Sunrise, e-bikes and lots of temples

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Asia » Burma » Mandalay Region » Bagan
December 16th 2018
Published: December 16th 2018
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Despite having been woken up overnight to torrential rain when our alarm went off at 520am it was fortunately dry. By the time we left the hostel the clouds were clearing and we could see the stars.
Walking along the dusty track towards the viewpoint in the dark the sun started to tinge the sky red and we could soon pick out temples across the plain. Soon after walking past the temples people used to watch the sunrise from (now shut), we started to see other people arriving. At first a few e-bikes and tuktuks passed us, then a couple of cars, then some coaches. Coaches, along a single lane dirt track. This was not what we were expecting.
By the time we rounded the corner and saw the viewpoint we weren’t surprised to see hundreds of people already standing at the top. Turns out there’s a car park next to the view point and it was full of coaches, motorbikes and scooters. This wasn’t what we had in mind for our romantic sunrise.
Climbing up the mound we were relieved to discover most of the other tourists looked Japanese and were tiny. This meant that whilst we couldn’t get to the front of the masses we could see the view unimpeded anyway.
The sun rise was beautiful, turning what little cloud was left a beautiful red colour. We then saw the hot air balloons preparing to take off and watched them as they passed us. There were 11 of them flying very low, an impressive sight.
Sun up we wandered back to our hostel for breakfast, booked our boat ride to Mandalay for Tuesday and got over excited and booked ourselves onto a hot air balloon ride for tomorrow!

By the time we left the hostel around 920am it was already very hot. Stephen sensibly decided bicycles were a bad idea. We hired ourselves an e-bike. Both of us have ridden a motorbike before. This is not like a motorbike!
It’s incredibly easy - it has an on/off, accelerator, brake and lights. It’s top speed is somewhere around 10km/hr. Despite this, with 2 of you on it, it feels incredibly wobbly to begin with and you have to have the confidence to speed up in order to get it to balance. Much fun on these rocky and sandy paths.
We’ve taken it in turns to drive and are definitely getting better.
It’s so hot today, and the temples are further apart so I’m glad we didn’t get push bikes.

Our temple sight seeing this morning started with the temples we walked past on our way to the viewpoint and we carried on south from there. The first main temple we saw, Tha Beik Hmaiuk Hpaya, had cool little corridors with small, arched doorways.
From here we went to the more famous Sulamani temple, which is huge and covered in murals of Buddha and elephants. It’s set in some pretty gardens in which we enjoyed elevenses.

Later on we discovered a large temple in which the back of one side had collapsed completely. We also saw an old monastery complex and enjoyed exploring all the different buildings. Interestingly many of the square shaped ones were actually vaulted inside and the gap between the outside and inside walls appeared to have been used as a ventilation shaft.

For lunch we stopped in the village of Minnanthu. The restaurant had been really nicely done with little thatched roofs over each table. The staff were lovely and the food delicious. It makes you realise how fast this area is changing - when our guidebook was written there were no restaurants in this village and now there are a few to choose from.

This afternoon was much shorter than this morning. We saw some more pretty murals and monastery complexes in the temples towards the viewing tower. Many of the mural showed the life of Buddha. In one temple all the people were in tiny boxes which made up larger geometric patterns, it was very clever.
At one temple we met a very friendly painter and had a chat about how he does the paintings and what designs he likes. He was very good and kindly did us each a mini picture - I got a lucky elephant and Stephen got a lion for power.

There were quite a few semi-ruined buildings and we had an explore down the little tunnels and up staircases. It turns out if the stairs lead no where except a sheer drop then they’re not fenced off.

Our day finished off at a sunset viewpoint - a couple of man made mounds. These were much quieter than the viewpoint we went to this morning (which was busy again when we drove past later). The views of the temples were excellent and it was good to finally have a sunset not spoilt by a lot of cloud.

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