The temples at Bagan in some way are more breathtaking than Angor Wat because of their isolated beauty, their unpretentious location and the absence of the hoards of tourists. Taking photos does not really capture the beauty of the setting. I enjoyed when I stopped and took it all in.
I decided to spend a few days exploring the temples of Bagan. My plan was 1 day by horse cart, 1 by bicycle and one on foot around the New Bagan area. I was excited to relax and just become a bit of a local in New Bagan. My hotel, Mya Thirda Guesthouse, was the perfect place away from the backpacker group in Nyaung-U. It was clean, peaceful and relaxing. The owners spent time explaining the history and life in Myanmar which I appreciated. After a few breakfasts of the standard eggs and toast I was excited when I got a bowl of food that I did not recognize. I was ready to try something new and different. Over the week I had rice with pickled mango, noodles with onions and carrots and a variety of fried been and vegetable cakes. It was all good and I was surprised that I stayed full into the middle of the afternoon. It was a nice change from the standard eggs and toast.
Bagan has been described by many people as one of the finest sights in the world and I must agree. Between the 11-13th centuries, Bagan's kings commissioned more than 4,000 Buddhist temples. The temples have beautiful murals, Buddha statues and stairways that lead to exterior platforms with jaw-dropping views of the plains. The brick and stucco structures remain where the wooden cities of the time are long gone. The site has withstood centuries of neglect, looting by the Mongol's, erosion, regular earthquakes and questionable restoration. Even so, the plain of Bagan is remarkable. I was in awe when I first glimpsed the site and words can not convey my appreciation of the temples. I will let my photos speak for themselves. I was told numerous times that I needed to return between Dec- Feb when the sunsets are beautiful and the rain clouds disappear.
My horse, Amoo Amoo, arrived with the driver at 9 am to begin our tour of the pagodas of Bagan. We left the hotel and all I heard was the clip-clap of Amoo Amoo's shoes on the pavement. I relaxed into the sound and the sights. It was early morning and the sun was already scorching down on the buggy. I was thankful to be in the shade of the carriage. We pulled up to the first temple and I was off to explore the grounds. The government charges $10 USD for entry to the Bagan Archeological sites. I expected to pay at this site, but nobody was collecting money. I removed my shoes and left them at the steps. Luckily I am not a germ freak. The hardest thing to get use to in SE Asia is removing your shoes and walking barefoot. Socks are not allowed. I have witnessed several westerners trying to do this and they are typically turned back. I only have 2 issues with removing my shoes. The marble tiles can be extremely hot in the afternoon sun and in the courtyards the stones and sticks hurt my wimpy feet! Anyway, I entered and observed many families were setting up their souvenir shops along the path. Since it was early and they were setting up, I was spared the hard sale. Yay! I walked the steps to the temple and a young boy greeted me with "Hello, where you from?" I responded and he ran off to tell his family. A few minutes later, they appeared and asked if they could take photos with me. I posed for photos for 5 minutes and then we said our goodbyes. The temple was under reconstruction as they were replacing the gold leaf on the upper stuppa. I was amazed by the bamboo scaffolding that surrounded the stupa and the ease with which the workers climbed up and around it. It did not look very safe to me but what do I know?
After exploring, I returned to Amoo Amoo and we were off to my favorite pagoda. I loved this pagoda as soon as I saw it. The arching entry way, the amber yellow bricks and the large castle-like design. It reminded me of Spain. I waited for the tourists to disappear so I could capture the beauty of the arch entry at Sulamani Pagoda.
All of the souvenir salespeople were ready for business so I was immediately begged to buy a t-shirt, bells, gongs, paintings and postcards. I continued on my path. I enjoyed the carvings and murals of the pagoda before returning to my horse cart. We clambered down the sand path to a small 3 story pagoda. I avoided the sales hawkers and made my way to the top viewing platform and sat down to admire the plain. As I was taking pictures, two eager artists took the moment to pull out their artwork. I explained I was not interested and they started giving me the history of the surrounding pagodas. I admit it was all very overwhelming. I could not keep the names straight. The told me about a pagoda that was built by one of the kings that he required a pine needle could not be inserted between the bricks and mortar. If he was able to insert the pine needle then, the workers arm would be amputated or they would be killed. Drastic, huh? I was also intrigued watching the cattle and goats make their way across the plain. Several goat decided to climb a pagoda below. I knew I had lost track of the time. I was talking to the artists and someone tapped me on the shoulder. As usual, I screamed and about jumped off the pagoda! I am not sure who was more scared...me or my horse cart driver that came to get me.
When I arrived at the pagoda, every salesperson I had met throughout the day was there waiting for me. I was mobbed at the entrance. They were still trying to sell me things. Ahhh! I said no and continued to the stairs. I was thankful to get to the pagoda and start my ascent to the top. The salespeople stood at the bottom yelling out prices to me. OMG! This was crazy. I found that it made me that much more adamant that I was not buying anything. The climb to the top pf the pagoda was not too hard. The steps were small so I had to go up sideways because my foot was too big. The craziest thing is that the step height was so big. Each step was probably 18-24 inches high. I giggled as I thought about the short stature of the people and these huge steps. At the top of the pagoda, there were only 15 other travelers. I sat down to await the show. A private guide was telling a couple that during the high sesaon (Nov - Feb) the pagoda was packed with tourists on every level. This was better because you could walk around the top level and see the plains as we awaited the sun's final descent. I took a moment to walk to the other side. Oh no! There were huge rain clouds coming our way! The guide had followed me and said we may get lucky and it would miss this temple...maybe. I went back to my waiting spot and decided to cover my bag with the rain cover. It was not going to be fun going down if it rains. Only time was going to tell. The sunset was not amazing since the clouds moved in.
On the second day of the horse cart tour, I went to small temples. The gate keepers opened up the temples for me and tried to sell me their artwork or souvenirs. I had bought a painting the first night from a man named Tin Tin. He passed us on the road and told my driver to come to his temple. He wanted to show me the mural that I had bought from him. He was so excited to show me the beauty of his little temple. It had some of the best murals I had seen on my tour. I was thankful for his time and the artwork he shared with me. Then he took me around the outside of the temple to make certain I got the best photos. Since we had bonded and he had just put a wad of betel nut into his mouth I asked if I could get a picture of him. He was excited and asked me to give him a moment for the redness of the betel nut to get stronger. The people of Myanmar are friendly and I loved them immediately. This place is not only beautiful but the people are warm and welcoming. I will never forget the beautiful temples of Bagan or the kind hearted people I met here.