Day 3-5 – Bagan

My day started with a walk to the bookshop. Nothing to do with books, more to do with a guy there. Actually, nothing to do with him, more to do with where I would sleep that night. Miraculously, this bookshop owner cum travel agent had found me a room at Golden Myanmar Hotel. Overjoyed, I bought a book for Linda, skipped my breakfast, headed straight for the hotel, deposited money for the room, then went back to join Patrick and Linda for a treasure hunt with Oche, the great old soul from Mingalar. Patrick is a passionate amateur gemstone collector, so we spent a greal deal of time at the shop, looking at ruby, shapphire, moonstone, jade, peridot, etc.  At the end, he settled for 2 stones for $50, they were not of very high quality he said. Back to Mingalar, I bid farewell to my two friends, brought my luggage to Golden Myanmar, and officially kicked off my holiday in Bagan.

The next few days felt like a calm before a storm, and wicked enough, a storm or more accurately a cyclone I had. Bagan is considered one of three great Buddhist heritage sites in Southeast Asia, together with Angkor in Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia. With two thousand or so temples and pagodas dotting the plain, the view is (supposedly) breathtaking at dawn or dusk. As my bad luck had not run out, I found myself in Bagan when a cyclone was on the way (I did not know it by then), so not a single ray of sunlight, not a single patch of blue sky, and certainly not a single chance of a beautiful sunrise or sunset for 3 days. Damn it!!! I was even more frustrated and annoyed when the locals kept approaching me, asking the same old question ‘where are you from?’, from kids selling souvenirs near the temples, villains stalking tourists offering fake gemstones for hundreds of dollars, to random guys on the streets introducing themselves as painters. How many ‘where are you from?’ could I take? Not many I’m afraid. And how many temples could I enjoy before getting bored? Not many either. After a day and a half, I was sick of temples, I got templed out, I did not want to see any more temples.

Bagan
Bagan

Bagan
Bagan

Gawdawpalin Pahto
Gawdawpalin Pahto

Gawdawpalin Pahto
Gawdawpalin Pahto

A beautiful door
A beautiful door

Wood carvings - Bagan
Wood carvings

Bagan
Bagan

Bagan
Bagan

Bagan
Bagan

A giant standing Buddha statue - Ananda Pahto
A giant standing Buddha statue – Ananda Pahto

Ananda Pahto
Ananda Pahto

Ananda Pahto
Ananda Pahto

Ananda Pahto
Ananda Pahto

Water for free
Water for free

A huge reclining Buddha at Manuha Paya
A huge reclining Buddha at Manuha Paya

Buddha's fingers - Manuha Paya
Buddha’s fingers – Manuha Paya

Making sand paintings
Making sand paintings

Sand paintings
Making sand paintings

A Buddha statue - Bagan
A Buddha statue

Bagan
Bagan

Shwesandaw Paya, Bagan
Shwesandaw Paya

Bagan
View from Shwesandaw Paya

Bagan
View from Shwesandaw Paya

Bagan
View from Shwesandaw Paya

Dhammayangyi Pahto, Bagan
Dhammayangyi Pahto

Novices entering a temple in Bagan
Novices entering a temple

Temple decorations - Bagan
Temple decorations

Devotees applying gold leaves to a Buddha statue, Bagan
Devotees applying gold leaves to a Buddha statue

Murals - Bagan
Murals

Murals - Bagan
Murals

Murals - Bagan
Murals

Gautama and Maitreya, the historical and future buddhas - Dhammayangyi Pahto, Bagan
Gautama and Maitreya, the historical and future buddhas – Dhammayangyi Pahto

Gautama and Maitreya, the historical and future buddhas - Dhammayangyi Pahto, Bagan
Gautama and Maitreya, the historical and future buddhas – Dhammayangyi Pahto

A souvenir shop in Bagan
A souvenir shop in Bagan

Puppets
Puppets


And so I decided to go to Mount Popa on my last day in Bagan. Arranging a shared taxi was problematic to say the least. A German girl said yes, then was convinced by a French girl that it was not worth it going there for half a day, so she dropped it. A crazy Japanese couple told the hotel owner they wanted to go, then they did not want to go any more, then they wanted to go again, then they decided not to again, and then finally I saw them on the way to Mount Popa when I was on my way back from there. Nuts! Anyway, things actually worked out better for me, as I ended up sharing a taxi with a Myanmar family from Yangon. A very cute little girl, her parents and grandparents all piled up in the back of the taxi/pick-up/truck, while I was in the front seat. Although they could speak little English, I really enjoyed their company, especially the little girl who at one point told me ‘I love you’. I love you too, darling!

The Myanmar family I shared the taxi to Mount Popa with
The Myanmar family I shared the taxi to Mount Popa with

A typical pick up in Myanmar
A typical pick up in Myanmar

Lucky flowers tying to the front mirrors of our taxi
Lucky flowers tying to the front mirrors of our taxi

So many kids along the road to Mount Popa
So many kids along the road to Mount Popa

Mount Popa with a temple complex at the top
Mount Popa with a temple complex at the top

Monkey, Mount Popa
Monkey, Mount Popa

Monkey, Mount Popa
Monkey, Mount Popa

Monkey - Mount Popa

A small shrine on the way to Mount Popa
A small shrine on the way to Mount Popa

Don't quite know what this is
Don’t quite know what this is

Buddha statue - Mount Popa
Buddha statue

View from Mount Popa
View from Mount Popa

View from Mount Popa
View from Mount Popa

This novice has 3 little dogs. He loves showing them to the tourist passing by
This novice has 3 little dogs. He loves showing them to the tourist passing by

Love this little girl
Love this little girl

She's so cute and pretty
She’s so cute and pretty

A few highlights of my time in Bagan:

-Food: if you go to Bagan, try salads, any kind of salads. They make super duper yummy salds here, tomato salad with peanuts in particular is a revelation. I was converted, I had tomato salad almost every day. Spicy green papaya salad is delicious. Anything with avocado is good as well. And try pineapple juice with whisky (or brandy or rum, I can’t remember), it would give you a really good kick.

-Taxi: I love my taxi experiences in Bagan. The taxi I took to Mount Popa was an old Toyota from 1979. After running for about 20-30km, the engine got so hot the driver had to stopped, openned the hood, and cooled it down with a few splashes of water. While we came down from Mount Popa, the driver was actually fixing a petrol leaking problem, luckily this was not a Holywood movie, so we were back in Bagan safe and sound without being scorched to ashes or exploded to millions of pieces. Ah, one more reason why I love taking taxi in Myanmar, the driver was so kind he gave a local girl a lift down the mountain. There was no room left at the back, so I shared the front seat with her, and her bucket full of vegtables, not a big problem if she was not twice my size. Thanks to her lucky flowers tying to the front mirrors, I was not suffocated to death.

Another hilarious story about taking taxi in Bagan. Actually, it was not a taxi. On my last day in Bagan, I asked my hotel manager to arrange a taxi to the airport for me.  He kept smiling and telling me it was gonna be a good deal for me, 3000 kyats instead of 5000 kyats, it turned out it was him who was taking me to the airport using his own car. A blue Nissan from 1978. It was so old the engine needed two manpowers to start up, i.e: two hotel employees pushing the car for ~200m. It ran for 10m or so before the engine died off. The hotel manager must have felt my great anxiety when I asked him whether we could make it to the airport. Once the engine started again, he told the two guys to jump in as well, just in case we needed some muscle on the way. The ride was not as smooth as silk due to thousands of potholes on the roads, but we made it. God bless all Nissan cars from 1978!

-People: it was in Bagan that I first experienced the genuine kindness and hospitality of Myanmar people. Oche, the kind old receptionist at Mingalar helped me call so many hotels, walked with me while he could have cycled home for lunch. Golden Myanmar Hotel’s manager and his wife gave me a 25% discount for the room as I stayed for 3 nights. A local painter at a remote temple took his time to explain to me the technique of sand paintings and the meanings of various religious symbols without pushing me to buy anything. I ended up buying a painting from him, but at almost half price (I bargained hard). A taxi driver tried his best to talk to me even though I could hardly understand his little English at all. The family from Yangon let me tag along for the whole walk up Mount Popa, then invited me to join them for lunch. I paid my share, but nothing can buy this little glimpse of local daily life.