Bagan is really quite a spectacle. Located on the Irrawady River in the middle of Myanmar, this town is home to thousands of pagodas ranging in size from six feet to ten stories in height. When perched atop one of the larger structures, one has a breathtaking view of the pagodas, flanked by the Irrawady, and scattered in all directions as far as the eye can see.
This “city” has seen a large uptick in tourism in the past 2 years. That’s not to say that the place is flooded with tourists - compared to most destinations I’ve visited, Bagan is still very untouched by the western world. However, compared to the rest of the country, most of which lives in poverty and without any sort of western amenity, this town is “developing.”
There are actually two Bagans - an Old and a New. Old Bagan is situated right in the middle of the “Pagoda Plain” (I made that up) and New Bagan sits south of that. Combined, I would say that the population can’t be more than ten thousand people, but I could be totally wrong. To give you some idea of the size of the town, you can bike through New Bagan proper in a few minutes.
I’m actually staying in a town called Nyaung-oo, that sits about 5km east of Old Bagan. There are some paved roads, but the majority of streets are in very poor condition and become mud-filled when it rains - which it seems to do every afternoon without fail.
The people here are very poor by western standards, but I am guessing that they are doing alright when compared to the rest of the Myanmar population with the exception of Yangon and Mandalay - the cities containing most of the country’s wealth.
From what I can tell, the only real source of income in the area is tourism, farming and the local merchants that are found in every developing country.
Surprisingly, despite the poverty hotel rates are quite high compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. For comparison, my hotel here costs $55/night but I can get a similar quality room in Thailand for $10-$15. This is due to the lack of supply of hotels and increased demand from tourists and businessmen in the past two years.
The reason supply has not caught up with demand is due to government cronyism. Apparently, it is extremely difficult to build out or expand your business here unless you have a close tie to a government official. I can’t help but imagine what countries in SE Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam) would be like if the people were allowed to live their lives free from the stranglehold of their corrupt governments.
(More pictures later. Internet here is awful)