Home Insider Insider Review Braving the 48C Heat to Discover the First Kingdom of Burma

Braving the 48C Heat to Discover the First Kingdom of Burma

As recent as the first week of April 2024, there was a social media post relating to the hottest cities in the world. Myanmar has the honour of occupying six out of the total 15 positions as reported by El Dorado weather. One of these towns included Nyaung Oo, where the ancient city of Bagan is located. The temperature was 48C+. Right in the middle of summer, or the hot season as it is known locally, the strong scorching winds blew, carrying the insufferable heat wave bearing down on anyone brave enough to venture out around high noon.

After looking in on Ngapali and Inlay, we decided to journey up north to the capital of our first Kingdom, the #1 tourist attraction in Myanmar. Albeit being in the middle of summer, we decided to take advantage of the water festival (Thingyan) break and headed to Bagan.

This time, lacking time pressure due to unnecessarily long holidays, we did a road trip. There is the possibility of driving straight to Bagan from Yangon, but unless you are an energetic young person and your vehicle is equally youthful, it is definitely NOT recommended. It would take more than 10 hours, if you drive within speed limits. Even if you are up to the challenge, your automobile may not hold out against the weather. Hence we decided to take an overnight break in Nay Pyi Taw.

Here we come

From Nay Pyi Taw, its about four and half hours drive to Nyaung Oo, the town within which the old Bagan resides. After leaving the expressway at Myeik Tee Lar exit, we headed towards Bagan. Our initial fears of encountering PDF terrorists have been proved to be unfounded. The road was reasonably busy.  A couple of barbicans en route, with soldiers performing rudimentary inspection on vehicles. Halfway along that road you would pass by the sprawling town of Kyauk Pa Down. The town is famous of many of the local wares, including the famous potato crisps brand ‘Mary Cho’. The township even got an international school, believe it or not!

After that borough, we pass by many speciality restaurants, reasonably large, selling the speciality foods and regional cuisines, including locally produced alcohol made from fruits of the localised palm trees (palm coconuts or dates, perhaps). We strongly suggest you stop by to try out the stuff you have not tried during your lifetime. We did and we did not suffer any side effects, hangovers or stomach upsets.

The Accommodation

As with our usual outings, we decided to stay at Aureum Palace. We have been there two or three times prior during our visits to Bagan in the past decade. The hotel was at full occupancy during the Water Festival. Other than the weather, the place is at par with other Aureums in Inle, Ngapali or Putao. Service levels are outstanding too, although I would rate Ngapali as the best among the foursome.

Even before talking about the awes of Bagan, you would be amazed as soon as you entered the reception hall at the Aureum Bagan; more than twenty large teak columns supported the large reception foyer.  At least the trees used would have been 30 years old at least. May be in twenty years time, the atrium itself would have become a wonder of Bagan. Large flat planks of hardwood bridged over the koi pond, welcomes you into that concourse while signalling at the same time that the hotel was built without any expense spared.

The villas are also displayed a lavishly constructed style. Some of us who like to stay indoors and read might find the illumination in the chamber sadly below par.

Not forgetting the good things too; dinner by the pool, immediate BBQ upon order, while being entertained by a local band. You always have the welcoming option to go up stage and express your singing talent too.


Every time I visited the Great Wall of Beijing, I cannot help but admire the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. How farsighted he was to ensure that future Chinese generations continue to prosper, through collection of $36 (including entrance fees, cable car and toboggan) from every visitors near or far. A similar story can be told of the Khmer King Suryavarman II of Cambodia. His foresight ensures that the current generation continue to collect $37 from every foreign visitor to Angkor Wat. King Anawyahtar of Myanmar surely falls into the same category too. The entrance fees may be small at $10, but he did look out for future generations.

For our friends from abroad, the four top pagodas and their respective fame in Bagan include

Swe See Gone – for hegemony.

Da Ma Yan Gyi – for mass (being big)

Thut Bay Nude – for height

Ananda – for detailed architecture.

Of course, there are other similarly impressive structures in the old Bagan, but if you are short on time or cannot stand the heat, these four are the encapsulation of Bagan history.

Mount Popa

If you come to Bagan, at least spare a day to visit Mount Popa, an hour drive from there, to climb up 3,000 ft high mountain cliff, have a great view of surrounding landscapes while learning about the 37 Nats, the heavenly beings who are so entertained into Myanmar culture. These heavenly beings occupying the realms between the heaven and the earth. Even for the locals, the knowledge of Nats is just elementary. For foreigners it is a topic totally alien, let alone the details of the 37 high powered spirits in esse.

The only disappointment of going to Mount Popa would be because of the fact that you have chosen the shorter route, which shaves off 20 minutes compared to the longer one. Many many years ago, some of the areas around Popa are lepers colonies. Now leprosy is close to non-existent here. Yet along the short route from Bagan to Popa, the beggars, young and old appear at the roadside in unison for more than 10 miles of the roadway. Very unpleasant perhaps, helping me remember movie, ‘Village of the Damned’. The government of the Mandalay division should seriously do something about it as this reflects poorly on the country and compromises the feeling of safety for all travellers.

When to Visit

If you really want to undergo the feeling of being in a Philip Air Fryer, April is the month of choice. Else, Bagan is a suitable place to visit any time from June till February. Rainy season does not affect Bagan much as it is in the middle of Myanmar region, where rainfall is miniscule. So what are you waiting for? At least Bagan is waiting for you now!