Sunday 6 February: A pony-and-trap ride from the boat jetty takes me to May Kha Lar guesthouse in the centre of the bustling town of Ngaung U, where most independent travellers hang their backpacks. The US$10 government entrance fee to the temple area is unavoidable here as it's collected at hotel registration. Your glossy Bagan Archaeological Zone pass is then issued, but never subsequently checked.
Monday 7: Hiring a bike I take the 2-mile ride to the main temple sites at Old Bagan. Despite the military junta ignoring original architectural styles and haphazardly restoring buildings using modern materials the temple fields at Bagan are just wonderful. Ananda Phaya is splendid with an elegant golden stupa and four standing Buddhas with fingers in a circle (similar to the okay sign), the posture of imparting fearlessness. The older stumpier Thatbyinnya Phaya is next, where hawkers sell their wares of fine artwork and local laquerware. Bupaya's small single stupa, on the river bank, is said to be the oldest but now looks new, completely restored military junta fashion.
Cycling a mile or so further south I reach Manuhar Paya with statues of bell carrying monks and a wonderfully oversized reclining Buddha cramped in a small hall. Back towards Old Bagan is the tall Shwe San Taw Paya with great views across the temple fields, there are thousands of stupas and structures.
At lunch I meet up again with Sharon and Alex, an Irish-Italian couple (who I sailed down the Irrawaddy with yesterday) and we spend the afternoon cycling, mostly on dirt roads, to some of the more remote sites - Dhammayangyi Paya is the largest with delightful twin Buddhas, fingertips touching the ground the in the posture of linking with earth or calling the earth to witness - Sulamani Guphaya is next inside gated walls, then Thabeik Hmauk where we climb to the upper terraces relaxing for a spell amid the templescape. As the stupa shadows grow tall I head back in the dim light of dusk leaving Alex and Sharon to enjoy the sunset.
Tuesday 8: Guarded by white lions Shwezigon Paya, in Nyuang U, is a glimmering golden stupa-topped pyrimid, a wonderful working monastery of red-robed monks and pink-gowned nuns. After lunch I take a pony-and-trap, out of town, to Htilominlo Guphaya-gyi on the main road then walk through fields to Bu-le-thi to catch the sunset.
Wednesday 9: Overnight bus south, to Yangon, then north again for a couple of hours to Bago.
Photos of Bagan.