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Published: September 28th 2016
We begin in Bagan
I believe this is the Sulamani Pahto built in 1183 by King Narapatisithu, there were rather a lot of temples and stupas, I may have got some names wrong..
And so our journey through the furnace of Myanmar continued, we flew from the delightfully named Heho and touched down in the less easy to say Nyaung U airport. The reason for arriving at this odd sounding place was it was the local airport for the famed archeological area of Bagan (the Angkor Wat of Myanmar or so they say). One tip to remember if you ever find yourself arriving in Nyaung U is they will not let you leave without buying a ticket for said famed archeological area, so have some cash handy! Luckily we had enough Kyats (not the meowing kind, sorry, terrible joke..) lining our pockets and were allowed to exit the airport to face the customary battle of the taxi drivers, whom were all very keen to take our fare.
Bagan is an ancient city in the centre of Myanmar and on the tourist trail as it has over 10,000 stupas and temples dotted around the area which was once the Kingdom of Pagan, the height of which was between 11th-13th centuries AD until the Mongols came and spoiled it all. What remains is pretty spectacular. We arrived at our rather nice hotel on the banks
Overlooking the Irrawaddy
Our pool looked over the Irrawaddy river, it was the perfect place to relax.
of the Irrawaddy river, the temperature was still over 40C and we had now arrived at a bit of altitude just to ensure we were that little bit closer to the burning hot sun. As mentioned previously, we were completely off season and the hotel was pretty deserted but I didn't mind too much as it meant I mostly got the lovely pool all to myself. After arranging a car for an early start the next morning, there was time for a G+T overlooking the Irrawaddy sunset. well someone had to give the bar staff something to do.
The next morning it was an early start and time for some temple spotting, the thing to do in Bagan is to take an early morning/sunset balloon ride over the area. And of course, having badly timed our visit, we had just missed the season for balloon rides and so had to make do with a more down to earth tour. First up our guide took us to a pagoda which you were allowed to climb and we got to enjoy the early morning mists rising up from the plain, it was pretty spectacular. It is quite amazing just how many
Early morning in Bagan
The view from the Buledi Pagoda, one of the few you are allowed to climb up.
temples and stupas cover the area, over the years many have been destroyed by earthquakes but the locals don't let that deter them as they often restore them to their former glory.
Once we had taken in the view, we were whisked off to the next temple, the Shwezigon Pagoda, one of the most famous in Myanmar, sadly the Shwe wasn't quite visible as the Curse of Holiday Scaffolding had reared its ugly head once again. Thus was the template for the morning, we were whisked around a selection of the more impressive temples and pagodas and told a large amount about Buddha and the respective people who had built them. As with the rest of the country, we had to take off our shoes and so as the morning progressed the floors were getting rather toasty once again but inside the temples and pagodas the floors were lovely and cool, no wonder the local Shan style Buddhas in the temples were happy and smiling. After a blur of Buddhas in the burning sun we had to return to the hotel to escape the midday sun and then resumed the tour later on in the afternoon ready to catch
From a distance..
The Dhammayangyi temple, the largest in Bagan and built about 1167 by a naughty boy who killed his daddy.
the sunset over the Irrawaddy. There are a couple of pagodas which are recommended for viewing and we headed to the Shwesandaw pagoda, we weren't the only ones. It was quite a steep climb but that didn't stop the selfie loving tourists, it was quite crowded so I can't imagine what it would be like during high season, still the views it afforded were lovely. However I didn't quite make it to sunset, once I'd taken a few photos we thought we'd escape the crowds and headed back to the pool for a much more peaceful sunset.
There isn't a whole lot more to do in Bagan but it was nice to take some time out to rest, all the sightseeing can take a toll on one, #FirstWorldWoes and it was nice to have some time to relax as well, I especially enjoyed swimming at dusk when all the bats came out and started to dive into the swimming pool for a drink, it was great fun to sit in the pool as they dive bombed around you. Sadly at this point my travelling companion succumbed too a Burmese bug and started to feel a bit ill, so it
Ain't it pretty!
It's enough to make you come over all mystical or something
was lucky we had a couple of days to rest before we moved on.
Finally it was time to say bye to Bagan and we headed off to the airport to catch a flight to the city of Mandalay. As you travel around Myanmar you are given many opportunities to purchase books by Mr Kipling, Rudyard, not one of cake fame. One of his most famous poems is titled 'Mandalay' and tells the tale of a British soldier who takes a shine to the local culture shall we say. In reality Kipling never even made it to Mandalay and apparently only ever spent three days in the country, so just goes to show a little imagination can go a long way.
Mandalay is the second largest city after Yangon and was once the Royal capital of Myanmar, stretching along the banks of the Irrawaddy river. It also has a hill.
We were staying in a hotel at the base of the hill in an area with a lot of temples and pagodas, but we'd seen a few of them by this point so after check in hit the ping pong table for a change. It was still
Temple v Stupa
The Htilominlo temple to the left, a stupa (or pagoda) to the right. I'll let you read Wikipedia to understand the difference
stupidly hot, would it ever end? Still at least we had another lovely hotel pool to relax in. The next day I took a trip to the Royal Palace, my friend was still rather poorly (too much ping pong?) and had to stay in bed, so I decided to brave the 2km walk to the palace in the heat. By this point I'd wised up to the fact that using an umbrella when it is not raining is not such a stupid idea after all. Armed with a hotel brolly I strolled off to find the palace, in any normal climate it would have been a swift stroll but in that heat it was a bit more of a chore, but I managed to make it without too many problems. The palace is quite unmissable, the site occupies a huge site with a rather large moat at least 2km in length on one side. Crossing over the moat, I paid my foreigner's dues and heeded the warning signs saying do not take any photos of the army base which surrounds the palace at the centre.
The palace was mostly destroyed in WW2, as was a lot of Mandalay but
More temples and stupas, count 'em.
Yep, there are loads, in all directions, over 10,000, prepare for a selection of temples coming up..
now has been rebuilt for tourists like me to enjoy, They have done quite a good job although there isn't a great deal in any of the buildings but the watch tower is worth a climb to get great views over the city, apparently the Royals used to use it to gaze at the peasants from afar, and you could keep your shoes on! I managed to make it back to the hotel without getting burnt to a crisp, no mean feat and once again enjoyed some pool time to cool down.
The next day, my friend finally on the road to recover, we hit the temple quarter near the hotel. To our relief, the skies were starting to darken and the temperature had finally begun to drop below 40C, it looked like the monsoon was just about to break, hoorah! We had heard tell of the 'World's largest book' and were keen to check it out. We headed to the Kuthodaw Pagoda to find this book, wandering around the pagoda we were a little confused as there was no sign of a large book. Then some helpful fellow tourists pointed out that the book was actually marble slabs
Arriving at the Shwezigon Pagoda I wasn't pleased to see it covered in scaffolding, it has been a while since my travels were cursed with scaffolding, at least they made the effort here to paint it gold.
with writing on housed in lots of mini pagoda style things, hmm, not quite what I would call a book. Moving on, we also visited a few more temples and a rather nice monastery called Shwe In Bin Kyaung, built of teak and very pretty.
And of course we had to fit in a walk up the famous hill so we opted to climb it ready for sunset, as the hill is a religious site they make you take your shoes off right at the bottom of the hill and it takes about an hour to get up. You can take the cheat's option and pay for someone to drive you up but we thought one last pilgrimage would do our souls good. The hill is only 240m high, but barefoot it feels a little bit further. Entering between two large stone lions we began the long climb as most of the stall holders on the hill were shutting up shop, it looks like quite a few families live along the route. As we climbed further the wind was picking up and finally a few drops of rain had started to fall, Buddha was rewarding us for our pilgrimage!
Passing through the many temples en route we finally reached the top of the hill just as the thunder and lightening started and rains fell with force, thank you Buddha, finally we were cooled. The hill give some fantastic views over the city and the river and is a great place to watch the start of the monsoons, now we just had to get down in the dark and the rain..
Our time in Mandalay was soon over but we did fit in a visit to the U Bein bridge outside the city, handily on the way to the airport. the bridge is famous for being the oldest and longest teak bridge in the world and is certainly a popular spot for sunset photos. We arrived about lunchtime and took a walk along the 1.2km bridge, it had a few gaps but generally seemed pretty sturdy although there are a few spots which have been replaced by concrete, but don't let that put you off. Then we were gone, back to Yangon for one last day, staying downtown in Chinatown this time, but I've already written about Yangon, so I won't repeat myself.
And that was it for
The Ananda temple
Also known as the 'Westminster Abbey of Burma'. Apparently the King who had it built killed all the monks who designed it so they couldn't repeat the design, not a good way to end a job.
Myanmar, an interesting place to visit although I might advise avoiding the dry season if heat isn't your thing. It is certainly a country which could well have a bright future if all goes well, we can only hope that it does. Ah well, where to next? I couldn't really go all that way to Asia without a trip to China now could I? Shanghai here I come.
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