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Published: February 15th 2008
After a short flight from Yangon the four of us arrived in Bagan. Bagan is kind of like an alien planet, and you notice this before the plane has even landed just looking out the window. It's a difficult sight to explain but basically there are over 4000 stupa's, pagoda's and monasteries across the skyline in all directions as far as you can see.
We spent three days in total in Bagan in a town called Nyaung Oo which was only about two streets big. It seemed that about half the town was tourist restaurants, 99% of which had no customers at all because of the low numbers of tourists in the country this year.
For our first day we hired two horse and carts to take us around the main sites. Calling these animals horses is a bit of an exaggeration, they're more like Shetland ponies that didn't eat all their vegetables when they were growing up. Nevertheless they managed to cart us around (and crap every 10 seconds) for the whole day.
The temples themselves are generally very old however there are new ones still being built by rich Burmese looking to earn some extra merit.
The individual temples themselves aren't overly spectacular on their own, but the sheer number all combined together is very impressive and makes for great views from on top of the temples.
For the second and third days we hired bikes and explored the temples in our own time. This was more enjoyable than the horse carts and we easily filled two days doing not a whole lot. Each night for the sunset we bought some beers and took them to a different monastery/temple and climbed to the top and watched and took photos from there. Inevitably we were trailed by locals trying to sell us sand paintings, lacquerware and the occasional giant ruby (real or not who knows). The sellers at Bagan were the most in-your-face that we have come across, but you could see that they were really hurting from the lack of tourists - even still they were always still far friendlier than any other country we have been too.
On our first day of bike riding we happened to come across a 14 year old nun in one temple who took a liking to Bianca. She took her by the hand and took off down
a path that led to the Irrawaddy river. From there we were led along the banks of the river past women washing clothes to an out of the way village far from the tourist path. The village was really interesting to see, the people there were still living very simple lives without things like electricity or running water. The houses were the traditional style with a thatched roof and walls mounted up on stilts. Underneath the houses lived the numerous pigs and dogs (and small children) that all roamed relatively free. Bianca was held prisoner by what seemed about half of the village women who showed her their photos whilst the boys roamed the village.
After spending some time with the nun we continued on to Old Bagan. Old Bagan up until a few years ago was simply known as Bagan, that was until the government decided that everybody had to move a few kilometers up the road because it suited them. From Old Bagan we caught a boat for an hour along the Irrawaddy river. Our driver drove up the river for 20minutes and then turned around and started heading back. We told him 40 minutes doesn't equal
an hour, so he drove around in a circle within sight of the dock for the next 20 minutes. It was about $5...sometimes you get what you pay for!
The following day we headed off to Mt. Popa for the morning. The ascent to the top is by stairs...covered in monkeys! As with any building (temple) with a buddha at the top, you have to take your shoes off...so the climb was slow in order to avoid monkey poo.. The view from the top was quite nice, and the monkeys were very cute.
The rest of our final day was spent cycling around Bagan and exploring temples again. On top of one of the temples, the sellers pointed out a new building and told us it was the General's new temple. I suppose he needed to build one to get some merit to make up for killing all those monks in September... We watched the sunset from the same monastery as the first night.
Bagan was probably our favourite city for the whole visit to Myanmar, particularly the unique and unexpected visit to the nuns village.
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