Bagan is a must on any visitors list. And for good reason- the 2000+ temples and pagodas are breath taking. Perhaps because of its development as a tourist town, and the remarkably good English spoken by the vendors, tourists often feel they did not ‘connect’ with the locals in Bagan.
In our ongoing series on ‘Best places to Meet Locals’ we highlight some great options for Bagan:
Lawkananda Pagoda – This pagoda is not as remarkable as others in Bagan and thus not on many tourist itineraries. Yet on the weekends and early evenings it is popular gathering spot for locals who come to enjoy the cool breezes from the Irrawaddy River. Since few tourists visit Lawkananda, be prepared to be a bit of a celebrity and pose for a photo a few times. Head there for sunset and enjoy a cold juice or ice cream as you converse with your new found friends.
Shwe Yar Su Beer Station- There is not much in the way of night life in Bagan but Shwe Yar Su is the place to go for a cold beer. Tour guides and hotel employees gather here in the evenings and on their days off to have a drink and catch up on the latest gossip. Although located in the middle of the ‘backpacker’ area, few tourists wander in for a drink.
Myinkabar Village– Just south of Old Bagan lies Myinkabar village which is known for its high quality lacquerware products. The main street features shops aimed at tourists and so many visitors do not even bother to wander through the village itself. Turning east off the main road, the village is typical of many in the dry zone with its wood and bamboo houses, sandy roads and quiet pace of life. Venture there in the early morning for the small but interesting fresh market or come by later in the day when farmers are returning from the fields and family members work on stripping bamboo for the lacquer shops. It’s an easy, and accessible, place to meet the residents of Bagan.
Thant Kyi Thaung- For a real local experience, wake in the predawn hours and head to the boat jetty to take a local ferry to Thant Kyi Thaung. Legend states that if one can visit four particular pagodas before 12 noon, their wishes will come true. Thus every day local pilgrims cross the Irrawaddy River to Thant Kyi Taung, a hilltop temple that is the first stop on the trail. The boat trip and the hike to the top of the pagoda are the perfect opportunity to meet and converse with Myanmar residents.
Festivals- Myanmar people love a festival and Bagan hosts more than most other cities. The festivals are generally week-long affairs and vendors come from all around the region to sell their wares. Thus it is a hive of activity with carnival-type games, lots of stalls selling the latest fashion, furniture or other wares and of course tons of food. Everyone is in a cheerful mood so it is a great time to interact with locals, particularly families. The busiest festivals in Bagan are Ananda festival (January) and Shwezigon Festival (October).
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