Bagan: A Rival To Angkor

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July 5th 2007
Published: August 8th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

A 5am start from Inle in the back of a taxi with a boring couple (of which one looked gay and the other had really, really saggy breasts) marked the 5 month mark & nobody decent to celebrate it with. Burma needs independent travelers during low season! My Faithful Irish companion escaped to Yangon to meditate so I was on my own from now on. With the government outlawing Beer Stations in Bagan (something about it being an Archaeological Site) meant it was unlikely I was gonna be talking to anyone but myself (violins please). It was the longest period of time without talking to other westerners, mainly because there were none (of the backpacker variety anyway, none of this saggy boob lot thanks). And I'm definitely not saying it was a wasted one, not only because it was the only place where I managed to score some homegrown products here in Myanmar (Hint: Its an Asian guy on a bike. Don't look for him, he'll find you. Oh yeah, a beard helps!), but also because the local company coupled to the spectacular sites made Bagan such an awesome experience.

Bagan you see is something of a phenomenon. 12 Hours along the Inle-Bagan corridor, along with Inle this place was worth every penny and should definitely be on anyone's itinerary who visits Burma. 4,000 or so temples, pagodas and monasteries from over the last 1000 years are strewn across an area around the size of Newcastle City center which makes it a firm rival of Angkor Wat in every possible way. Not much unlike its rival its pretty hard to imagine until you find yourself in its presence.

The beauty of it is that you rent a bike or be taken on a horse and cart ride (hot chick required, so I stuck to the bike) and set off in any direction armed with a map for some adventure, a bit like in Tomb Raider except peddle driven and without bad guys. On second thought, lets make the hawkers the bad guys...I know they're trying to make a living and all but honestly, what the f!@k am I supposed to do with lacquer coasters??
Its probably because of my attitudes towards all these souvenir daemons and beggars that Karma chose to punish me & made me lose my hat and Burma Lonely Planet.
No worries though my long hair is now tamed by my ultra cool homemade bandana (not much unlike Rambo's if I do say so myself) fashioned from a ripped sleeve.

The freedom that comes in visiting Bagan is amazing as fortunately the hawkers pretty much stick to the big temples, so you're not hounded every second of the day. Even though the kids a the stalls were a good laugh, they loved listening to my Ipod and for some reason to "Frankie Goes To Hollywood" (Max what were you thinking when you put this on your ipod???"). You can spend days here in relative comfort (I stayed for next to nothing in the lucky 7 guest house, but I can't say I'm recommending it since there was no mattress and so the bed was harder than the damn bus seat!!) and even though you can visit the sites over 2 days it can be very easy to revisit some of the most beautiful and spend even longer.

I even managed to visit the famous (well in Burma anyway) Mt. Popa which should definitely be done on a day trip (especially if you get to stay on the roof of the pickup for the trip!). Popa, a 'Nat' monastery which finds itself in an awkward position isolated on a jut of rock some 1500 ft high which makes you wonder how on earth it was built. Just be careful you don't get carried away with the donations...even the cleaners (all of them!) ask for bloody donations. I was under the impression it was their job! Maybe I should start asking for some donations for this blog....mmmm....
The setting couldn't have been more perfect, as you walk barefoot up the isolated steps, monkeys playfully fight with each other over the corn which has been thrown about for them. As with most of these monasteries though the overall meaning is totally lost on me...

The temples here offer some pretty stunning views, the sense of adventure high in the air. As you set off to see something that caught your eye you turn to find 3 more impressive temples to explore. Some you can climb to the chambers above in complete darkness as you brush past the spider cobwebs which lead to the roof, where you can't help but hold your breath and take in the stunning beauty of that offered here in Bagan.

You can simply chill out on the top to soak it all in...even fall asleep if you want. Shockingly, some of the more impressive temples like the Mingalazedi have been prohibited by the government (under the pretense the temple is getting old) upon the recent building of a viewing tower in order to make tourists pay an extra $10 to get the view.

For me the best was the Buledi, free from hawkers and not so known amongst other tourists & the world in general. A place where all the main temples and pagodas were visible & I experienced the best sunset in the trip so far. Everything the sun touched as it went down, the river, other temples, the mountains, started glowing with a bright orange/red color that I will never forget. Honestly, it was amazing...I suppose especially because there is nothing like a sunset in a secluded spot while your listening to your favorite chilled out music and your puffing away on a big fat spl!ff you rolled earlier this morning. True unrivaled perfection.

Peace and Love

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