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The slow paced side of Bagan

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Today we took a break from templing and decided to have a relaxing day before our trip to Mandalay tomorrow. After getting up early to have breakfast (which is only served 7 until 9), we came back to the room and caught up on some much needed shut eye. We have had two early starts to see the temples so have never had chance to catch up on the sleep we missed from our eventful overnight bus.

Once we were ready we decided to go for a walk and explore Bagan or more precisely Nyaung Oo, where our guesthouse is. Around the corner from where we are staying there is a market so we started there. Before we got within 20 feet of the place we were harassed by a seller asking us if we wanted to by souvenirs. We kindly shrugged her off and made our way deep into the market where the touts left us alone. The market itself is very cramped and vibrant, it is covered by fine mesh that hangs low so Liam constantly had to duck whilst walking through. The ‘stalls’ are baskets and blankets on the floor that the ladies sit at with their scales. It was really interesting to walk around. Most sold food such as vegetables and fruit, dried fish and spices. There were stalls with huge vats of rice and huge bags of dried chillies and tea which you could smell a mile off. We walked around dodging the souvenir stalls as we went. We were asked if we wanted to by a longyi, a traditional skirt type item ninety per cent of the men wear, a face cream that all the women and most kids where to protect from the sun and the obligatory Burmese Days by George Orwell amongst other things. What we did buy were a few oranges from one of the stalls for the rest of our walk.

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From there we decided to go see the Ayeyarwaddy (Irewaddy) river. It was a short walk from where we were but it became apparent that not many tourists come up this way. There are a lot of local houses and a few colonial style buildings and huge trees line the road. A lot of people watched us as we went and said hello and waved, you get this reaction in a lot of places and it is really nice. We followed the road up to the jetty where you can catch the slow boat to Mandalay, unfortunately we do not have the time to do this but we imagine it would be really nice. Have to save that for next time. The river itself was huge and a lot cleaner than we imagined, there were a few boats docked, and a guy did try to sell us a boat ride in badly broken English that Liam understood none of but Chelsea seemed to get perfectly and kindly said no thank you. By the river is a working community and a small village. There are clusters of houses where people sit out front people watching a snoozing in the heat. Women washed their clothes and children swam in the river. People were working in the fields and everyone else was sat in their small shops and cafes waiting for customers. As soon as we approached a group of children ran towards us shouting hello and looking at our bag of oranges. There was only one left but Chelsea offered it them and they shared it between them. We had a walk around and took some photos before retreating to the shade. We took a rest at a little shop and had a drink overlooking the river. We sat for ages people watching and chatting before moving on.

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We decided to walk down the river on the road towards a place called Bagan Beach bar that was on our map. We walked down a really small street lined with people houses. Everyone was sat outside in the shade and they smiled and said hello. We crossed a few dry riverbeds that were filled to the brim with litter but the rest of the place was small and looked very basic. Often small bamboo or wooden houses nestled in between big colonial buildings. Whilst walking by a dog went for Chelsea and she weirdly shouted go away in Thai. Liam reminded her we weren’t in Thailand and the dog wouldn’t understand but it seemed to do the trick as the dog backed off. When we reached the bar we planned to go to it was packed with massive tour buses full of people so we decided to skip it and walk back into town. After having such a quiet and slow paced afternoon we weren’t up for sitting with 100 package tourists. It is amazing how different the village is just ten minute walk out of the main tourist strip. We didn’t see any other western people and the locals were smiling and friendly. The whole atmosphere was sleepy and small, totally opposite to the busy roads in the centre and thousands of tourists.

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In town we found a smallp lace and ordered a lime soda each. It was really bitter and not even a little a bit refreshing but being polite English people we drank it with grimacing faces and said thank you. We went a few doors down and had a few beers. We sat all afternoon, for hours talking and drinking in the small outdoor area they had and it was really enjoyable and relaxing.

We came home around 4.30pm and did our washing and showered to go out for some tea. Every time you go outside in Bagan you are covered in dust. It’s funny when you take your shoes off and you have perfect dust lines where your flip flops have been. For tea we both had a vegetable Masan Curry with rice. It is a Thai dish we have had before and it is delicious, spicy and creamy with a coconut flavour and full of potatoes. It was gorgeous.

We have had a lovely slow paced day today and feel like we have seen another side to Bagan. The temples are amazing but we would definitely recommend spending another day and just having a walk round the village talking to the locals and seeing their way of life. The market is vibrant and the river is where whole communities live. Bagan has been one of our favourite places so far. It is like no other place we have ever been.

Posted by Chelsandliam 05:45 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bagan myanmar Comments (2)

Bagan by Horse & Cart

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Today has been even better than yesterday. Bagan is quickly becoming one of our favourite places we have visited. We woke up this morning sore after the Tour De Bagan yesterday. After breakfast we came back to the room and had no idea what to do. We could hardly walk so there was no way we could rent a bike again. Chelsea then suggested hiring a horse and cart for the afternoon. Liam was unsure at first due to the cost but we are only going to be here once.

We hired the horse and cart from 12pm to after sunset. It cost us 13000 kyat which is about 15 USD. We bought some supplies from the local shop, 2 large bottles of water and some crisps (which Chelsea ate before the horse and cart had even come to pick us up) and relaxed in our guesthouse until noon. We had told the owner of our guesthouse where we wanted to go and he made some suggestions of where is good for sunset and he then told the driver of the horse and cart our plan.

We were very excited to have our own personal horse and cart and were really happy when we finally set off. We cannot remember the name of driver we had but he was really nice, a little quiet and shy which is good for us and he spoke good English. The horse was named Su Su, she was a big mare and was in much better condition than some of the horses that walk around Bagan. She was very obedient and liked to be stroked and scratched on her head.

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Riding around Bagan on the horse and cart was really fun and feels like the only mode of transport worthy of such a special place. It is a little bumpy in places but most carts have a big cushion in the cart but it is slow and quiet and it really feels like you have gone back in time. For ninety per cent of the day we were the only people in sight and the atmosphere is unique, dirt roads, barren landscape and thousands of temples.

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We went to the opposite side of Bagan today, it is vastly different from where we were yesterday. There is no main road running through the temple complex, it is all dust and sand tracks, We were glad we didn’t cycle because the sand was really deep at some points. The area is very peaceful, apart from the last two temples we saw; we had the whole place to ourselves all days. The temples themselves today have also been better than yesterday. They were in much better condition and most had large wall paintings inside dating back to the 11 and 12 century. Each one we visited became our favourite. We started at Lzagawna temple and then went to a cave monastery a little further on. This was interesting and a site that we didn’t previously know about. We then took a dust track further and went into three adjoining pagodas with lovely and original wall paintings and on to Tayokpyi Paya. This was our favourite temple of the whole place. It is set in a cluster of different temples and Paya’s and we were the only people there. The building was beautiful and the interior and exterior was still intact and was really intricate. Within the same cluster there was also a large white temple that was really different to all the others. Inside had been recently painted and was not to a very good standard but the exterior was really nice and we were shocked to come across a white temple in the midst of all the brick ones.

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After a couple of hours riding and viewing temples our driver said we can go for a rest and took us to a tiny village called, Min Nan Thu. It seemed to be a kind of service station that the horse and cart drivers take their customers to get out of the heat of the sun. It was small working village that had a little restaurant at the front. We shared two cold lemonades in the shade and enjoyed the view and people watched. After we had finished our drinks a lady offered to show us the village. We were unsure but she led us around and started to explain and show us how they hand make clothes, peanut oil, cotton and jam, all of which comes from home grown produce. By this point we realised she was going to want some money if we went any further so we said thank you for showing us and walked away. Sure enough the girl still asked us for a present or tip but we said no thank you. It seems to be a common thing here where you will walk into a temple or attraction and a local will just follow you around without you asking and start speaking to you about the temple and then expect to be paid afterwards as a ‘guide’.

After our break we went to Sinbyushin complex. This is an abandoned monastery and as there was no one around it was a little creepy. The ride up to it is beautiful though and lined with trees.

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We then went on to our actual favourite temple of the day, Pyathada Pagoda. It was quite a way away from the others, was quite large and no one else was there apart from a couple of local kids selling postcards. The inside was quite typical with large Buddha shrines but what made it special for us was the view. You could climb inside, up some steep stairs to the very top and see for miles over the plains of Bagan. It was stunning and we stayed up there for ages taking photos and sat admiring the view. It was really special and amazing to have it all to ourselves. We imagine at sunset the whole place would be packed but it was silent and peaceful. We didn’t want to leave but we knew we had a couple more stops before sunset. After a while another couple of people came so we got a rare photograph together at the top.

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The next two temples were a bit of a disappointment. One was the largest temple in Bagan, Sulamahi Pahto and because of this and only this people flock there in the hundreds. We had to navigate past several coaches just to get the arch entrance. Then we were surrounded by people and locals trying to sell you things from all angles. We had a quick walk around inside, saw that there was actually nothing there and left. The next one, Thabeikhmauk was much nicer but again too many people. We had been spoiled by the peacefulness of the earlier temples. This one however did have amazing original wall paintings inside, basically on every available wall. There was one main section that was protected by metal caging but we could not get a very good look at it due to a large tour group of Germans taking up the whole area. The rest of what we did see though was incredible. There were large paintings of Buddha and people worshipping, elephants, dragons and a large religious scene.

Our next stop was sunset and it was a great way to end the tour. We climbed up Buledi pagoda via its stairs on the outside and from the top had a view over most of the plains. It was beautiful we could see so much more than our sunset yesterday. At first as we were quite early there was only us and a few Russian ladies sat waiting for the sunset but it is obviously a popular spot as loads of people turned up 10 minutes before the main event, but that didn’t detract from us enjoying the sunset. We sat there or way over an hour watching the sun get lower over the silhouettes of the temples until it disappeared behind some mountains on the horizon.

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We went straight out form dinner once we had seen the sunset and as we were passing asked to get dropped off at Weatherspoons again. Today we had the Burmese classic, a fish finger sandwich. It was truly awesome. We spoke to the owner Winton, he recognised us from our two previous visits he used to live in England and we think he cooks is favourite English dishes and well as the local food, he was really raving about fish finger sandwiches in England. We are getting our western food fix whilst the options and quality is good, we will soon be back on local delights.

Posted by Chelsandliam 06:54 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bagan myanmar Comments (4)

Cycling around the dust plains of Bagan

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Cycling around the dust plains of Bagan

Today is Liam's Dads birthday so we just want to wish him a really happy birthday! Loads of love xxxxxxx

We were up, had breakfast and had rented at bike by 7.45am this morning. Chelsea was really excited to get her first glimpse of all the temples, Liam was tired and didn't speak for at least an hour after he got up. Breakfast is on a roof terrace and was surprisingly nice. Toast and Omelette and a variety of fruits, juice and coffee. We paid 1500Ks each to rent a bike from our guest house for the day. We packed a big bottle of water, sun lotion and a blanket and set off on our temple hunt. It didn't take long to find some. We had planned to cycle into Old Bagan and see the main temples there and the old city walls. We planned to see some main important temples and any smaller ones that interested us on the way but it seemed that every cluster of temples interested us so we stopped off at most temples on the way. 

We were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of them as we cycled down the road. Leading off the main road are many dusty tracks that lead to clusters of Payas or temples. The first set we came across were beautiful. Down a small sandy track were a cluster of three larger buildings and lots of smaller ones in the distance. When we arrived we were the only visitors apart from a man with his horse and cart and a man selling his paintings of the plains. Some of the buildings you can enter and they still have the original paintings on the wall and shrines to Buddha. We cycled around these sites and then crossed the road to another immediate cluster. This one was a lot bigger and once inside a local man said there were stairs up to get views from the top. We climbed up the narrow stairs and the views from the top were amazing. The whole area is flat and there is nothing but trees, temples and the spires from Payas everywhere.  

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We are not sure about the climbing up on these old buildings. Before we came here we were against it as some are ancient relics however some of these buildings have hand rails to aid you climb and locals insist you view from the top so we are not sure what the protocol is for walking up them. 

Slowly we began to guide our way through the maze of religious buildings. The scenery in Bagan is stunning and can only really be appreciated in real life. The photos don't accurately portray the vastness and openness of the area. You can freely ride down any dirt path and come to deserted buildings. This is what we enjoyed the most. It is so easy to find a secluded spot where you are the only tourist in eyesight. We didn't expect to be able to find areas like this in such a popular place but it is so vast that regularly you can freely be left alone to wander in the quiet around the beautiful landscape and potter in and out of hundreds of temples. It is really something special. 

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The main temples and Payas however are altogether a different story. They are all crowded with vendors selling cold drinks and souvenirs. They are a lot more persistent than we expected and a lot of them use their children to sell their goods who do a good job of making you feel bad if you say no thank you. Mainly people sell lacquered items, postcards and sand paintings as well as books and jewellery.  also some people dress their children in traditional dress and they will pose for a photograph and we also saw minority groups sitting for photos and charging. Along with the many touts there are also many many tourists. At the the main temples we went to their were bus loads of tour groups and music blaring out. It is a different world to the quiet and serene areas you can venture on your bicycle. All the major temples such as Andana Pagoda, Thatbyinnyu Temple and Shegugyi Paya were like this and despite their architectural beauty the feeling you get when visiting is totally different. That been said however they are still most defiantly worth the visit as they are stunning buildings with interesting interiors. 

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After cycling down the road from Nyaung Oo to Old Bagan we had seen a lot of sights and it was reaching midday so we decided to stop for a cool down and a drink. We found a roadside vendor and sat in the shade with a big bottle of cold water. Liam tried a sugar cane juice drink and Chelsea had a strawberry ice cream and we sat for around an hour cooling off and relaxing out of the sun until a child tout came to try and sell us postcards, bus tickets and her own drawings she had done. 

We then decided to cycle through old Bagan and along Anawrahta Road back towards home. This road is a lot newer but seems to have less traffic on it. We stopped off at a few small sights and cycled around the dust roads instead of the main road. In this area there is a maze of dirt tracks that connect all the buildings. The only issue is that sometimes the earths so dry that the sand on the paths is too deep and so your bike sinks and it is too difficult to peddle. 

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We then decided to check out Shwesandaw Paya, usually a sunset spot. It was around 1pm so we were the only people visiting apart from the touts. This one has steep steps up to the top and a handrail. We walked up a few tiers and admired the view. The stone was baking hot so we navigated from shaded spot of shaded spot and sat for a while half way up in the shade admiring the view. All the sights are religious so you are required t take off your shoes before you enter. As the roads are so dusty it makes no difference to the cleanliness of your feet and it often feels quite nice to walk a round barefoot. Also keep in mind that shorts and spaghetti strap tops are not permitted, as are wearing socks so if you plan to wear a shoulder less top take a shirt or shawl to wrap around your shoulders. 

By his point the heat was unbearable and our legs and bums were sore so we decided to make the 5-6k ride back in one. Most of it was uphill so it was a bit of a struggle in midday heat but we were rewarded with our ice cold air conditioned room and a shower when we got back. 

After relaxing and showering off all of the days dust we decided to go back out to watch the sunset over the temples. We didn't fancy the mass of tourists on the main sights so decided to find a quiet spot just for us two. We set off quite early as we were not sure what time the sun set and managed to find a quiet spot we had been recommended . It wasnt high up but the views were beautiful and we sat for more than an hour alone watching the sun go down. The sky was orange and the silhouettes of the spires looked lovely. We never expected to come to Myanmar on our travels and are really overwhelmed and happy that we are in Bagan. It is a dream for both of us and watching the sun set over the plains and buildings was amazing. Definitely something we will do everyday we are here. 

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When the sun finally set we were starving as we hadn't eaten all day and we cycled back into town in the dark. We were surprised to find that they have street lights on the main road and we decided to go back to Weather Spoons for some tea. It was so small and friendly yesterday and the food was so delicious we couldn't resist. We both had a rare treat and had a burger and chips. Anyone in Bagan craving some home comforts should visit Weather Spoons. He is a local man who has lived in England and he does both traditional Burmese foods as well as Western dishes. The burger was gorgeous. Homemade and better than most burgers you can get in the UK. The owner, Winton is extremely smiley and friendly and the atmosphere is lovely. A perfect way to end a perfect day in Bagan. 

Posted by Chelsandliam 09:07 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bagan myanmar Comments (3)

Welcome to Bagan

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Our overnight bus pulled into Bagan bus station two hours late. Overall it had took almost 11 hours. We were both shattered and when we got off the bus we were surrounded by locals wanting to take us to our guesthouse. We quietly thanked them and walked off but some were quite persistent. Our guesthouse was supposed to be picking us up but they were no where to be seen. One of the friendlier locals explained that they had been here earlier when the bus was supposed to arrive and let us use his phone to ring them. Sure enough they had been there and were not coming back. The man whose phone we used offered to take us and we agreed a price. The bonus of this is that the mode of transport he used was a horse and cart. There were half a dozen of them huddled together belonging to different people. We hoped on with our luggage and were driven through a sleepy Bagan by Tu Tu the horse to Inn wa guest house.

Arriving at 5.30am we were told our room would not be ready to check in until noon. We expected this and got prepared to try and sleep in the reception area when the owner told us we could us the roof terrace if we wanted as it has reclining chairs. We took him up on is offer and went to get a couple of hours sleep under the stars. We abundantly applied DEET and found two of the chairs he was talking about. The problem was that it was freezing, the days are so hot here it's hard to believe it can get so cold. We couldn't sleep and sat there shivering for and hour or so until the sun started to rise. Another employee of the guesthouse then appeared and signalled for us to follow him. He took us back inside down a couple of floor and into what looked like his own bedroom. Maybe it is a communal staff bedroom we don't know but we finally managed to catch up on some sleep with an American lady who was also sleeping in there.

We woke around nine and decided to go for a walk and get some breakfast. There is a market more or less opposite so we started there. We struggled at first to find somewhere to eat until we stumbled on a small local place that had a handful of people in it. As usual for Myanmar it provided unlimited free tea and we enjoyed that whilst looking over the menu. Chelsea ordered veg fried rice and Liam ordered ginger salad thinking it would be nice and refreshing. He was wrong. Basically he got a plate of entirely grated fresh ginger in a coleslaw type consistency with some nuts sprinkled on the top. The first few mouthfuls were nice but it soon became hardwork eating just ginger. Chelsea got a large portion and did not finish so Liam gave up on his and finished off hers.

We spent the last couple of hours before we checked in sat in the reception area researching our next couple of moves for Myanmar. We have managed to book our next two guesthouses and plan to get everything booked before we leave Bagan. After 4 nights here we are going to Mandalay for 3 nights then 2 nights in each Pywin Oo Lin and Hsipaw before moving onto Inle lake. We looked through the guide to Bagan and it's temples and highlighed some that we definatley want to see. We plan to see these and spend the rest of our time finding quieter Paya's and exploring less crowded areas as there are a lot of tourists here on big bus tours.

We finally got to see our room at 12.30 and took a much needed shower and had an hour relaxing before going out to explore again. Our room is ok, it has air conditioning and sporadic hot water and costs $30 a night. This time we walked the opposite way to before towards a large temple called Shwezigon Paya. It is is similar in layout to Shwedagon Paya in Yangon, with a large golden pagoda circled by more shrines and temples. It was a lot less busy than the one in Yangon apart from a few locals and monks, we had the place to ourselves, it was very peaceful.

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Bagan feels very low key to say it is such a popular and important religious place. The roads are narrow and half dirt roads and the shops and restaurants are often just small wooden huts. There is a lot of traffic and lots of rickshaws and horses and carts, as well as huge buses and motorbikes hurtling around. The people here are friendly and often say 'hello, how are you' when you walk past. One little girl today excitedly said hello and wanted to hi-five Liam which was cute. Like Yangon it is like stepping back in time with it's dusty streets and wooden buildings, we are very excited to start exploring tomorrow.

We came back to the guesthouse again to recover before going out tonight. Liam was in serious need of an haircut and let Chelsea run wild with the nail scissors and she has actually done a good job.

Tonight we went to a restaurant called Weatherspoons. Thankfully different from the Uk chain we had a couple of Myanmar curries, one fish and one beef to share with rice and it was delicious. They came with a tomato salad which had a peanut style mayonnaise sauce on it with nuts sprinkled on top. It was really quiet place and had a good atmosphere. It was really nice to sit there with a good meal and relax after such a long day. Tomorrow we plan to rent bicycles and start exploring the area. There are 4000 temples altogether around the plains here so we will see what we can. You pay 10 dollars each to enter the archeological Zone and that allows you to explore and see all the sights for up to a week. We are looking forward to a few nice days here.

Posted by Chelsandliam 07:38 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bagan myanmar Comments (3)

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