Temples of Bagan

Trip Start Mar 04, 2006
Trip End Apr 13, 2006

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Where I stayed
Golden Village Inn

Flag of Myanmar  ,
Sunday, March 12, 2006

Greetings from Bagan. Well actually, not quite. I'm staying on the northern edge of the archaeological zone, in the town of Nyaung U (Nyawn Oo). About half the town's houses are brick, the other half wood framed with woven (think rattan) walls. There's electricity most of the time, and generators for when there's not. Several of the roads are paved, but most are dirt. Dogs and cats wander everywhere, along with a few chickens and the occasional cow. All in all, it makes me think of a small Oklahoma farm town circa 1900 or so. Minus the mopeds of course. I'm staying at the Golden Village Inn, where for $10 a night I get a large room with A/C, TV, en suite bathroom and mini-fridge. They rent bicycles for a dollar a day, and provide a complimentary breakfast. All in all, it's pretty comfortable.

I arrived yesterday from Yangon at 7:30 AM, checked in and went for a walk around town, just trying to get a feel for the place. I was out early enough to witness the monks and nuns returning from their morning rounds collecting their food for the day from the community. A part of daily life here in Asia, it's an interesting thing to watch. Having gotten up at 4:00 to catch the plane, I ended up back at the Inn napping for a couple hours, waking to a 15 degree increase in temperature. Not what I was hoping for.

Given the heat, I put off bicycling into the temple zone for a bit and hid out in the shade of a local restaurant, eating homemade spinach ravioli (so-so) and washing it down with the local Star Cola. Eventually realizing it wasn't going to cool off, I hopped on my trusty pink steed and headed for the temples.

Bagan. I don't know what I can say about this place that hasn't been said a hundred times before. How do you describe 2200 temples, pagodas, and stupas spread out over 40 square kilometers? How do you communicate the magic of the moment when, sitting in the shade of an 800 year old temple, you witness a family passing by on their way home from the market, in their ox cart? Or your disbelief at the woman carrying two five gallon buckets of water home at the ends of a bamboo pole? For me, the most amazing thing about Bagan isn't the temples, it's the chance to witness life continuing much as it must have been at the time the temples were built. Such a place shouldn't even exist.

After a couple of hours of wandering the sandy ox cart paths that run throughout the temple zone, I headed back for the road to look for a large temple with external stairs, so I could have a good view at sunset. Unfortunately the only one I could find in time was one where the tour bus operators bring all the package tour tourists for the very same reason. So I enjoyed the sunset in the company of 200 French, Italian and Swiss tourists who had been whisked around Bagan all day in the air conditioned comfort of their buses. Lazy bastards. And I'm not saying that just because I had a 30 minute uphill ride on my single speed, all steel, pink (with white basket), Chinese bicycle to get back to the inn either. Really.

For dinner I headed to Aroma, the only authentic Indian restaurant in town. Run by Omar, a second generation immigrant from India, they make an amazing chicken curry. Served with 6 different condiments (tomatoes with herbs, candied mangoes, ginger, etc.), it was awesome. And there was an appetizer, a plate sized potato chip thing with spicy tomato dip what was fantastic. I ended up in conversation with the guy at the table next to mine, Richard from Illinois. He's an expat living in Bangkok for the past two years. He came over on a fellowship after grad school and ended up getting a job as a writer for a Thai magazine. After telling him where I worked, he told me he used to babysit for Chuck's grandkids while in college, back when Chuck's daughter Carrie lived in Atlanta. How's that for a small world story? We ended up staying too long and drinking too much. I learned a lot about all things asian; politics, culture, prospects for democracy, Buddhism and the Thai PM's current problems.

Thanks to the late night, my plan to get up and out to witness sunrise over the temples didn't quite happen. But I did make it out eventually, and it was another great day of exploring, with almost no distractions. It's amazing how far you can roam without running into anyone. Once you get off the main roads it's just you, the temples and the heat.

My last "what I had to eat" story from Bagan I promise. Lunch today was my local favorite, Burmese chicken fried rice. More importantly though, was desert. I found a restaurant that makes chocolate and banana crepes. After a week without chocolate, I was like a junkie his first day out of jail. It was fantastic, as good a crepe as I've had anywhere.

Almost time to head out for today's sunset. I'll try and post some pictures tomorrow.

...I didn't make it to the internet shop last night, so here's the rest of day two in Bagan. I headed back out after lunch, going further east on the ox cart trails than before. After exploring for a couple of hours, I headed for a minor temple with stairs near the main road. Being smallish, I was hoping it wouldn't attract the crowds. The plan worked, and I ended up being one of only four tourists watching the sunset from there. Strangely enough, Richard had also found his way there. We talked a bit, enjoyed the sunset, and made plans for dinner.

Up early today to catch the morning light on the temples. I make it about two kilometers when the back tire starts losing air. I manage to get some pics of some minor pagodas and temples, then turn back before the thing goes completely flat. I'll be taking it easy the rest of the day I think. I need to book transport to Kalaw, and I'm being told there's no express A/C bus for a couple days. I'm not sure if that's true or if they're trying to steer me towards a flight, and bigger commission for them. Time to shop around. One way or the other, I'll be leaving tomorrow.
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