Story: Alex Ho
Photos: Alex Ho, Le Thi Huong Giang
Myanmar is beautiful beyond visitors’ imagination, with cities that are changing quickly on the surface, while the country still retains its traditions. All of these extremes enchant visitors. Of the many tours offered in this country, welcoming the sunrise over the ancient stupas of Bagan is a rewarding moment.
To catch the dawn, visitors must leave their hotels at around 4.30am, in the dark. On the road to Bagan, throngs of travelers move silently, filling the darkness with whispers in many different languages, the sounds of slow-moving horse carts, and the faint twitters of birds that dissolve in the chilly, misty darkness. Ideal destinations to embrace the sunrise include Shwesandaw Pagoda, Lay Myet Hna Pagoda, and Dhamma Ya Zi Ka Pagoda. Visitors to Shwe San Daw must find their way to the top in the faint glow of their flashlights.
Up many stairs and through a narrow doorway, a scene of purity unfolds at the top. People from all over the world are gathered, at this moment, lit up with excitement as they cheer the sunrise from this ancient stupa. Down below, on the horizon, thick mist still lingers, drifting in nostalgic swirls around the stupas. The glorious moment of the Sun God has come, as the sun peeps lovingly out, turning the firmament from blueish purple to pink and sparkling gold. The stupas and rows of trees are draped in the mythical nectar of heaven. The dappled dawn light glows a mythical amber gold. Exclamations of admiration and excitement erupt, and the constant clicking of cameras fills the air.
Everyone calls out: “Balloons!” Each one is set to take off. As the sun gradually peeps out, the radiant landscape is beyond compare as the light creeps over the finials of stupas and casts its long shadows over the ground. Balloons take off one after another, like a swarm of birds flapping their wings towards the sun. When the balloons are already in the air, some visitors may climb down to prepare for a day spent exploring Bagan. Others sit in contemplation and cast their eyes over nothingness. They are just like us, reveling in the sacred and touching moments of early morning.
While visitors must pay high prices to board a balloon and admire the thousands of ancient stupas down below, dozens of these balloons take off each day. Whether you board a balloon or climb to a high place to marvel at the break of dawn, you will be filled with wonder, admiring the vast plain unwinding below and the colors that change every minute.
Drifting in the clouds, those on their maiden voyages stand speechless as they admire the sunrise, knowing that down below them, hundreds or thousands of hearts are skipping a beat as they enjoy the silent medley of sun, sky and prancing hot air balloons.