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Published: March 31st 2013
The Plains of Bagan are dotted with pagodas, temples and monasteries in every direction. If one were to turn back time a thousand years, history buffs would discover Bagan at the centre of the Pagan empire which unified the country for the first time, and set the stage for what has become modern day Myanmar. During the height of the empire there were over 10,000 religious sites, proving to be an incredible achievement. In modern times there are still over 2,000 sites standing, and considering this is a major earthquake area in Myanmar that's a mighty impressive number. Bagan is heavily geared towards tourism, and most travellers to Myanmar have a visit near the top of their travel itinerary. The town is situated in a remote area of the country, and the roads are not that great getting here. However it's worth the effort boarding a bus for the journey, so that travellers can enjoy viewing these wonderful architectural sites!
As you can appreciate I'm glad to be here, dear reader, and it's time to quickly bring the journal up to speed. I had an an enjoyable stay in Mandalay, and at the conclusion of my visit I boarded a
morning bus for the six hour drive to Bagan. Thank goodness there was air-conditioning, because the outside temperature quickly rose to 40 degrees, and stayed there! However the journey was uneventful, and we arrived at Bagan bus terminal a little after 1:00pm. I scored a horse and cart ride to the recommended May Kha Lar Guest House and was able to secure a room with air-conditioning for 15 dollars, and that's without a reservation. I spent the afternoon relaxing around the guest house, and then headed out for a meal around 6:00pm, with the intention of hunkering down over a good book. However, I found it hard to concentrate amidst the fast approaching and increasingly unpleasant feeling of oncoming food poisoning! I had to excuse myself from the restaurant, leaving behind a bottle of beer I'd just opened, and barely made it back to my room before all hell broke loose. The funny thing is, I'm unable to identify what made me sick on this occasion, especially considering I've been extra cautious after a severe bout of food poisoning in India just last year. I was booked on a horse and cart the next morning for the first day of
exploring the religious sites, but had to cancel with the staff and go back to bed.
Fortunately on this occasion my illness proved to be merely a short, sharp and as expected an unpleasant episode. I was surprised when my system began to normalise after an impressive sleep in the following morning, having derived the benefit from ingesting a few medical pills prescribed by my good doctor back home. So as an alternative to the horse and cart I hired a car and driver for an afternoon tour of the Bagan Plains, so that I could still make the most of my visit to this incredible location. The price was double what I had prepared for, but we were able to pack in the sites in a fraction of the time having the benefit of motorised transport ... and the added luxury of air-conditioning! During the afternoon I was taken to some of the most famous temples, and loved the experience of walking amongst the historic sites of the creative and industrious Burmese people from the region.
It's incredible to consider such intricate and involved work took place in this type of climate, and Bagan is
a must see for history loving tourists. The driver capped off the afternoon by taking me to a steep temple which I climbed with hordes of others, both tourists and locals, and jostled for a spot to see sunset over the Bagan plains. To have perfect views of the landscape with the majestic turrets in each direction will live on as an unforgettable travel experience, all enjoyed while a blood red sun gradually lost it's potency, as it slowly disappeared over the horizon. If we were to leave aside my gastrointestinal issues, embarking on a tour in the afternoon still proved to be beneficial. Visitors are obliged to remove footwear before entering the temples, and the heat can make it rather difficult to walk around barefoot. For dinner I ordered a few boiled eggs with dried toast to further settle my stomach, and then retired to bed early to prepare for a second day of exploring this wonderful ancient town.
The second day's tour was a little more chaotic, but thoroughly enjoyable nevertheless. My driver from yesterday had gone to Mandalay, and it seems there was next to no communication with the new guy. We doubled up on a
few temples, and he didn't seem to have a plan at all, but I quickly adjusted and politely informed him if I had been to a temple yesterday. We got to some other fantastic sites, and I'm sure architecture lovers could describe what there is to witness at each historic site in great detail. However, I was content to just lap up the experience, not worrying too much about individual names or the like, and happy to wander around at a glacial pace with camera at the ready and eyes wide open. Bagan is terrific, and some of the temples have original works of art from a thousand years ago painted on their walls. This time as dusk approached the driver took me to the Irrawaddy river to check out village life on the water over a spectacular sunset, amidst friendly and smiling locals.
I feel privileged to have visited the most famous archeological sites in Southeast Asia, over the course of many years travelling. The glory of Borobudur and Prambanan outside of Yogyakarta, the incomparable Angkor ruins out of Siem Reap, and the wonders of the Plains of Bagan are travel experiences I'll always treasure. When it comes
to my memories of Bagan, firstly I think of the horse carts plying their trade on the main street from early morning till late in the evening. Then I consider the local people who are so relaxed and friendly, and the good food on offer at the restaurants, and finally the high standard of accommodation. The only concern of course is the heat, but with a degree of planning visitors can get the most out of the magnificent sites while avoiding the hottest part of the day. If you throw in the genuine affection I'm developing for the Burmese people, basically all of you should be here now!
Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." Dr Seuss
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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