As I said in my previous post on Mandalay, the flight to Bagan was (for once) without incident and on time. I stayed in the centre of backpacker ville – lots of traveller restaurants and hotels. The place seems to be really taking off. I booked in to the New Park hotel. $7 for a nice room – big and table and chair outside and I’m glad to it’s still in business today.
Like Christmas, I had forgotten it was New Year’s Eve and I spent this very low key as well. Early to bed and woken up briefly at midnight to a smattering of fireworks and Karaoke.
Wed 1st Jan 2003.
Bagan is quite simply one of the most amazing sites in South East Asia. Rivalling, but quite different from Angkor Wat. Where Angkor Wat has a number of very different temples spread wide, Pagan has a more compact but somehow much more serene feel to it. A number of them attract worshippers so they are still revered now and not just tourist attractions like Angkor.
As you will see from the photos, Bagan is a small plain literally strewn with temples of all different shapes and sizes. Cycling past (the best way to get around) and exploring them you can appreciate them individually – the huge glorious temples soaring towards the sky and the small graceful zedis almost engulfed by the undergrowth. However upon climbing one of the temple towers you can then take in the entire scene – temples spreading wide in all directions. Simply amazing. A very special place – especially at sunset when these magnificent buildings take on the warm glow of the dying sun.
My first day started as normal – all the breakfasts are the same – a piece of fruit, toast, jam, one egg and coffee. I hired a bicycle and then away. I was expecting more tourists – maybe they were hungover after New Year’s Eve but I was pretty much alone and the place was amazing. The whole vast plain as far as the eye could see was littered with temples and stupas. In between were dirt tracks, scrubby bush and the odd arable field. It was all quite overwhelming cycling between temples but just as I was ready to call it a day, the sun got lower and I climbed one last temple. The orange sun was incredible and what a view – the brick temples were burnt red in the sun and then I saw three hot air balloons somehow adding to the quiet serenity of the scene. I headed back to the hotel for a well earned cold beer. I mentioned earlier that there was a real backpacker feel to the hotel area but it wasn’t that bad – it was just one street but that night I was determined to find some local life and headed to the food stalls by the bus stand. The previous night I had had a passable pasta dish at a backpacker place but tonight I had a food fest for 600kyats – pork curry and a bittergourd/fish curry with a dish of mashed chickpeas I think. I finished it off by walking to the hotel smoking a Burmese cheroot.
The following day I continued my exploration of the temples including the only one my diary includes the name of – Sulamani Pahto as it was my favourite. I described it as my favourite not only because of its distinctive style but because it was way out on its own in the middle of a vast plain surrounded by unkempt fields. On the way back I described cycling round the town of Nyaung U. There were a few guest houses but fewer than where I was staying. Then to another sunset spot, supper and back to bed to listen to the sport on the BBC World Service.
As I have said before, it’s a bit disappointing I didn’t make more notes on the fascinating places I’d visited but fortunately others have and these blogs make interesting further reading on Bagan: Nuku’s blog and theiconihand.com 1 and 2.
The next day wasn’t so good. My stomach started gurgling with the expected result. Rather than last night’s curries my diary reckons it was a dodgy egg I had eaten at the hotel. Either way I was feeling rather weak. Up till now I must have been really busy with exploring as I hadn’t had time for general reading but now, my diary notes, it was time to start on George Orwell’s Burmese Days, a classic. I also managed to walk down traveller cafe street and eat a fruit pancake and a banana lassi. All was not lost as I hadn’t anything planned for today anyway – except get the plane for the last leg of the journey back to Yangon. Fortunately this was uneventful. I made it back to the YMCA but made sure I had an ensuite bathroom, even if the toilet was of the squatty variety.
On my last day I was feeling better. I had planned to use it to go shopping for presents. However, this was a bit more difficult due to the fact it was Independence Day and the markets were closed. Next door at the Leprosy mission there was a wedding. My diary says, “Welcome to Myanmar where everyone wears a skirt!” I doubt if that’s the case now. I’m glad I went when I did.