Our guide and driver picked us up from our hotel at 8.30 AM.
Our first stop was a visit to Thagyar Pone Temple, which had spectacular views over the surrounding countryside. We climbed to the top of the temple where the only sound was the birds twittering in the sunshine and the gentle breeze, a nice time of day before the heat kicks in. This reminded us of a perfect setting for a picnic. The views in all directions were quite amazing, with the many colors of the countryside punctuated by the patchwork of many small farms and white stupors gleaming in the sunlight. This was the cool season for Burma, comparable to a very hot Summer’s day in the UK. In this part of the World, there are typically three seasons: the cool season, the wet season with the monsoon rains and the hot season with average temperatures of circa forty-five degrees Celsius, and very high levels of humidity. The air was remarkably clear and we could focus on dozens of farm workers in the fields without using our binoculars, an artists delight. After taking our fill of this wonderful site, we reluctantly descended to the ground where the car was waiting. Our ascent and descent provided an opportunity to see in detail the wonders of Bagan’s ancient architecture. To put it in perspective, there were originally circa five thousand temples built between the 11th and & 12 th centuries (this was at a similar time to the building of Angkor Wat). Today, 2217 temples are in good condition with little restoration, plus there are over a thousand that have been restored – this gives an idea of the scale, all within an area of twenty square miles.
Bagan is situated in the bend made in the Ayeyarwady River, Nyaung Oo District, Mandalay Division, in Central Myanmar. The Bagan dynasty of fifty-five kings was inaugurated by King Thamudarit, who founded the Myanmar empire – he also paved the way for the foundation of Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar. Bagan’s golden era was from the 1st to the 13th centuries AD.
Our second stop was the Ananda Temple – this one thousand-year old temple is one of four surviving temples in Bagan but it is probably the most revered. Although we were still early in the day, the site was busy with tourists. Our guide whose name is Mo, told us that later in the day, there is gridlock with tour buses and we were more than pleased to have been there early before they arrived. We had organized a bespoke tour but there were many large groups in Bagan trailing their guides’ umbrellas. The largest groups seemed to be of French tourists.
Later we went to Myinkaba Village and visited the Gubyaukgyi Temple which is noted for its beautiful original mural paintings on its inner wall. Our guide also pointed out the nearby Manuha Temple and Nan Paya Temple, two smaller temples with good Buddha statues and stone work. Next, we learned more about the local culture with visit to two workshops producing Bagan’s famous lacquer ware and wood crafts. We were able to see skilled craftsmen using techniques passed down the generations. Unfortunately we were unable to make any purchases, as we were low on local currency or dollars and credit cards are not accepted in Myanmar.
After lunch at a pleasant vegetarian restaurant, we boarded a private river boat and went upriver toward Kyauk Gu U Min. On the Irrawaddy river trip we saw amazing views of fishermen, boats of all shapes and sizes, riverside villages and temples. We stopped at Sae Lan village and went ashore for a short walk. Sae Lan is typical of the riverside villages along the Irrawaddy. The friendly people work as farmers and fishermen, living a simple but happy life. Once again we were trailed by hundreds of colorful children and we thought of the Pied Piper of Hamlin and speculated whether these children would be forever lost to the traditional way of life because of tourism. It was so nice, the way that they looked at us with their large dark brown eyes and took hold of our hands and followed us around their village.
We continued by boat to Kyauk Gu U Min on the eastern side of the river where a ten minute walk took us to a hidden temple, with exquisite stone carvings of religious figures and flowers on the door. The temple itself was built against the side of the cliff, so behind the main hall of the temple we entered a cave. Inside the cave there are several small niches where individuals can practice meditation. Legend states that the cave was built during the 13th century for the locals to hide from the invading Mongols.
Later that night we reflected on the similarities and differences between Bagan and Angkor Wat. Our conclusion was that once the Myanmar Government strengthened the infrastructure, Bagan could easily become a global hub for mass tourism. If you want to see the real Bagan, we would recommend that you visit it without delay, before it is forever corrupted by tourism. Remind yourselves of the Pied Piper of Hamlin!
We finished our trip on the Ayeyarwaddy looking at the sunset, a splendid end to today’s tour – we returned to our hotel by about six thirty and later took Mo’s recommendation for a dinner venue with a puppet show, another early art of the Burmese – we thoroughly enjoyed it and a perfect end to the day.
There is part three to follow!
Please open this link. to see many photos of Bagan.