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No Worries 'Mas o Menos' 2 years on the road, travelling South East Asia, China, South & Central America and who knows where after that... Photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/collections/


MYANMAR | Friday, 8 May 2009 | Views [1911]

Day 12 - Mandalay to Bagan

We decided on Bagan (formally Pagan) as our next destination, which is high on the list of architectural wonders of South East Asia. In the morning we awoke to find 5 other travellers making the same trip, and we would all be going together in a taxi ordered for us by the guesthouse. Our taxi was actually a Lei Bein or a tiny four wheeled Mazda truck that Jo and i had taken previously and had felt cramped in with just the 2 of us in. All of the luggage was tied precariously to the roof, and 4 of us squashed in the back while another sat up-front with the driver.

The bus to Bagan was not as good as the one we had had from Yangon and in the heat of the day the air conditioning did even less to cool us, but travel is about experiences and i’m sure we’ll look back on this one in the future and laugh. The journey was through the ‘dust bowl’ centre of Burma on the main highway to Bagan. For ‘highway’ read dirt track that would be fun in a 4x4 but not so much on a bus for 7 hours! Bouncing our way along we noticed that all the rivers that we crossed were dry, until we finally came to one that had some water in it. Upon arriving at the river the bus stopped in the middle of the road, we thought we had broken down for the first time, as they started to unload all the baggage from stowage. When they started to pile everything into the bus with us we realised that there was no bridge across the river and we were going to drive through it!

The rest of the journey carried on along the same lines without any further river crossings. The only other thing of note was the entertainment. I think this is going to be a recurring theme of bus travel in Burma, as once again the entertainment was played at full blast, on the home DVD player strapped down to the dashboard, this time showing people performing acts of mutilation that miraculously did them no harm, but was difficult to watch none the less.

We arrived in Nyaung U our chosen destination for exploring the Bagan Archeological Zone, but unfortunately we were unable to avoid the government entrance fee, before taking a horse and cart to our chosen guesthouse.

Day 13 - Bagan

The following morning we hired another horse and cart for the day to help us cover some of the 42sq km and take in a few of the remaining 4,400 Paya's (meaning 'holy one's') which at one point totalled over 13,000 (Zedi's, Stupa's, Pahto's, Temples and Shrines), many of which were built over 800 years ago. Individually, none of the sites are as spectacular as Borobodur in Indonesia, but it’s the weight of numbers that makes Bagan so impressive. It’s not simply a case of quantity over quality though, as viewing stupa upon stupa, reaching as far as the eye can see in all directions is magnificent.

The horse and cart was a great way to travel and gave us a chance to orientate ourselves with the huge area. Jo got to laze in the padded back like a princess while I got to sit up front with my feet hanging precariously close to the horses doofus bag! Our driver often took a nap in the back when we were exploring the ruins.

Our day was spent on a ‘highlights’ tour taking in some of the more famous and religiously significant sites. We visited many temples, which reminded us of a phrase that we have heard many times on our trip “same, same but different!”

Each was different enough to keep us interested without getting “templed out”. However, one aspect was constant and that was the vendors lining the entrance ways trying to sell everything from postcards, books, marionettes, paintings amongst many other things.

Bagan is the most touristy place we have visited, but in some ways it was actually nice to see that everything is as it is elsewhere in South East Asia, even in Burma. It was hard to get annoyed with the persistent children so we had fun with them, giving them sweets whenever we didn’t want to buy anything from them.

One vendor decided to take another tact with us, after unsuccessfully trying to sell us some longyi she asked us to come with her to her stall, where she wanted to show us thanakha. Thanakha has two uses, the first is as a make up, and is worn by all females and children, the other is as sunscreen. It is made by rubbing sandalwood and water on a circular board to produce a paste that is then applied to the face and body.

You must understand that I was wearing this as a kind gesture to the vendor and as a sunscreen and not as make-up, although it felt both cool on the skin and smelt fragrant, maybe I could get used to this make-up lark!

Being in the horse and cart a lot of the time we didn’t really notice how hot it was outside, however every site we visited we would have to take our footwear off and it was then that we really noticed the heat! Walking around a temple or up a pagoda barefoot that had spent the day being baked by the sun, lead to some jumping around, running between shady areas and abandoning climbs all together. At one temple I thought the hot ground would be good chance to get rid of a persistent vendor, with me having a longer stride and all, but he was not to be stopped and followed me regardless, probably more use to burning feet than me anyway!

At one temple we met someone we affectionately named 'Chatty', who shone a torch for us to climb some dark stairs so we could get to the top for a good view across the plains. He didn’t ask all the same questions as the others so we gave him sweets and that seemed to keep him happy.

From the name you can gather that Chatty wasn’t very talkative, but then he was only 10 and we later found out that he didn’t go to school, and worked from sunrise to sunset, 7 days a week and had only just started to learn English. His parents couldn’t afford to pay to put him through school and this was now to be his life, he like the majority in this country deserve a better future.

After saying goodbye to our new friend, we went to Bu-Lu-Thi to see one of Bagans most spectacular sites, sunset

At the end of our first day we had seen 15 Paya in detail and approximate that we probably saw another 1000 in total.

Day 14 - Bagan

On our second day of exploring Bagan we decided to stay a bit closer to home. There are 3 towns in the Bagan Archeological Zone; Old Bagan where we had spend most of our first day exploring, New Bagan which was created when the generals decided to move everyone who lived in Old Bagan out on a days notice under the premise of preserving the area. That didn’t stop them building a monstrosity of a hotel there, so out of character with everything else in the ‘zone’ along with the viewing skyscraper they also decided to build despite UNESCO protection. Thankfully, we heard from a local that nobody is going up the skyscraper, and almost all consider it an eyesore. The other town is Nyaung U where we had based ourselves for our stay.

Nyaung U is the site of perhaps the most revered of all Bagan sites, the Shwezigon Pagoda.

Which was the prototype for the ShweDagon Paya in Yangon. We decided this would be our first stop, and to get there we would hire bikes and then make our way to some of the 3000 temples and pagodas we had yet to see. We set off around 10 o’clock and upon arriving at the Shwezigon we saw that there was a fee for leaving bikes, and it was in the sun so some vendors offered us a spot to keep our bikes in the shade, on the promise that we would 'look' at their stalls when we had finished. We returned as promised and had a look, Jo even bought a bracelet, but my vendor was not taking no for an answer, after explaining that I really had no need for lacquerware she grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let it go. As sweets had worked with children I thought I would try with the lady and what followed was chaos. I made the mistake of offering her the bag to take some for herself rather than handing them out and she tried to take the lot! She also made enough noise to let some of the other 20 vendors or so working know that there was something on offer and then they all surrounded like a pack of vultures each wanting sweets and wanting to help themselves. After passing a few out myself we managed to escape back to the road to go to our next site.

We had spent a long time in the Shwezigon Pagoda not only due to the vultures but because even walking around we had had to stop and take shade from the heat. When you sit down it is taken as a sign that you want to be spoken to, and many children and the occasional adult will come to practice their English with you. Most of it is quite repetitive but you occasionally get a heartfelt question that makes all the conversations worth while. It is also a good way to find out about the local conditions and we were informed that it was already 44 degrees!

At the next site we met a vendor with something a little bit different, on top of the pagoda he tried to sell me a ruby, I have no idea if it was genuine or not, but just the fact that he was trying to sell it to me was a little surreal. The situation was all the stranger as he spoke in a way as if he was trying to sell it incognito despite only Jo and I being around. I told him that I had no need for a ruby, but if he had some lacquerware....! Upon completing the site we decided that it was too hot for cycling and 2 sites would be enough, only some 2998 to go! Despite there being no electricity at the guesthouse we could at least have cold showers to cool down.

Later in the evening we did venture out again, cycling around Nyaung U where we managed to stumble upon the local National League for Democracy Party (NLD) office. The NLD, if the 1990 election results were upheld would be in government, but the office was just a pile of bricks and wood as most of the party are in prison indefinitely. We thought better of taking photograph as along with bridges and military officials we are banned from doing so. The cycle was enjoyable as it was about the time that people finished work and the area was a bustle of activity, with people starting to fill the tea shops and beer stations.

Day 15 - Bagan

After the relative failure of the previous day we decided that we would try a 5am start to try and beat the heat. Again hiring bikes we would check out the area between Nyaung U and New Bagan.

This turned out to be a very successful trip, not only did we escape the blistering heat we also managed to see lots of temples and pagodas. 

including our favourite Dhammayazika Zedi which offered some of the best views over Bagan we had seen.

The early start also meant that we beat a great deal but not all of the temple vendors and 'guides' who like to show you around and practise their English. We had practically every site to ourselves and could spend more time taking them in and exploring. The only thing we had to worry about was avoiding the goats and cattle as they roamed around the ruins.

After about 5 hours and 12 different Paya we returned to our guesthouse to make sure we weren’t caught out in the midday sun, which proved to be a blessing as the mercury hit 46 degrees!!

Day 16 - Bagan

Having been so successful the day before, we decided on an another early start to see the remaining Paya we had yet to see in and around the Old Bagan area. On our way to the last site of the day I noticed, mainly through the juddering in my arms that my front tyre was flat and I had a puncture. We were about 4 kms away from the guesthouse and it was approaching 10, so rather than walk I decided to ride and risk having to pay for the wheel rather than getting caught in the sun. Thankfully I managed to nurse it back with no damage to the wheel, which on the roads of Bagan or anywhere in Burma is quite an achievement.

My reward was another 46 degree day, with no electricity and no generator power, a sweat fest. I think on this day alone the number of cold showers I took surpassed the sites we visited during our stay. Immediately after you dried yourself you were once again perspiring and covered in sweat. For these couple of days, Jo and I believed the greatest sound in the world was when the A/C unit clicked into gear when power returned. We had decided to come to the hottest part of the country in the hottest part of the year, and again I think this is one of the experiences we will remember from our time here, we survived!

Ryan and Jo

Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/sets/72157618575415066/

Tags: bagan


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