Mingalaba Bagan

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December 30th 2016
Published: December 30th 2016
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Today was one of those "pinch yourself" days. One of those days when you feel like you've created lifetime memories. Bagan is brilliant!

It didn't start well when we woke before the sun rose in order to experience a Bagan sunrise and while getting ourselves organised, Milla locked the room key in the room safe and set a pass code unknown to all. But it didn't stop us, we had a 6.30 deadline and a pagoda to climb.

Shwesandaw Pagoda was erected in 1057 and is a steep bugger! It has a spectacular view across the Bagan plains and the 50 other people atop the pagoda can't detract from the magical moment we shared this morning. As the sun rises, 20 odd hot air balloons rise and drift across the sky and amongst the dramatic silhouetes of the centuries old temples. We (and everyone else) took alot of photos and few do it justice. There's virtually no talking and a whisper of a chanting monk would be discernable if not for the clicking of 50 cameras. Nevertheless, this is one of those moments I'll never forget.

As the crowd dispersed we hung around a little longer and took a moment to explore the octagonal terraces and to soak up the amazing view. We must have been weakened by the emotion of the morning's experience as we succumbed to the cute local kid selling trinkets and postcards. Once you open your wallet, they flock like seagulls to chips. Sometimes it's easier to be a rude bastard, but I was just so damn happy!

Back to the hotel for breakfast overlooking the Ayeyarwaddy, busy with the putter of long boats which seem to be powered by lawnmower engines. After a number of attempts at explaining what had happened to our room keys, we got the right guy to crack the safe and we were back on track. Dave, Alex and the kids arrived from Yangon and we booked a few motorbikes from the betel nut chewing boys across from the hotel. And, no big deal, but our hotel is literally in the shadow of the 12th century Gawdawpalin Pagoda. There are so many (2200) heritage listed pagodas and temples in Bagan that you soon become a bit nonchalant about the ridiculously ornate building that you are passing by.

But the Betel Nut Bike Boy from Old Bagan explained that he had a special/secret temple that he would show us and it wasn't far. He lead the convoy of Aussies out of Old Bagan and did not disappoint. This temple wasn't big and is not named on any tourist maps. It was all but deserted and we could climb up the internal passage - iphone torches were required - and the tunnel-stairs were better designed for a 5 foot tall Burmese woman than two 6 foot plus balding Aussie dads. It was claustraphobic, it was dark and it was dusty, but when you crawled out into the light and climbed the roof of the pagoda, the views were once again spectacular. The kids relished it and Deaks was jumping out of his skin. He said he felt like Indiana Jones and regretted not bringing his whip! Apparently he left it at Maleny. Who knew he had one?

Back on the bikes and we head south to New Bagan getting more confident with every km on the road. Kid on the back, driving on the unfamiliar right hand side of the road, no helmets, no license and with questionable skill and experience - this feels like Asia. We follow Alex's recommendation and stop at a lacquer work shop. The demonstration is amazing and even has the 3 year old enthralled - temporarily. Learnt alot about lacquer and was blown away by the skill and time it takes to finish these remarkable craftworks. We got lured to the tourist trap and bought some overpriced lacquerware, but the experience overall was top shelf.

We're off again, further south we passed through New Bagan without noticing we'd missed it. Took a random left hand turn as I could see a reasonably sized Pagoda beyond the acacia trees. This one was under repair and like many others, had crumbled a little in an earthquake in August this year. In it's prime it would have been a sight, but centuries of neglect and numerous earthquakes and cyclones see it falling apart. A fair majority appear to have scaffolding and are under repair but I didn't see a single person working on them. Perhaps it's bacuase of school holidays and New Years coming up.

KIds are reaching their limits and we turn around and head for home. Got that little e-bike up to 50 km/hr and soaked up the experience with Deaks on the back and the wind in my face. Jules and Milla were never far behind us with Dave, Niamh and Oliver completing the convoy. Lunch and a quick swim and we'll head back out. Only two nights in Bagan and we need to make the most of it. Plenty of time for sitting by the pool when we get to Indonesia.

Deaks has gotten a taste for riding the e-bikes and wants more. It's all he can talk about. He wants to move to Myanmar because there don't seem to be any rules. Milla is keen to try out the horse drawn carts and we muster to willing locals and set out for more temples. We stop briefly at Bu Paya Pagoda. This is a small golden pagoda in prime position overlooking the river. It's original stupa is dated around AD 200. That's pretty old. The kids are treated like celebrities and photo requests are made by the predominantly local worshippers and vistors. It's a bit intimidating but the kids handle themselves well before we evacuate at haste.

End the day with a relaxed wander around and within Ananda Temple. Considered an architectural masterpiece and built in 1091. Ananda contains 4 large golden Buddhas, has a sandstone style exterior and a 60 metre high golden stupa. Surrounded by markets and dusty roads, the walk to diiner makes the first glass of Myanmar Lager all the more pleasant.

We had dinner at a vegetarian restaurant Moon. The highlight was a tea leaf salad. A Shan state recipe that I could eat forever. It's a bit like a Burmese Wombok.

It's dark when we leave the restaurant and taxis are few and far between. We approach a pair of horse drawn carts and head for home. The gates in the city wall of Old Bagan close at dusk and we have to go around the city. The roof is drawn back on the carraige and we clip clop along a medieval walled city gazing at the stars in winter sky. The four of us lean on each other as we trundle passed e-bikes, street dogs and dozens of pagodas. We pull up at the base of a 1000 year old pagoda, bid our friends good night and close our eyes on a day I'll never forget.

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