A gem of a place

Trip Start Sep 03, 2006
Trip End Jul 21, 2007

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Thursday, February 8, 2007

Magnificent Bagan

The archeological site of Bagan is close to the city of Nyang U where the slow boat stops. It's a nice and relaxed little town with plenty of accomodation and tourist restaurants. Nothing like Mandalay! It felt cosy and welcoming.  We stayed here 4 days and cycled around the site made of hundreds of temples scattered in a large plain. Each temple is different in shape, size, ornaments and condition. Some temple are still in use while others are seldom visited. From the top of big temples you can get a superb 360 view. Bagan is a beautiful place and probably the most beautiful in Myanmar and if there was only one place you could visit in this incredible country, make it Bagan!

Desapointing visit to Mount Popa

During our stay we made an excursion to mount Popa, 50 Km away from Bagan.
This huge rock (actually the core of an extinct volcano which has collapsed), topped with a temple was quite disapointing. The temple had nothing special, and the view of the plain was rather dull. Our day was saved by a stop to a palm sugar and peanut farm on the way. We saw how they pressed the groundnuts to get the oil and what they do out of palm sugar trees.
Locals hang little pots at the extremity of the stem that normaly carries the flower and then the coconut like fruits. After cutting the flower away, the rising sap drips in the pot.
One can drink the sweet sap freshly collected, but as the day pass by, it becomes toddy, i.e., a fermented alcoholic beverage. Locals make sugar and sweets by boiling the fresh sap. They also distill the toddy to make a rather powerfull rum like alcohol. As we bought some sweets and rum, the owners of the place were nice enough to gave us a bag of candy each, offered the tea and even gave Saoyuth some palm juice, all for free...

We fall in love with a huge water pot

On our last day in Bagan we did a little bit of shopping. Actually, near Bagan, there is a small village famous for its lacquerware. We visited the workshops where we got explained how the items were made: Depending on the number of lacquer layers (between 2 and 18) an item can take many months to make, between the coating, drying , engraving and sanding. The result can be strikingly beautiful! We were after tea cups and fell in love with a huge bicolour water pot. We returned 3 times to the shop in order to negociate again and again the price, but the seller was tough and never agreed to lower th price under... 200 USD!  It's a lot of money, at least a lot more than we were prepared to pay for it, but we don't regret our purchase: you'll have to come and visit us to understand why!

Buying gems to kill time

Because the government has closed all the overland borders, it was impossible for us to get to Laos by bus and unfortunately there was no direct flights either. Instead we had to go back to Yangon to catch a flight to Chiang Mai in Thailand, close to the Laos border. So we did, and spent a few extra days in Yangon. And guess what? Well, we went shopping again! A different kind of shopping though, we went after gems. As you may know, the famous Mogok mines are in Myanmar, so there were plenty of gems on sale. It has never been our intention to buy any stones, but Saoyuth had seen a nice ring with a sapphire which she liked and thought was cheaper than in Europe. We didn't buy it as we didn't know anything about sapphires. We did some research on the internet, and started to shop around to get some practical knowledge. It was actually quite fun and we enjoyed it very much. We went back to the shop where Saoyuth had seen the ring, and with our newly acquired knowledge, we were able to see it was not a high quality sapphire. We managed to bring the price down straight away by a hundred dollars, but it was still not good enough value for money! In fact jewellers in Myanmar have the gems but their jewelry lack design and quality. So we ended up buying single stones... You'll have to come home once again to see Saoyuth masssssivvvee rings ;-)) It's likely that the mounting of the stones will cost more than the stones themselves!

It was time to leave the country, otherwise God knows what else we would have bought!!! Next stop: Laos.
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