Published: November 27th 2005November 11th 2005
The overnight bus from Yangon to Bagan rattled and shook, heads banging against windows, my Burmese neighbour digging in elbows and knees, why was so much space needed for such a little man? The bus itself wasn't actually that bad, reasonably modern and the company had tried to cater for the passengers comfort, supplying pillows and water for the journey. But the battle was fated to be lost, in Myanmar the roads steal any possible comforts. Sleep for most is impossible. The Burmese driving style which involves using the horn almost continuously, a symptom of right hand drive vehicles driving on the right hand side of the road - being in the passenger seat is terrifying, head on collisions loom every few seconds. A torrential rain storm flooded the floor, soaked certain seats, legs died and buttocks numbed - welcome to Myanmar; like Thailand forty years ago.
I slept soundly most of the journey, an ability to sleep anywhere is something I've become proud of, just add earplugs and the reassuring chimes of tinnitus and off I drift, dropping into whatever dreams my subconscious hides from me on waking.
Katrijn and Jessica (my travel companions) weren't so lucky -
Schewgugyi (I think)
they were awake for hours of terrible Burmese karaoke videos, awake for terrifying toilet stops by ditches where desperate passengers stream from bus doors into the path of oncoming express traffic, awake for the bus crossing through an opportunist river that temporarily crossed the highway. I slept soundly through all this to be woken by someone asking for my passport at 4.30am. In my drowsy bus sleep only just woken state I was unsure of why my passport was needed and who was this guy, “can you show me some identification?” I asked the bus conductor/assistant who was trying to get me to go to a roadside office and pay the first in a series of government charges to enter various parts of the country.
Nyaung U - a few kilometers from the center of Old Bagan with more life than the New Bagan enough accomodation and restaurants to give a little variety. Hot dusty streets, gravel and sand, but comfortable rooms and quaint rustic houses. Horses drawn carts wait for the drowsey tourists to disembark the buses, at around 5am, making a tour of the guesthouses until one is chosen. After a few hours of sleep we rented
In Schewgugyi (I think)
hot pink LA bicyles
and started to explore.
Temples, temples everywhere. The shear number of temples is astounding, hundreds maybe even thousands of Pagodas, Temples and Payas stretch for miles, an area of 16 square miles in fact.
Rather than reinvent the wheel here is a description of the history from Wikipedia.org
The ruins of Bagan cover an area of 16 square miles. The majority of its buildings were built in the 11th to 13th centuries, during the time Bagan was the capital of the Burmese dynasty. Bagan was not made a major city until King Pyinbya moved the capital to Bagan in 874 A.D. However, in Burmese tradition, the capital shifted with each reign, and because of this, Bagan was once again abandoned until the reign of Anawratha. In 1057, King Anawratha conquered the Mon capital of Thaton, and brought back Pali scriptures, Buddhist monks and craftsmen, and were utilised to transform Bagan into a religious and cultural centre. After he converted to Theravada Buddhism,he sent a samgha mission to Sri Lanka, and by the help of the samgha, he successfully converted his country. Bagan then became the sole centre of religious studies, and the university
in Bagan attracted students from as far as the Khmer kingdoms. In 1287 the kingdom fell to the Mongols, after refusing to pay tribute. The city was ransacked, as many religious relics were stolen. Wikipedia
I hope some of the photos do justice to the experience of Bagan, the number of temples was almost endless, I started to suffer from temple fatigue, a serious condition in which all the names, and importance of the individual buildings, on a heathen like me much of the experience was wasted. Why certain temples were more important than others seemed irrelevant, I experienced the temples from a purely asethic point of view.
Sunset from Shwesandaw Paya with the rest of the tourists in the area, not a place for a fear of heights, with steep drops and pushing holiday makers. A fitting end to two days in Bagan, a night minibus onto Inle Lake was the reward - but that is another story... till the next blog entry. About visiting Myanmar
Practical information - VISAs
: despite some reports to the contrary there is no real visa on arrival scheme. There is a badly organised electronic visa on arrival
Slash sales person - at many of the temples you'll be guided around, in return for taking a look at a craft store afterwards. She's wearing the local beauty treatment the yellow paste on the cheeks.
scheme that confuses this issue - my advice - ignore it - get your visa in Bangkok. Most of the time a visa can be issued within a day, in my opinion the agency fees are worth avoiding spending hours in embassies Money
: There are no ATM's in Myanmar, though there were before the international community of the willing imposed sanctions. Some banks have ATM signs with Changing travellers checks is extremely difficult with only a few hotels offering the service, some only to guests. About half of the expenses will be in dollars the rest in Kyat (chat) - hotels average at about $5 a night, meals about $4 per person, obviously this is the budget rate, the big problem is all the entrance fees to the attractions that just mount up. $3 here another $2 there, over a day it can really add up, and take you by surprise. Take enough dollars to cover your stay. Dress
: remember to dress respectfully (long trousers and sleeves) for the temples!
Check out the other Myanmar Blogs
- Stephan and Klaudia
offer a huge array of practical information, details on temples and hotels. From Rinjani to Myanmar.... aka -
Holy Monk Wei Wei
Guided us up the white temple, less visited, it was also built around the 11th century but was plastered and painted at some point for a celebration.
Gili Trawangan stole almost all of my allotted time in Indonesia (curse the short visas). After climbing the Rinjani volcano I went back, and dived some more, and completed my Rescue Divers course, a pre-requisite for becoming a divemaster. From Gili T to Kuta Bali, to Kuala Lumpur, to Penang, on to Bangkok and flights to Myanmar, took a few days.
There are more photos below