Thursday, 9 June 2011

Breathtaking Bagan: Burma/Myanmar

Accommodation: If you choose to take the bus to Bagan and arrive at 3am, then it may be an idea to take the hotels on commission by the horse and cart (H and C) drivers who come to pick up travellers at that time. If shared, you can find better deals. The bus will stop at Nyaung U, and you will be able to find something easily. Eden Motel was a favourite with the LP, ranging from $5 to $10.

Places to see: The 4,000 temples of Bagan. Not all of course, but Old Bagan hosts the most spectacular shrines. Though Dhammayangyi Pahto (Central Plain) a colossal red brick temple and Ananda Pahto (Northern Plain) are the finest preserved temples. Best is to watch the sun rise and set over the wonderous city. Also catch a glimpse of the traditional Burmese markets.

Getting to and from Bagan: The cheapest and most non-exploitative mode of transport to Bagan is via bus for about $10-$15, 12 hours. You will need to keep your passport at hand when entering into Bagan, to buy an entrance ticket for the UNESCO site- even at three in the morning.

Transport: When travelling around the wonders that is Bagan, the best options is to either share a H and C (seems to be the national transport) for about K10,000 ($9 for the day). But if you're a bit more nature-friendly, than bicycles are available all round for less than a dollar a day.

Strolling into Bagan at 3am, earlier than expected was a surprise for SE Asian timing standards. It was as comfortable as a bus should be, again unexpected for the apparently 'backwards' Burmese. On the ready were what seemed to be chariot drivers waiting in the dawn light; but ended up being H and C drivers, a little less spectacular than my imagination. However, they were the kindest, most sincere people; and we were welcomed by their presence as we approached in the dark.

 Obviously rewarded with a miniscule commission, we were ushered into a hotel nearby the station. Although, at that time of night I didn't really mind, as I appreciated any more sleep possible especially with a 8am morning start. The plan was to trek through the boundless plains of Bagan, exploring its endless streams of ancient temples. So geared with the LP Bible, a water bottle as well as a digital camera, off we set, sleepy-eyed through the dusty tracks via H and C. The driver, a young man with a huge amount of knowledge drove us through Nyaung U, Old Bagan as well as the Central Plains, capturing the best of the 4,000 shrines still standing in Bagan today. Though I am less convinced, according to local know-how, in reality there were approximately 40,000 Buddhist temples for the King before numerous amounts of natural disasters wiped them off the face of Myanmar.

Despite the numerous disasters that occurred in this country, standing in awe of history seemed to wash away those thoughts and feelings. The red  brick structures were scattered throughout the city as if all that existed within these realms were the calm, meditative Buddha statues found hidden inside each of the temples. It was tranquil and sincere, with very few tourists ready to turn into a consumer venture.
Although there were local souvenir vendors at each temple, it seemed to be an honest living and I got to talking with a one of the sellers. I was curious to why the vendor had selected the most uninspiring spot at the temple, almost impossible to sell any of his wonderful handmade canvas paintings. I discovered that he was allocated there, and was unable to move anywhere else for consumer purposes earning a living- another perk to having a military regime rule a country. Unhappy with his situation, he quietly ushered me to a corner to speak about the general misery faced by local people. Definitely an enlightening conversation.

Alongside my travel buddies, a young Korean woman with ounces of travel knowledge and a hilarious Thai hotel manager, who was duped several times into buying pointless souvenirs; we took hundreds of snaps (mainly of the posing Thai man), but none that could actually capture the splendour. By the time the sun decided to make a quick get-away, we had visited over 12 temples, and we were officially 'templed out.' But not before catching a glimpse of it disappearing into the Bagan plains, from one of the highest temple points. The city glowed and basqued in the warm red sun, leaving only a sillouhette of the 4,000 temples. And though at this point, all the tourists began emerging from their hiding spots to do the same, it took nothing away from the vista.

The next morning consisted of the wonderful smells of the local market place in Nyaung U. From vegetables to local attire, the markets hosted a bountiful amount of Burmese booty. It was the smiles that made me buy something and not the general pushing and shoving. After a full day of templing, I decided to take it slower today, and after about half an hour, I spotted a little internet cafe cleverly disguised as a 7/11. The late afternoon sun was enough to make me drowsy-eyed, but instead I hopped on the back of a bicycle and repeated the day before. The night time was one that I literally forgot after several drinks, hence missing my 5am minibus of hell to Inle Lake. It was fate.

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