Pilgrimage to Bago

a trip by Cho
From: March 24th 2010
Until: March 24th 2010

My last trip to Bago was way back in the 1960's, so while we were in Yangon on one of my regular trips there, I decided to pay a visit to this city to refresh my memories of it.

Believe it or not, I had to ask one of my friends where to take the long distance bus from Yangon to Bago. I was relieved to find out that it wasn't too far from the hotel where we were staying. So on that late March morning we hailed a cab in front of the hotel and went to Pyay Road in Myenigone locality . I was told that the Bago bus stopped in front of a cinema. True enough it came in no time, I think it was bus number 35. However, we had to wait about 15 minutes for the bus to fill up. I'm glad I decided to go native and wear a 'paso' (men's wearing apparel in Myanmar) on that day as it looked like it was going to be a hot one.

The bus stopped at several places along the way to pick up more passengers even though all the seats were full. At one particular stop in a suburb of Yangon we were 'entertained' by a man who came up on the bus and gave us a long sales pitch on the virtues of the medicine he was selling. It was supposed to be a cure all herbal medicine, and he was such a convincing salesman that I even bought one packet from him! Anyway, back to the additional seats; what the bus conductor did was he just put plastic stools in the aisle, and the passengers who got on later had to sit on those small stools so it must have been an uncomfortable ride for them. Luckily, the distance to Bago is only about 55 miles (less than 90 kilometers) and normally takes only 2 hours at most.

The bus finally got under way. It didn't have air conditioning but as it was still relatively early the heat was bearable. We also had the window open, plus the overhead fans kept us fairly cool. We passed the British & Commonwealth War Cemetery at Htaukkyan, but it was not a scheduled stop. Anyhow, I had been there several times in the past. We had the chance to see the rural farmlands as the bus went through several villages and small towns.

When the bus reached Bago the conductor asked if anybody wanted to get off in the city center, and as nobody did, it made its last stop at 'Shwemawdaw' pagoda just outside the city limits. The street was very busy with worshipers and local people going about their business. We walked over to the big pagoda and took the stairs to the main complex. Although this pagoda is nearly the same height as the SHWEDAGON in Yangon, (some say it is even higher than the great Shwedagon) I was not overly impressed with it, perhaps because I am a true 'Yangonite' and proud of my hometown!

It was starting to get hot. We could feel the heat slowly oozing into our bare feet as we walked around the pagoda grounds, but still not at the critical point yet! After the usual photo taking we took the stairs down to the exit. I saw a 'moke let saung' vendor on the steps and sat down to have this refreshing drink. It is made of tapioca and chopped palm sugar mixed in coconut milk. It is mainly a dessert, but can be enjoyed at any time. Well, I got to chatting with the girl who was selling it. I asked her about the reclining Buddha. She said her brother in law owned a motorcycle, and would be happy to take us around. I told her that there were two of us and she said no problem, and asked the young girl (apparently her niece) with her to go fetch her father. When he came we negotiated the price, and when I asked whether his motorbike could take two passengers he looked at me and asked where the other person was. He wanted to know whether my American friend was as big as me! Apparently he was satisfied she was not as big as me, so off we went.

Our first stop was at a gas station to get gas for his motorbike. Er, not exactly a gas station; it was just a woman on the roadside with a bottle full of petrol and a big funnel! Anyway, his vehicle tank filled up, we went along a dirt road in the blazing heat of the afternoon to this small pagoda where the reclining Buddha lay. I'll have to say the ride was not very comfortable. His motorcycle wasn't a very big one. The two of us rode pillion with me at the back and my friend sandwiched between the driver and me, and both of us hanging on to dear life! Although we could feel the wind as we rode along, it was hot wind blowing at us.

Well, we reached the place without any mishaps, and did the customary ambling around the premises. I noticed several vendors but the place itself was virtually empty. The reclining Buddha was in his usual relaxed position looking as though he didn't have a care in the world.

Next, we went to the 'Shwethalyaung' pagoda which is in town. This pagoda is the second most important one in Bago after the 'Shwemadaw' pagoda. However, the reclining Buddha there was under renovation and the pagoda trustees wanted an entrance fee so we stayed there just long enough to refresh ourselves with some cold drinks and continued to the last pagoda.

The 'Myathalyaung' pagoda is where they have the outdoor reclining Buddha. I think this is the biggest one in Myanmar with Buddha lying serenely on an elevated platform in all his splendor and glory. There is also a monastery and our driver spent some time chatting with the monks while we wandered around the grounds taking pictures. Again, there were not many people at this place also.

Well, it was time to leave and we said our goodbyes to the monks. The driver took us to the main bus terminal in town. The ride back to Yangon was not too bad as the bus was bigger and it was late afternoon already and the heat had subsided somewhat. However, it stopped at a junction on the outskirts of Yangon. That area was full of people. I suppose they were commuters on the way home from their work places as this junction had many buses going in different directions. We had a snack at one of the street stalls there before getting a taxi to return to our Yangon hotel. After a quick shower and change of clothes we went over to my friend's house where he had prepared a big dinner for us which we ate heartily to make up for the missed lunch!

To those of you visiting Yangon for the first time, I would highly recommend this day trip. It is an opportunity to have a glimpse of rural life in Myanmar and see the biggest reclining Buddha in the world, even bigger than the one at 'Chauk Htat Gyi' pagoda in Yangon. However, it can get extremely hot especially during the summer months of March, April and May. If possible, travel in an air-conditioned car, and don't forget to take a bottle or two of drinking water and a hat.
Trip Length: less than a day
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