A Travellerspoint blog

July 2016

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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)

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