A Travellerspoint blog

Sunrise over Bagan

Finally, we had enough energy to tackle a bike ride to see sunrise. The staff were up too so we could rent the bike for the dark and chilly venture. There was a little traffic but we stayed safe enough. The dirt road was kind enough to us too. The sky began to light up so we opted for our familiar sunset temple, Buledi. We weren't the only ones there either which confirmed it might be a decent place to watch sunrise.

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The sun hadn't broken through the clouds yet but light trickled to the temples. Red hot air balloons were being inflated in the distance, just waiting for the sun to take off and illuminate the rusty landscape. There were green balloons as well.

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As the sun began its ascent, two scenes emerged: the sun rising between two stupas, a bit darkened by the direct lighting, and the fire powered giants rising over the lit temples to the North. The green Oriental Balloon giants rose in photographic succession that I captured all too many times. The balloons soon drifted in front of, over and behind us.

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Switching to the other side on the temple, a colour splash awaited of red, yellow and green. It really added something special to the already stunning vista. We both left pretty happy with the experience.

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With time on our hands, we ventured to the large Dhammayangyi Temple. Built by King Narathu between 1167 and 1170, the temple had a bloody history. King Narathu murdered his own father to ascend to the throne. He was a strict overseer of construction and would execute masons if a needle could be pushed between the bricks. As fate would have it, he never completed the construction, due to repercussions of his actions. Displeased by Hindu rituals, he executed an Indian princess. Her father, Pateikkaya, sought revenge and sent eight disguised officers to assassinate Narathu in the temple.

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Each entrance was nearly closed off by Buddha statues. The structure had a more pyramid-like shape than the others. In the sections that protruded, there were paintings of Buddha as well as circles on the archways. The building had high ceilings, but they were relatively empty, save the birds and the bats whose feces was pungent. A walk outside went better for us.

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We biked by Shwesantaw Paya on our way out for more photos. Things were pretty relaxed just after sunrise.

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After breakfast, our minivan came with air conditioning and decent seats. A few locals and a monk sat up front and we always had an extra passenger hopping on or off. Once we made it to the Yangon-Mandalay highway things sped up. They even dropped us off close enough to our hotel.

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Garden Hotel had okay priced rooms with shared bathrooms on the 5th floor. Once you lugged all of our bags up, it was hard to motivate yourself to say no and look elsewhere. We took the drab, clean room. The price of the room went up when we didn't have US currency to pay with.

We found a Shan restaurant after wandering the industrial district. We had a meal of potatoes, watercress and rice. It wasn't amazing, but it was better than having no vegetarian options.

Posted by Sarah.M 04:36 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bikes balloon sunrise bagan mandalay myanmar buledi dhammayangyi garden_hotel Comments (0)

Mount Poppa

One of the guesthouse workers asked our plans for the day while we enjoyed bread and bananas. We found out then that the guesthouse actually offered the same tour to Mount Poppa that we'd booked yesterday. Usually the staff were quick to offer to book plans for us or tell us about their services when we checked it, but since we hadn't heard anything like that yesterday, we assumed that they didn't and booked next door.

We went over to Memory's stand for 8:45 and waited around twenty minutes for the van to come. After picking everyone up, we were over capacity by one. The driver said that we'd get another car. Twenty minutes later, we found out that he meant that he'd call his friend and offer us a 2,000 kyat (or $2) discount if we were willing to ride in the trunk. Yikes, and he wasn't kidding. We all declined and decided the slightly overcrowded van was a better option.

Our first stop was the sugar workshop where they had an ox turning a grinder to smash peanuts and create oil.

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Inside the buildings palm sugar was boiled a whole day so it would clump to be used as candy and to make jaggery with coconut, a delicious treat. We got to try tasty samples. They were also fermenting the clumps of sugar for three days then boiling it to make liquor or wine. They had samples to try as well. A few friendly people explained the process to us while our driver was absent.

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Our group proposed that the smallest people should squish in the roomier back section. My turn for now. The drive took awhile and some climbing to reach the town around Mount Poppa. The mount was a volcanic plug that stood out quite prominently in the green landscape.

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We could already see the monkeys leering at us from the steps. We passed them with caution and made it up unscathed. Just after we had to take off our shoes, a monkey snatched glasses right off an American man's face and ran up to the roof. They were attracted to shiny objects. We'd placed all of our unnecessary items in zipped backpacks. A woman offered to climb up on the roof with a broomstick and retrieve the glasses for a small fee.

Mount Poppa had many temples dedicated to various nats, evil spirits. Praying and donations would help keep them at bay. We also weren't supposed to wear red, black or green, swear or bring meat while at the temple to avoid offending the nats.

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Unlike trip advisor complaints, we found the many stairs leading up to the temple clean enough with people scrubbing the floors all the way up. The views were decent but we'd been spoiled by Hpa An and found these ones just okay. There were many donation plaques for amounts of $20 and up. There was a monastery and several shrines atop the mountain along with more monkeys. A man with a slingshot scared them away.

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Many people had left donations to support the building of this temple. The walls were beautifully golden with Buddha statues inside. In one of the shrines you could leave a donation based on the day of the week that you were born. We also set some money aside to give to the cleaners since we hoped most of it would go to that person and they had done a really great job.

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On the way down, a monkey approached Ryan, stared at him then grabbed onto his leg for a hug. Luckily, he had his jeans on and a local lady came with a stick to scare off the animal.

We had some lunch where other foreigners were as there was an English menu. We both got fried rice that was surprisingly expensive. That was the downside to not asking prices beforehand. They had a neat spice collected all housed in reused water bottles. There was also a cute toddler running around the restaurant with squeaky shoes set on exploring the fire-fueled kitchen as well as the pantry. Surprisingly none of the staff tripped over her.

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We wandered a bit to find other restaurants and a temple with a woman performing a dance. On the drive back, we stopped for some viewpoint pictures and to see petrified wood. It was hard as a rock.

The back seat got hot and sweaty after some time plus cramped. Why did small people usually get the short end of the stick? It's not like we ever had an advantage going to shows or being able to reach things in the cupboard.

We found a restaurant with wifi not much better than our guesthouse. The fact that there was so much wifi around was showing some big changes, even if it didn't really work. We had some tasty potato curry and fruit pancakes to enjoy. The restaurant filled up fast too. We chatted with the man who'd recovered his sunglasses from the Mount Poppa monkeys. He was from St. Louis and had come out here to work. He was on vacation for a week between his assignments to save the company money and avoid having to recover from jet lag twice over. Ryan was excited as he was from the same city as the Blue, his favourite hockey team.

Posted by Sarah.M 16:45 Archived in Myanmar Tagged temple volcano myanmar nat mount_poppa Comments (0)

Biking Bagan

Being sick was no motivation to see sunrise so we just slept in and grabbed breakfast at the hotel. We managed to check out of our first hotel without issue and walked down to the new place that we'd scouted yesterday, Shwe Na Di. We found out that there were even cheaper rooms for only $15 a night which we jumped on. They had some great drying space for our clothes and a fan. The $20 ensuite wasn't available until later. For lunch, we went next door for salad, one tomato, one chicken, with some Max Plus orange, which was essentially a sneaky Coke product trying to look unique. The salads both had more sauce than the ones we'd tried in Hpa An.

Eventually we worked up the energy to go biking. My stomach was still acting up. We worked our way down Anawratha road to see the large Ananda Temple that was undergoing restoration work. They had whitewashed some of the exterior walls in some areas so it looked more modern. Dark streaks were on many of the lighter, gray temples. The round top also gleamed as if it were recently painted or plated in metal. A few workers chipped away at plaster in the tall door arches to reveal more frescos.

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Ananda Temple was built around 1105 by King Kyanzittha. Legend says that eight monks came begging for alms. They told the king that they'd lived in the Nandmula Cave in the Himalayas. Interested, the king invited them to his palace. Through their meditative powers, they showed the king the mythical landscape of where they'd travelled. The king was overwhelmed and desired to build a temple that would be cool even in the plains. To keep the style of the temple unique, the king had the architects executed.

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Inside the temple there were four standing gold Buddha statues made of teak. Each statue faced in a different direction and they were incredibly tall. Looking up at the tall ceilings and cement walls, we spotted many old frescos of patterns and Buddhas. We walked around to see the golden wall enclaves housing many small Buddha statues. There were other gold depictions of Buddhist scenes and dancers. Wandering around was interesting to find the deserted sections that almost felt abandoned.

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Outside the architecture was quite pretty with multiple archways leading into a long corridor. Animal statues sat outside.

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Next we arrived at a gray temple with a golden roof which sat up higher and was visible from a distance. It was That Byin Nyu Temple built in the 11th century. We also visited some of the surrounding smaller temples which were more relaxed.

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We found Old Bagan, a town which the government had forced citizens out of a few decades ago. The archaeological museum was there but given the price tag and reputation, we decided there were more than enough free temples to entertain us for days. The grounds did look quite snazzy though.

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We made it to Bupaya with a white and gold gourd shaped pagoda and a nice view of the Ayeyarwady river. More Burmese people were here praying and taking photos. This pagoda was reputably one of the oldest in the area dating back to the 2nd or 3rd century, although it was also argued that it could have been built in the 9th or 11th. The original fell into the river after the 1975 earthquake then was rebuilt, so dating it is no longer possible.

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Legend has it that the pagoda was built after a young man Pyusawti defeated one of the five menaces plaguing the city of Bagan, the gourd vine plant. The king was so pleased he gave one of his daughters and marriage and erected on the spot. Pyusawti later became king. We relaxed in the shade since I was having a hard time standing for too long without stomach pains.

We also checked out Gaw Dav Palin temple with several cute dogs sitting out front.
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Our next stop, the palace site, turned out to be an archeological dig of the area. They'd found brick walls and remnants of clay pots underground. Several sites had pits open to the public, just a bit fenced off. A parade of dogs came by afterward as we rested on the benches. The bothersome aspect of the site was the garbage that people had just thrown in these historic areas. We left soon after as my stomach wouldn't tolerate being out any more.

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After a rest and feeling slightly better, we ventured more into town past a volleyball game and May Khalar, our previous guesthouse. The area had some newer buildings and some I remembered from last time, like the bike rental shop and restaurant, had evolved or disappeared. New banks had sprung up too. We ate at the wood fire pizza place. Ryan had some sweet and sour pork and I had jasmine tea and a papaya pancake that was surprisingly filling.

Posted by Sarah.M 07:31 Archived in Myanmar Tagged temples bagan ananda_temple that_byin_nyu_temple ayeyarwady bupaya may_khalar gaw_dav_palin Comments (0)

Bagan Temples

semi-overcast 32 °C

After lunch, we were off on bikes to explore Bagan, a temple wonderland. This was largest concentration of Buddhist temples, stupas, payas and ruins in the world, many dating from the 11th to 13th centuries. Bagan's history began in the 9th century, but massive temple construction began in 1044 with King Anawratha founding the Bagan Empire. He'd been influenced by the Mon with regards to both the script and Theravada Buddhist religion. At one time there were an estimated 10,000 structures but today there are approximately 2,200. Many were damaged in an earthquake in 1975 and some restored in 1990, but not always to historical accuracy.

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Not even five minutes past our guesthouse, down a flat dusty road, we found several temples. The structures weren't huge, but they were quite relaxed to visit given the lower number of visitors. A few vendors wanted to give their painting sales pitches and tell us about the temples. They had been damaged by smoke during the war as well as in the earthquake. Golden or red robed Buddha statues sat behind old brickwork. There were staircases up to the top to see the view of just how far the temples extended. For miles there were big, small, golden or red bricked pagodas populating the plains.

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The next paya, Tha Kya Bon, had a statue that the vendor called the grandfather Buddha. The second head poked out of the main Buddha's stomach and had been built in the 11th century while the larger Buddha that encased it was built in the 13th century.
Further back, there were more rectangular buildings from the same reddish bricks. Trees with purple flowers grew nearby. The overall vegetation was fairly sparse in terms of groundcover, just small bushes and a few trees, almost desert-like.

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We rested back in the room to ease our stomachs and beat the heat. We got a free map and figured out a good sunset temple.

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On the ride back out to the temples, we found a few more temples to explore including Htilominlo, meaning 'Blessings of Three Worlds', which was large and impressive. It was the last temple known to be built in the Myanmar style. The temple was erected because on this spot King Nantaungmya was selected from among his five brothers to become the crown prince. We wandered around inside where old faded paintings lined the arched ceilings and walls. There were sitting and standing, also old and newer gold Buddha statues.

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This temple had a staircase to the top to view the pagoda landscape as well.
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Some of the vendor's offered to take us to a photo area for a fee, but the best photos were from a further distance so we declined, sneaked our bikes around the outside wall and walked to an area where we could get our own shots.

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We continued to U-Pali-Thein which was a single level rectangular gray building that was gated off but there were old paintings inside on the arched ceilings of Buddhas and other motifs.

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We biked down to Buledi temple after failing to reach the further ones. We scaled the steps to join the growing crowd of observers for sunset.

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There were some clouds but the colour still came through quite well. There were plenty of other temples around to liven up the sunset shots and create silhouettes at times. A sleepy dog managed to climb up a few levels of the temple and joined us. There were less hawkers now than during my last visit when people offered cold drinks to bring up to the top and post cards. They had some clothing at the bottom with the large pile of tourist shoes as we had to leave them out of respect. The sun sneaked below the horizon dozens of temples and stupas in the distance.

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Our return cycle was in the dark down a dusty road that could be a bit too soft and sandy at times. At least there wasn't a parade of horse carriages to pass on the way, another popular form of tourist transportation out here. We popped back on the main road at the rental shop. It was quite nice considering how exhausted we were.

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At supper, I was feeling quite awful so after staring at the menu for far too long, I just went back to the room to sleep under the heavy blankets. Ryan finally got to try his local Star Cola and had a chicken burger from the place where we'd rented our bikes.

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References:
http://bagan.travelmyanmar.net/bagan-history.htm
https://www.renown-travel.com/burma/bagan.html

Posted by Sarah.M 12:43 Archived in Myanmar Tagged temple bagan pagoda bike heat tha_kya_bon htilominlo u-pali-thein buledi Comments (0)

Journey Hpa An to Bagan

Buses and late nights

Our bus to Yangon left at a reasonable time of 9 a.m. and left us enough time for a bakery breakfast of tasty carrot cake, cheese cake, puri and potato curry, and banana pancakes. The whole feast was less than three dollars. We also managed to book a cheap flight from Perth to Bali in May on a great sale from Air Asia, just over $50 a ticket. Sometimes it paid off to be on their e-mail list. Ryan was quite pumped since it now felt like Australia was really going to happen. We didn't have time to book any of our more current Asia tickets, but the big one was out of the way.

At the bus stop, we waited and watched half a dozen buses go by that weren't ours. A French woman came to talk to us for a bit in very basic French. She found Myanmar a bit expensive especially the guesthouses. Her bus to Bago left before ours. Finally ours came, nearly empty and curtains closed. Not bad for 5,000 kyat considering it came with free water. I laid out my sandals to dry as I had decided to wash them last night. I'd have to be careful to grab them when I left.

The bus ride went by fast and by four or so we were in Yangon. As the taxi drivers fought for our destination, we managed to attract the attention of someone who could sell us tickets through to Bagan. The first bus only had one seat, but there was another company they called for us. One of the guys even walked us over to the bus station past the regular bus stalls. As it turned out, the food was out there too. We relaxed after the hot walk until I realized that I couldn't find my sandals. They must have still been on the bus.

I grabbed our old tickets and took off sprinting. People seemed more determined to ask me to buy tickets this time. I sailed past taxis, clothing vendors, briyani restaurants and fruit stalls before turning into the main bus station area. I prepared to ask someone, but spotted the same white bus with a blue stripe and ran toward it. There was a pair of flip flops at the door meaning that someone was cleaning and I could ask for my shoes. Then my now dry sandals caught my eye. I picked them up and examined the familiar tears and wear that confirmed they were indeed mine. I was quite lucky. It could have been a costly shoe wash.

We had to try a few places to find vegetarian meals for supper. Two orders of fries and fried vegetables filled our uneasy stomachs before the ride. On the bus, we got a water and comfort kit to add to our collection of Burmese toothbrushes and wet naps.

Along the way, we stopped at a neon lit strip off the fancy highway in the middle of nowhere. For Myanmar, it felt wildly out of place, like it would more likely fit in near Vegas. I had popcorn so gross that even the dogs wouldn't touch it. Ryan had made a wiser choice and had banana cake.

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At around 3:30 a.m. we arrived in, or more accurately outside, Nyaung-U, the main town area of Bagan. I hadn't anticipated this as last time the bus stop dropped us right in the middle of town, close enough to walk. Now we had a supposed 20 kilometers to cover to get into town. The taxi driver started quoting 15,000 kyat. We told him it was far too high and that we'd walk instead. He began to ask us what price we wanted to pay. 3:30 in the morning wasn't ideal bartering or brain activity time so walking free of hassling drivers seemed like an appealing option. After all, we didn't have a hotel booked until the afternoon as we'd assumed the bus would arrive at a better time. We had little else to do if we weren't walking.

The driver dropped the price to 10,000 kyat but we started our walk to the city. He followed us to give us the 3,000 each (according to a site online 1,500 to 2,000 is the average price) and we finally broke and gave in. He had us wait for 15 minutes to see if we were impatient enough to pay the 10,000 to go right now. After that he bumped our price to 7,000 collectively which we agreed to. We jumped in the back of a truck with bamboo mats as seats and held on for the short ride into town. Definitely not 20 kilometers.

The driver who was different than the bartering middle man was quite happy with the 7,000 which made us feel better after paying another $20 admission into the region. We'd expected that one, but it most of that money went to the corrupt government. At least the inflated taxi fare would help out a few local people.

At Winner Guesthouse, the owner had waited up for us. Unlike last time, where I had the pleasure of crashing on a mattress in the lobby when all the rooms were full, we were able to get into our room early for 50% off the normal price. If we hadn't already paid so many fees and tickets we may have said great we'll take it. Instead we hummed and hawed, contemplated sleeping outside on the lawn furniture (not uncommon with the silly bus times in Asia) then watching sunrise. In the end, we paid for the room. They gave us an extra large one with a third bed.

We slept in since biking to sunrise grew unappealing compared to the softness of the bed and few hours of sleep we'd gotten. The breakfast was small given the price of the room: one egg, 2 toasts, watermelon and tea or coffee. We found bikes with good gears and decent looking tires. Since I was still feeling cheap and unsatisfied with our hotel, we took off into town in search of better value.

Soon the $45 rooms were making ours look like a bargain until we found Shwe Na Di which had rooms with a fridge, air conditioning, and hot water for $25. We'd only save $5 a night, but over two nights that was $10 and it could go a long way out here. Plus breakfast could be better. The only problem was that we forgot money for our deposit so Ryan biked back to drop it off while I tackled more laundry.

Posted by Sarah.M 19:57 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bus bagan highway yangon nyuang_u late_arrival Comments (0)

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