Balloons Over Bagan

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March 23rd 2017
Published: April 18th 2017
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Yangon's main bus station has one of the most interesting setups that I've ever seen of a bus station. First of all, it's not really a bus 'station' but more of a bus town. A town that taxi drivers have to pay to get into and that contains streets of transport companies who transport both cargo and passengers. Between all these company shopfronts are of course, restaurants and Indian-style general stalls selling snacks. The layout is all rather confusing and traffic jams are bad inside Transport Town, which is why perhaps, we were told to leave the B&B so early to catch our bus. Our taxi driver had to make sure he dropped us off at the right 'address' - there's no way that any tourist could've found this place on their own.

The air-con on board the bus was as usual, set to 'Arctic'. The bus company provided blankets in anticipation of this but I still don't understand why they can't just ratchet the air-con down just a tad and save themselves the trouble? It seems this way on all air-conditioned buses, all over the world.

As we pass through the Burmese countryside for the first time, it
Dhammayazika PayaDhammayazika PayaDhammayazika Paya

With immaculately kept grounds and being a beautiful temple to boot, this was one of our favourites.
felt a bit like we were driving through the Kruger Park savannah. The only difference was that there were a few more palm trees here than there were in Kruger. The landscape itself felt relatively flat - a good thing for me after Nepal! There were a few roadside stalls like you get in India but the ones here were made of flax rather than wood. We weren't passing through many towns so we felt like we were somewhere very remote. A bit like our guesthouse when we arrived in Bagan which felt like it was in the middle of nowhere.

There were originally 4,000 temples spread over a 26 square mile area here in Bagan and the temples were all built within 230 years up until 1287, when the Mongols invaded. Therefore, you needed some form of motorised transport to get around and rather conveniently, our guesthouse provided electric scooters or "e-bikes" for rent. I've never driven a scooter before but taxis were too expensive and there was no way my mum was going to cycle around all day in the scorching sun, so I had to man up and drive. I had heard that it wasn't too difficult so
Thatbyinnyu PahtoThatbyinnyu PahtoThatbyinnyu Pahto

At 63m high, Thatbyinnyu Pahto is the tallest in Bagan.
I had confidence.
The roads aren't great around Bagan and there are no real traffic rules in Myanmar let alone Bagan, which still feels like a backwater despite all the tourism. Some of the dusty, dirt roads gave me horrible flashbacks to Nepal. But the drivers here seem more courteous than in India (though that isn't hard).
The e-bike took a little getting used to but it was otherwise quite fun and very efficient. Apart from when we crashed. Twice. Yeah maybe I tried to go too fast through the sand. Twice. We were both OK - just a couple of scrapes and a cut lip - but Mum certainly wasn't impressed. Driving along a dirt/sand road for the first time on our way to Buledi for sunrise, we must've looked like right mugs as I swerved all over the place trying desperately to control the e-bike. Everyone was on the temple watching the sun rise and I'm sure they would all have seen us embarrassingly zigzagging our way into the parking lot.

But what a sunrise it was. I'm not usually one for sunrises but like in Varanasi, in Bagan it is an absolute must, as that is
Sulamani PahtoSulamani PahtoSulamani Pahto

Looming large like the Aya Sofya, Sulamani Pahto was my favourite temple.
when all the hot-air balloons rise into the sky, floating above the thousands of temples around us and in the distance. There really is no sight like it and it's majestic - a photographer's dream and I got some good ones. Unlike The Valley Of The Kings and Cappadocia, at over US$200 each for a ride, going up in a balloon ourselves was out of the question but what we were seeing was arguably better. It is just amazing to see all these temples in one place.

As for the rest of the site, it really brought back memories of going around Angkor, with all the temples about and the distance and roads you needed to travel to get to them. The site here is smaller than in Angkor and the temples are are also bigger, yet most of the temples here are still amazingly huge. Some were comparable in size to the Taj Mahal for sure. As well as being big, the temples were all beautiful too, with many different architectural styles. Some even looked like Catholic churches. However, regular earthquakes over the years including one recently in August 2016 means that there is quite a lot of visible damage to many of
Sunset Over BaganSunset Over BaganSunset Over Bagan

The perfect sunset.
the temples and indeed a lot of them are being restored. The unfortunate result is that access is restricted to the lower floors only for the majority of the bigger temples.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are touts and peddlers at almost every temple. And they're very persistent. I never buy anything so don't even look at the sellers or their wares but my Mum is a keener shopper and thus we kept getting sucked in. The prices they were asking for though, were ridiculously cheeky - far too overpriced. K5000 for a fridge magnet? That's more than £3! I could get a nice dinner including everything for that! I genuinely thought she meant K500. I heard that the locals here on average live on a mere US$2 a day and if that is the case, then I guess I understand why they might charge so much but they really seemed to have overestimated how much Westerners are prepared to pay for things. A sign perhaps that tourism is still very much in its infancy here in Myanmar.
Speaking about money, a look at my finances have revealed I haven't saved anywhere near as much as I had hoped and needed
Old Burmese Lady At The MarketOld Burmese Lady At The MarketOld Burmese Lady At The Market

The cutest 70yr-old lady who sold my mum a slingshot at the Mani-Sithu Market in Nyaung U, told us that the secret to good health was to smoke a Burmese cigar every day.
to in the last three months, in order to stretch my original budget to the extent that I could extend my trip by another three months through to September this year. Still fighting and saving valiantly however - now with even tighter budget constraints - things were beginning to take its toll to the point where it is starting to affect my enjoyment of travelling. How much longer can I travel like this?

I won't describe every temple that we went to but the unmissable ones are; Dhammayangyi Pahto, the biggest one; Ananda Pahto, the most beautiful one; and Thatbyinnyu Pahto, the tallest one. Dhammayazika Paya and Nagayon both have lovely grounds surrounding the temple - immaculately tended in the case of Dhammayazika - which gave them an element of tranquillity that made them two of our favourites. Sulamani Pahto is like a mix of Humayun's Tomb and the Aya Sofya and is one of my personal favourites, while Shwegugyi is also really nice. Some of the temples have frescoes inside them such as Gubyaukgyi and Abeyadana, but they're not in the greatest condition.

Sunsets are also amazing in Bagan although one particular spot that was supposed to be an
Buddha At Manuha PayaBuddha At Manuha PayaBuddha At Manuha Paya

If this Buddha seems to big for the room it's because it is; Manuha Paya is where a Mon king was held captive and the Buddha is symbolic of Manuha's unhappiness at being imprisoned.
amazing place to see them was disappointingly closed. You used to be able to climb onto the flat roof of Pyathada Paya but danger due to earthquake damage meant that this was now not an option. Instead, we settled for a man-made viewing mound just down the dirt track but it was unfortunately a bit far away from the temples. On our last evening however, I went with a hunch that a temple with "good west-facing views" might be a good place to see the sun go down. Sadly, you again could not get up into the upper level of Tayok Pye Paya, an intricately decorated temple devoid of any visitors - but I thought that we might get a good view if we walked past the temple a little and climbed up some of the ruins. West of the temple, I found an ancient storage building and exploring the inside, found a staircase that led to the roof. I'm not sure we should have been sneaking around inside but after a little bit of rock climbing, the view from the roof was spectacular. Mum was impressed and I was forgiven for spilling the both of us off the e-bike.

The majority of Burmese women and girls wear "thanaka", a gold paint made from bark used as a beauty cosmetic which also provides protection from the sun.
Almost. It was perfect and it was all to ourselves. Though it was nice to share the moment with my mother, I couldn't help but think - like I did on Bastille Day in Paris ten years ago - how amazing a romantic feat this would've been if I had a girl with me instead...

I really do feel that I have come to Myanmar at the right time; tourism is still relatively new and everything you experience feels authentic. Locals still welcome foreigners and bend over backward to help you but not in pursuit of financial reward but just because the people here are genuinely friendly and helpful. If you're planning or are interested in visiting Myanmar, my advice would be to get here as soon as you can before it sells its soul completely to tourism.

Although it is always nice to have company on the road and someone to share your experiences with, it was just a bit more special to be travelling with my Mum. Though there were times where my patience was tested - this was travelling with your mother, after all - I did feel a little sad after seeing her board her bus back to Yangon. Don't
Mural Inside Sulamani PahtoMural Inside Sulamani PahtoMural Inside Sulamani Pahto

Other temples had more detailed murals than this but were in much worse condition and were kept in the dark! Temples often had corridors of concentric squares leading out from the centre of the temple.
feel too sad for me though - I'll be seeing her again in just over a month back in Malaysia.

While my mother took a bus back down to Yangon, I carried on northwards on The Road To Mandalay.

မကြာခင်ပြန်ဆုံကြမယ် (makyaarhkain pyansone kyamaal),

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24



Nice temple in Old Bagan with the newly-constructed Bagan Golden Palace in the background. With an additional K5000 entrance fee, we skipped the palace.

Tourists climb atop a temple at Buledi to watch the sunrise.
Ananda PahtoAnanda Pahto
Ananda Pahto

The prettiest of all the temples though you unfortunately couldn't really tell under all the scaffolding.

With no-one around and some private grounds, Nagayon was lovely and peaceful.
Me & MumMe & Mum
Me & Mum

In front of a Bagan sunset.
Lion At Ananda PahtoLion At Ananda Pahto
Lion At Ananda Pahto

Or is it a dragon? Outside one of the four arcades leading to the temple at Ananda Pahto.
Buddha Image Inside Ananda PahtoBuddha Image Inside Ananda Pahto
Buddha Image Inside Ananda Pahto

Almost every temple had at least one Buddha "image" (statue), usually four.
Mani-Sithu MarketMani-Sithu Market
Mani-Sithu Market

The main marketplace in Nyaung U.
Shwezigon PayaShwezigon Paya
Shwezigon Paya

Nyaung U - one of the towns in the Bagan area - has a temple complex gilded with lots of gold, similar to Shwedagon Paya in Yangon.
Dhammayangyi PathoDhammayangyi Patho
Dhammayangyi Patho

The biggest temple in Bagan.
Pyathada PayaPyathada Paya
Pyathada Paya

There is supposed to be a nice view of the sunset from the top but we never found out as the roof was closed because of earthquake damage.
Tayok Pye PayaTayok Pye Paya
Tayok Pye Paya

Intricate little temple from where we caught our best Bagan sunset.
Steep StaircaseSteep Staircase
Steep Staircase

Atop a temple in Buledi, health and safety doesn't seem to be a thing here...
Nyaung UNyaung U
Nyaung U

There are three towns where you can stay in the Bagan area; Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung U.
Got A Lighter?Got A Lighter?
Got A Lighter?

With these hanging above every table in restaurants, you'll never have to carry a lighter again!

23rd April 2017

E-Bike spillage: We all do it!
Hey there Derek, enjoyed your blogs about Mandalay and Bagan. We were in Myanmar in November and enjoyed it very much. Best bit, the Kalaw to Inle 3 day trek. Agree about Mandalay, a dusty disappointment but Bagan was great. We also had spills from our e-bikes due to the sand. Still, good fun though. Hope you enjoy or enjoyed Inle. Happy travels, David
24th April 2017

Thanks David! Glad you enjoyed the blogs. Hope you're enjoying Bolivia - I was there about a year and a half ago and the country has some amazing sights! -Derek

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