Bagan, Burma's shining jewel. It's much more set up for tourists than Mandalay, and there's Western food everywhere. With that comes higher prices, and a charge of US$20 just to enter the area.
But the stunning landscape of temples is so worth it. You can explore it by bike, which you can rent from your accommodation or a plethora of agencies, and you don't need to go far from any of the three villages surrounding the main temple area to find what makes Bagan magical.
Some of the temples are beautiful in their own right, but when you find one that you can climb and you look out over the spires, stupas, crumbling walls and towers of the sandstone pagodas appearing from the scrubland, backed by mountains and the winding Irrawaddy River, that's the sight you won't forget.
My friend Laura and I decided to splash out on doing one of Bagan's most famed activities - a dawn hot air balloon ride over the temples. The day we booked was cancelled because of rain (trust us to choose one of the only wet days in SE Asia's dry season) but thank god they had spaces available the following day because we did get to do it.
It was a 40-minute balloon ride over the gorgeous view, and the air was swirling with mist, which made everything mysterious.
We landed and were greeted with a breakfast buffet and champagne. Not bad!
The Classic Balloon Flight costs US$320 with Balloons Over Bagan.
After getting back to the hostel we rejoined Natalie and we took a taxi to Mt Popa, a fascinating extinct volcano that rises sharply from a flat plain, and is capped with a temple. As with all Buddhist complexes you have to take your shoes and socks off to climb it as a sign of respect, but Mt Popa is especially dirty, due to monkey poo. What a lovely thought.
We did climb it, but the view of Mt Popa itself is much more impressive than the one from the summit.
The next day we took a day bus to Inle Lake, which took nine hours and was booked through our hotel. It was comfortable enough and had air con, but no toilet. The bus did stop several times en route though.
Going to Bagan was an unforgettable experience. It may not be original to say this, but I loved it. Touristy places are touristy for a reason!