After spending a week in Yangon for work, it was refreshing to arrive to Bagan for a weekend outdoors. Yangon has its own charm, but the busy streets make it a challenge to run there. I was looking forward to getting a long run in, seeing the ancient temples Bagan is best known for along the way.

Arriving in the morning, I was intending to go out exploring when I got to my hotel. But it was insanely hot (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), so I did some laundry and rested instead. Around 3:30 p.m., once it was a tad cooler, I rented an e-bike for an afternoon ride.

A friend had recommended not making a plan and just wandering through Bagan’s backroads instead, so that’s what I did. I happened upon temple after amazing temple, then noticed a tall building in the distance and decided to check it out. The building turned out to be a tall observatory where people gather for sunset, which was in 30 minutes. I headed to the roof deck and waited, taking in every detail of the scenery as the light changed. I didn’t want to ride back in the dark, so I headed back to my hotel as soon as the sun sank beneath the horizon. The colors in the sky kept changing as I rode. It was all I could do not to stop and take pictures every half mile!

On a quick walk around town that night, I was weirdly reminded of growing up in North Carolina, where a fun night was hanging out at Dairy Queen with friends. Perhaps it was because there were so many families and groups gathered at roadside diners, where the only attraction was good food and the company. I missed having no agenda like that, especially after spending so much time over the past few years in big cities, where there were always appointments to keep.

The next morning, I planned a run along a route based on the Bagan Trail Marathon. I was intending to do a long run, but it was so hot that I figured 10 miles on sandy roads would be enough of a challenge. The route started off along a long, exposed road with e-bikes and tuk-tuks occasionally passing by, kicking up dust. It wasn’t particularly scenic and the sun was getting hotter by the moment. I was starting to question if the run was a good idea, considering how tough it was just starting out.  

After four long miles, I came across a small shop and bought water and a Coke, which was served with deliciously salty peanuts. I rested for a few minutes there, dreading the moment when I had to face the heat again. But I saw the temperature had risen a few degrees since I started. Waiting would only make the rest of the run hotter, since it was only 11 a.m. I decided to set off again and focus on the positive. Bagan was an incredible place to be able to visit on the weekend, and soon enough, I’d be running by so many temples, I’d forget all about the heat! The mindset shift worked wonders. The rest of my run was 10 times more fun and half as difficult.  

Exploring Bagan on foot was far different than on the e-bike. Instead of having to park and lock up my ride every time I wanted to stop, I could just meander freely. The distances between temples were long enough that I wouldn’t recommend walking from place to place, but running struck a nice balance between speed and encumbrances. By the second half of my run, I was so hot that I was stopping under every tree I could find for a bit of shade. It was still enjoyable to be out there, but I had to take care not to overheat.

I had been listening to Miss Burma along most of the route, which is an interesting book that sheds light on the civil wars in Myanmar in the 40s. It’s written from the perspective of civilians married to military men and focuses on the intercultural conflicts that made uniting the nation challenging. Around eight miles in, I turned on music instead for an energy boost. I love running with audiobooks, but it can slow me down if I’m wrapped up in the plot. Listening to music for the final miles was the perfect antidote, especially since I had to return via a similarly tough road to the one I’d started down.

Reaching my hotel was an enormous relief, as it meant I could finally take a cold shower and rest in the air conditioning. I didn’t want to rest long, though, as there was another beautiful sunset around the corner. I grabbed some food at a local vegetarian restaurant, then I went on another e-bike adventure. Following the same plan-free approach as the prior day, I found some new temples, visited some I’d seen before, and rode home as the sky was lighting up with red and magenta blazes. It was the perfect end to my short weekend escape.

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