Sunday, February 1, 2015

Bagan

We caught the bus from Yangon to Bagan. As usual, it took much longer than advertised, proceeding from a fairly standard looking highway to what appeared to be a single lane road meandering through a sandy landscape. It was two lanes, as was demonstrated whenever we came upon another car and had to make our way to the side, but it was tight. The most interesting thing about our bus was the cargo, an entire hold full of coconuts being transported north. One might think that coconuts would grow anywhere around here, but apparently not. They must be shipped.

In Bagan we stayed in the Shwe Yee Pwint Hotel. I had booked this place because it seemed to have nice rooms, and also had a pool, which would be nice after a day touring about. The rooms were decent enough, although nowhere near as nice as they appeared on their site. There was no WiFi unless one went to the pool area, which was frustrating as they had said there would be good WiFi in the rooms, and the SIM card that I had picked up on Yangon no longer worked in Bagan. And the pool was a very murky white, that made it a little scary to go into. There were problems with the reservation and their booking partner, Asiatravel.com. And the staff were just not terribly helpful when we needed to get recommendations or find our way about, which is a little odd since there are only a limited number of things to do and places to go in Bagan. Simply put, I wouldn't recommend this place.

Bagan on the other hand is rather spectacular. From Wikipedia: "From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the kingdom's height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day." Those 2200 temples are scattered across the landscape and range from huge towering monuments to tiny little structures. It's kind of mind-blowing to make your way through the landscape and just see one after another. 
Pagodas as far as you can see.
Someone had compared the feast of Angkor Wat to the flow of Bagan. Angkor Wat has a few massive places that you have to see. Bagan has thousands that are so spread out that they blend into the residential areas. No matter where you go there will be another pagoda.


Beautiful view from the top of a temple.
To get around we rented electric bikes - a slightly underpowered means, but it felt a little more at-one with our environment. Just make sure you get one that is fully charged. My battery died at the end of the day, and they're tough to ride as just bikes. 


Riding along on my little bike.
We explored the area, visiting one temple after another. We would climb to the top of some, others you could just walk around, sometimes you could visit inside. It's beautiful, although admittedly a bit repetitive after awhile. One could spend months visiting all the structures, but we were only there for a couple of days and that was probably enough. Sooner or later all the pagodas and temples start to blend together.


At the end of the first day we returned to Shwesandaw Pagoda, which we had been to the top of earlier in the day. This was the pagoda where you were apparently supposed to go to view the sunset on the plains. We actually hadn't known that this was the sunset pagoda when we'd visited earlier in the day, otherwise we would have put it off and only gone in the evening. The sunset was nice, but the place was swarming with people, to a degree that it became rather unpleasant. I understand that there are some other perfectly nice places to watch the sun go down, and would suggest that people might want to try them instead.
Beautiful sunset amidst chaos at the top of Shwesandaw.
On the first day we had come across a place that offered boat trips onto the river that runs through Bagan and on our second day we booked a trip. Instead of our electric bikes we booked one of the horse and carriages that are an alternative form of transportation around the area. It was a great idea in theory, but in practice it was a very slow and not terribly comfortable way to get to the other side of the Bagan area. Franziska sat up front with the driver and I curled up into the back of the carriage, and we slowly made our way out.
Good price to take a bout out.
Slightly slower transport.

The boat ride seems to be a pretty popular way of watching the sun go down. We started out with just our boat, but shortly joined a convoy heading out along the river. All the same, it was lovely. Our captain took us up stream, cut the engines, and we were able to float and watch the sun set on the temples. A great way to wrap up a second day in this spectacular landscape.
A cup of tea before the boat ride.
On the water.
Beautiful end to the day.

We had tried to book a bus from Bagan to Inle Lake the following day, but that turned out to be not possible unless I wanted to do a night bus, which was something I was trying to avoid. My no longer 20-year old back just didn't think it would like it. The other option was to head north the next day and go to Mandalay, then head over to Inle Lake a day or two later, so that is what we did. The next morning we got up early and caught the bus for Mandalay.


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