sexta-feira, 25 de maio de 2012

Misterious Bagan


Many people know that I get scared, nearly to panic, within airplanes. Ironically in these past 12 months so far I've been through 19 flights! And to make it worse, 2 of it in Myanmar were in a propelled powered airplane. However I got anxious in vain since this ATR was very stable - even more than the traditional A320 - and we haven't had any bumps! :)


Bagan  it's the most relevant and impressive touristic destination in Myanmar. However, that hasn't been shown by the numbers yet, and in 2011 there were only 300,000 visitors, the majority between December to February, when Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, got around 2 millions.

Before being faded to the ruins and ostracism, Bagan was actually called Pagan and it was the capital of the Pagan Empire. Between the 9th and 13th centuries more than 10,000 religious structures were erected in a small area of 104 km². Today, after wars, earthquakes, etc., there are 2,200 structures that remain still or more than 4,000 if accounted the ruins.

Myanmar's government has been trying to establish the region as an international hot spot. That has also been leading to some extravagances, like building totally uncharacterized palaces in the middle of the archeologic park, conduct restaurations without proper materials, etc. That's part of the explanation why Bagan hasn't been listed as UNESCO heritage site yet.


As soon as we steped out of the airplane we had to pay a US$ 10 entrance fee to the region of Bagan. There are three cities you can stay: Nyang U (backpackers and budget travellers, we), Old Bagan (families and resort seekers, expensive) and New Bagan (apparently for those who want to stay far away to the temples).

We took a cab for K 5,000 (fixed price) to the guesthouse Golden Myanmar em Nyang U. We negotiated for a double room w/ fan, A/C, breakfast and private shower for US$ 16/night. It didn't take too long and our meant to be guide and 'driver' appeared and we negotiated to 2 days of horsecart transportation (traditional way of visiting Bagan) including the sunrise for K 33,000, which might have been expensive, I don't know.

Tour in the 1st day

We left our stuff in the room and at 8 am we were already going to the temples. It didn't take half an hour to notice that taking the horsecart was absolutely essential. The weather at this time of the year in this region is extremely dry and hot with temperatures peaking up at 40-43oC. Soon we noticed the arid scenery, with cactus and thorns, and also some 'purple-face' Westerners under the sun doing their tour by bicycle.

Bagan's Map
Source: AstronomicalTours

When you start getting through the many temples of Bagan you want to stop and explore one by one because naturally is something different that you have never seen before. I think we went to 3 or 4 before we realize that 'you're in a 2,000 temples place, you can't see all!'. And then we let our 'driver' to guide us.

The Myanmarese people developed a cosmetic technique to protect their face from the sun. There's a natural traditional cosmetic called Thanaka which is extracted from the sandalwood through a very simple method - rubbing it against a stone and pouring some water. The people - especially women and kids - put it on their faces and sometimes making drawings. This protection is really good and a seller put it in me and Bart and although we have spent the whole day under the sun we didn't get any sun burn. 

Woman w/ Thanaka on her face
When we started our tour we had a map with all the names of the major temples and its location. Unfortunately this map was useful only until getting to Bagan, after that we forgot it and it has just disappeared. However our 'driver' would mention the temples' names everytime, neither me or Bart could remember later and thus I tried to remember some of them - under the risk of being wrong.

Suddenly the scenery that had one temple here and one temple there became an endless 'sea of temples' and other constructions mixed with the trees. Oh, and if there's an important advise for those who are going to Bagan it would be to climb the temples - unfortunately to the majority that's not possible - because enjoying the views it's probably the best part. The temples inside are not that impressive but the views will take your breath away.

In one of the big temples we went there was a huge terrace so we could take some panorama pictures. Most of the temples will clearly require you to walk with bare feet thus a good tip: wear flip-flops, not snickers, and, after getting in take your flip-flops with you because in the case there's a terrace you will have to wear it anyway otherwise you will seriously burn your feet.

It was something around 11 am and we were, literally, cooking and we hadn't taken any water to drink on the way. So our 'driver' very kindly 'chose' a village so we could buy some water and rest under the shade.

We arrived in the village and quickly drank 2 cans of soft drink for K 1,000/can. So far we didn't know that 1 L of cold water costs only K 400 and the generic local soft drinks (all Coca-Cola stuff is imported from Thailand), the well-known Star Cola, Quénch and Lemon Sparkling would cost only K 400 either.

"Coincidentally" behind the drinks stall there as a village that produced cigarretes and clothes/fabrics. The houses were really tidy, more than average, and there was a promptly demonstration where the food was cut to be given to the cattle, where they did this and that, etc. Everything very well located. Nobody working in those 'working stations' on a Monday morning. And this lady that couldn't stop smoking this huge cigar. They gave us 2 cigars, a silk roll as 'gifts', and 'souvenir'. In the end, the lady that was guiding us started asking money as 'a gift' and when we tipped her she semmed to be so disgusted with the amount that we though she would throw it away. 

This temple Dhammayangyi it's one of the most iconic of Bagan. From every place you can see this almost piramidal shape - even from the plane. I also think it's one of Bagan's largest temples.

Well, I confess that at a given amount of time we were getting in and out of so many tempes that we were almost disconnected of where we were going and what it was. There are some white temples if Bagan, not on its best shape cause the paint is not that good but it makes a nice contrast with the typicall red/orange colour. 

Mingalazedi in the back

Inside the temples there are almost always big empty spaces, but very refreshing, in which many people sleep in the afternoon, or sell their products, or just go there to pray. The walls many times have paintings or sculptures. Anyway the element that will most catch your attention are the huge Buddhas, with many colors but in general following the standard of the two pictures below.

One interesting difference between the Myanmarese Buddha and another on in Cambodia or Thailand or the face expressions. In Myanmar, the Buddha has coloured and pulled eyes, a very distinguished eyebrow and lips painted in red. Other possibility would be the golden Buddha, very tall and different standing positions with its hands.

Sunset 1

Getting close to the end of the day the temperature started to come back to 'normal' levels and we went around to look for a sunset viewing spot. For the whole day there was not even a cloud in the skies, roasting, but when we got close to 5 pm many clouds came up in the horizon and the sun disappeared.

Since we were already there we decided to stay and wait until it gets dark. Then, a seller - they came up from every possible place, almost like Bagan's elves - came up trying to sell his paintings - there are 10000... + sellers offering the same thing everywhere. Then I told him that he could make some money with he switched his business to drinks. Then he asked if we wanted and then I said ok. He offered 2 Mandalay Beer from his village for K 2,000/bottle, the same price in the city. Deal.

When our beer came two other turists came up - an American and an Italian. Since we were only 4 people watching the sunset that wouldn't happen we started to chat. The American then asked where we were from and Bart said he was from the Netherlands and I was from Brazil. Then he turned at me and started talking in Portuguese - with a very marked accent but still very good.

This American guy had lived for 3 years in Brazil, in Mundo Novo, Bahia in the 70s. He travelled our whole country - within airplanes and buses. That was a really adventurous guy. Imagine to cross a huge country like Brazil that no one would speak English 40 years ago? Well, I told you that in Myanmar we found people different than the average.

After that we came back to our hotel and went out to have dinner in a very good restaurant - and very cheap - and close to our guestouse, Fuji Restaurant. The traditional fried noodles/fried rice costs around K 1,500-2,000.

Hellish night

Our first night at Bagan was complicated. We hadn't discovered how to make the A/C work and the temperature inside our room should be around 30oC. Thus, we didn't sleep and we also couldn't buy any water at night because at 10 pm everyone was already sleeping and the hotel was closed. Then I discovered a fountain in the reception and that saved us. Therefore, make sure that your room will have a perfect A/C. Besides that there were some power shortages (very common) and then our fan stopped working for a while.

Tour in the 2nd day

Our 2nd day started very sleepy due to the sleepless night. We woke up at 4 am in time to watch the sunrise. Our 'driver' was already waiting for us with his horse in front of our hotel and we carried awway our breakfast.

We arrived to the well'-know temple of Sulamani, not because of its beauty, but due to its 360o views. Then we found some other tourists but not more than 10-15. As the skies got clearer it was possible to see the temples' silhouette in the horizon.

The fog made the sun to become opaque and come up as a flat brightless circle in the horizon.

In the end, later, it recovered its bright and then an orange colour took the skies, contrasting with the constructions silhouettes.

I think that as much as nice is to look against the sun is also to enjoy the Golden Hours (morning and evening) when sun rays hit the front part of the buildings making it bright coloured and contrasting with the surrounding greenery.

In this day we were really tired due to the bad slept night and the we had to go back to our hotel and sleep part of the afternoon (the hottest part) so we could go on time to visit the Shwezigon Pagoda and the watch the sunset.

Shwezigon Pagoda its one of the most important temples of Bagan and it has an imponent and partially gold made structure. It's some sort of Shwedagon of Bagan and it's also enlighted at night - but I couldn't take any picture, I'm needing a tripod for night pictures :S

Sunset 2

Afterwards we had our last sunset in Bagan, which we couldn't see the sun again because it almost rained but in the end there was a nice coloured sky to watch. As always, a nice beer to finish the day with the same seller of the day before.


I expect that you have enjoyed reading this post and the next is going to be our last one about Myanmar and I will talk about Inle Lake, a completely different scenario from Bagan, lots of water, plantations, nice temperatures and a large community that depends of that lake to take their food, to transport, and to make some money with tourism. Coming soon! ;]

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