a nice place to indulge in every day life and watch the people go about their daily chores. One would think being up at the crack of dawn for Balloons over Bagan, we would want to have some down time but these adventurers are full of adrenaline and exploring and this village is a great place to while away some time. Two grannies, with thanaka smeared over their faces in typical Burmese fashion, sit and have a natter while smoking some home made cheroot, puffing away and trading rice for a tomato or two. I wander over and ask their names – A Mar Tin and Daw Pike have lived in this village as long as they can remember, and are content with life. Over in the next house, children play, swinging their baby brother in a home made swing, laughing and chattering away. I ask if I can take a picture – and A Mar Tin nods, taking a huge puff of her cheroot and billowing out wafts of smoke as I click away. It is fascinating to sit and watch as life trundles on.
Moving on, we are told that Myinkaba Village is famous for its cotton and its lacquer ware industry. I am put to shame with the nimble fingers of one of the girls as she spins cotton and my fat fingers can’t do the job, so I just watch as she spins away, humming. I can’t help but think that this is why I travel – to experience other worlds, to escape the daily grind and to remind myself that there is so much more to life…
Next stop – the lacquerware factory, where yet more nimble fingers carve out beautiful patterns swiftly yet deftly, with meticulous attention to detail. Seeing this way of life makes me realise just how uncreative I am. I can churn out legal documents but spinning cotton and creating art on beautiful lacquerware – now that is a different story. Thank goodness for artistic people that make this world a pretty place to be in!
And yes, you won’t be able to escape just one more pagoda in Bagan – the gilded Shwezigon Pagoda is actually one of the most significant religious pagodas in Bagan, and is well worth a look if you find yourself in that vicinity.
When I think of my adventures in South East Asia, Bagan always tops my list. I would love to go back and spend some more time in this stunning part of the world and I certainly hope that the innocence and beauty of this region remains preserved for centuries to come.
*I am in no way affiliated with any of the places mentioned in this post. All opinions are my own and are based on my own experiences and paid for by me. End of legalese!