Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mysterious, Majestic, and Beautiful Bagan, Myamnar

Stats: 

Destination:  Nuang Oo (Bagan), Myanmar

Number of days spent:  3 days

Where we stayed:  Aung Mingualar Hotel

Best Restaurant:  Three excellent choices, this place had some of our favorite restaurants from around the country

  • Aroma 2 – all meals are served on a banana leaf with 4 kinds of chutneys and unlimited chapatti.  The only downside is the wait time when they are full – which happened both nights we went (wait time, at least 1 hour).
  • A Bit of Bagan – Try the avocado & tomato salad with peanut.  It was delicious and fresh, especially after all the oily Burmese food. 
  • Moon Vegetarian Restaurant (Old Bagan) – Delicious pumpkin curry (Tracy had to ask for the recipe), non-oily noodles & great fruit salad

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Best of:  Panoramic views at sunset/sunrise, quiet town after noisy cities of Mandalay and Yangon

Worst of:  Existing nearly 100% for tourists, there is little street fare to be had and the restaurants are slightly more expensive than elsewhere, by Myanmar standards of course.

Most memorable:  Slipping into a longyi, the iconic unisex sarongs, while my pants were mended in the market.

Useful Tip:  Bring a flashlight!  Try both the horse carts and the bikes.  We  enjoyed our tour with Min Thu (horse cart driver #54), he was very knowledgeable, spoke English (and German) well and really went the extra mile.  Unlike other horse cart drivers he actually went into many of temples with us to show us the paintings (which we would have otherwise probably missed) and at the end of of the tour gave us a little booklet on Bagan and he wrote out notes on which temples we visited.  His email address is minthu.bagan@gmail.com and he charges 15,000 per day (18,000 with sunrise).  You might also find him outside the Tharabar Hotel if he has no other fares. 

Located in the dusty, vast plains of modern day Myanmar, Bagan was once the site of a mighty Empire.  At its height during the 11th and 12th centuries, Bagan was home to a flourishing Burmese empire that saw many stupas erected in the name of Buddha...nearly 4000 to be exact.  The temple building frenzy might would have continued had it not been for a little arrogance on their part.  When the Mongol’s ambassador was killed, the Mongol King, Kublai Kahn invaded and destroyed the capital city; carrying away countless relics and treasures.  Abandoned and mostly forgotten since the 13th century, Bagan has in recent times became the top tourist destination for Myanmar, rivaling the likes of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, for best ancient ruins of South East Asia.  Unlike Angkor Wat, which is mainly comprised of a couple of outstanding temples, Bagan’s beauty lies in the sheer number of temples.  Climbing atop one of the slightly taller temples affords you with fantastic views out over the plains.  Like peaks of a mountain range, the temples rise up and dominate the landscape taking the place of trees.

After arriving so late at night we decided to just go for a half day the first day.  Our horse cart driver, Min Thu met us at the hotel and took us first to That-byin-nyu, the tallest temple in Bagan at 207 feet.  Other than its impressive size, little else is interesting as you cannot go inside or climb the outside.          

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The next temple however, Phato-tha-mya, contains some of the earliest paintings and murals still surviving.   

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Nan-Paya temple has excellent Brahma (the creator deity of Hindu) figures carved on the pillars.  It is thought that this temple might have actually been Hindu with some sort of Hindu God statue now missing from a central pedestal.  The temple also boasts some of the more intricately carved windows in Bagan. 

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One of the more active paya’s in Bagan, Ma-nu-ha contains three massive Buddha’s all completely filling the rooms they were designed for; two are sitting and one is in the reclining position.  The temple even includes an oversized offering bowl just outside where donators have to climb a small set of stairs in order to reach the top of the bowl.  Donations of entire bags of rice are also common here as evidence by the stacks in front of the large bowl.

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As the sun begins to dip into the western horizon, the magic of Bagan begins.  While there are a few nice temples that stand out, it’s the collection as a whole that makes this place so unique.  The lighting, as well as the temperature, are more pleasant in the afternoon hours.  It’s the best time to start to climb on the exterior of one of the hundreds of sometimes nameless temples for panoramic views of this ancient city.

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An interesting phenomena that seems to happen all over Myanmar are the fog filled mornings.  No place in Myanmar pulls off this scene quite like Bagan.  The low hanging mist covers the entire landscape in a shroud of mystery and awe.  While sunset is nice, sunrise is simply magical.  To add to the experience, a hand full of hot air balloons join the rising sun.  The only thing detracting from the experience is have to contend with the Japanese tour group, complete with tripods and multiple camera bodies/lenses getting switched in and out along with multiple filters.  One took it as far as to have matching camouflage tripod, lens and vest – now that’s dedication to getting the best holiday photos.

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After sunrise and breakfast, we visited several other lesser known temples.  Here are a few of the photos we took.  One was called simply #820, showing that after a while, they run out of names.

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After our delicious lunch at Moon , we headed out to Nat-Thaunt Monastery.  Being a little off the tourist map, we were surprised to see so many touts and postcard kids at this site…that was until we saw what was just behind it – the jetty for the super expensive cruise ships that ply the waters from Yangon up to Mandalay.  Once inside the monastery, however, they left us alone and we were able to see more excellent examples of teak wood carvings.  Our horse cart driver went here when he was a boy to do his stint as a monk.  Due to its state of disrepair, no one is allowed to live in the monastery today.

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If there is one temple that symbolizes Bagan, it would be Ananda temple.  With it’s Gold gilded spires, whitewashed facade and fascinating Buddha images within, Ananda makes it on just about everyone’s agenda.  The buddha images seem to change faces depending on which angle you approach them.  At one angle he smiles, but as you draw nearer, his face becomes more serious.  Around the inside are literally hundreds of tiny Buddha located in niches along the walls.  Ananda also boasts two original large buddha, some of the few to survive the Mongul invasion.   Back outside, the sparkle of the spires can be recognized from anywhere else in Bagan.  The grounds around afford a pleasant, hassle free walk with little pools of water and well kept grounds.

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Our last major temple stop was the  Dham-mayan-gyi Temple, or the ‘Bad luck temple’.  This massive temple, the largest in Bagan, is far more impressive from the outside than in.  Legend has it that the ruthless King Narathu was so demanding by the preciseness of the brickwork that when he was assassinated, the workers filled in the inner chambers with rubble and sealed it off with brick walls.  Despite the filling in of the inner passages, the outer passage contains a few frescos among its high vaulted ceilings.

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We left the temple just in time to catch one more beautiful sunset over Bagan.

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The last day we meandered around town for a bit, checking out the market and grabbing a banana pancake for a snack.  We finished our three days at Bagan by renting bikes and cycling out to the ruins in the afternoon.  Of course, no day at Bagan would be complete without one last sunset, this one from Buledi.

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Leaving majestic sunsets and mysterious sunrises behind, we head across country to laid back Inle Lake.

To see more photos from Bagan click here!

3 comments:

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Manali + Terry said...

Gorgeous pictures! We missed going to Burma this time around, but we are definitely going next time!

Dawn said...

These photos are amazing!! It looks like it was worth the hassle to get there. Stunning.