Travels through Myanmar XI – Bagan

…continued from: Travels through Myanmar X – Ferry Ride Photos

…but honestly, that post linked above is mostly photos, so if your more interested in the story, as in actual text, I’ll start with the second to last line from The Almost Perfect Storm, which was the post before the link above – and I know, all you want to do is click a post and read it and be happy and say “that was easy …and nice”, but now your like “this is getting way too complicated” …so, sorry 😮

OK …second to last line from the post prior to the prior post in the story:

…as I step off the docks/gang-planks/dirt bank and right into THE biggest scorpion I have ever seen in my life (the big black holy crap and I’m in flip-flops so I could possibly die if I take another step because the stinger on that thing is over an inch long type).

     My first thoughts at this point – “Damn, I wish I had my camera out”, followed by “I’m way too tired to take my camera out to take a picture of this thing”, followed by “I’m only wearing flip-flops and this thing is about an inch away from my toes” …notice the importance of thoughts there with photography coming before a painful death by scorpion poison in a third world nation all the way across the world where the nearest hospital you would want to actually go to is about three or four countries over. Alrighty than, a quick, “HOLY CRAP, look at this thing”, with a skip and a jump, followed by screams of delight by the local children …followed by screams of fright by the passengers behind us (Hee,hee,hee) and we are off to find a taxi, or tuk-tuk, or horse cart, not exactly knowing what exists up here but hoping for anything but a boat.

     Success, a few seconds later and there are taxi drivers all over, as well as horse-carts. We already have a reservation made for the hotel, we haggle for about a second, getting the price down from around fifty cents to forty-eight and a half, throw our bags in the trunk that doesn’t really close but never really opens, hop in, and take off. Fifty feet down the road we come to screeching halt, or as screeching as you can get in a few inches of mud, so more of a mostly sliding, kind of bucking, more of a “I don’t think the car is strong enough to go through mud, especially with slicks on” kind of stop. Mud: 1, Taxi: 0. I feel it’s going to be a long game.

     Lo and behold, a reasoning behind the wreckage, so to speak. The driver informs us we need to buy “Bagan Archeological Site” tickets now, before going any further. Ahhh, com on’. “Can’t we do this tomorrow?”. No. “We just spent fifteen hours on the boat”. Have to do now. “Why?”. Rules. “You’re stuck in the mud, aren’t you?”. No. “OK”. So we head to the office, three walled shack, across the street, mud slick, pay for a few tickets, as other fellow boater tourists are also stopped and start to line up. A mild inconvenience unfortunately, but a necessary one we didn’t know about – if you go up there, just be aware of it and that the guys aren’t trying to rip you off or anything. Tickets bought, we hear a loud slurpy whirring type of noise across the street. Turn around to see our taxi doing its best impression of a chubby kid sliding down a slip and slide put on the side of a hill, diagonally. The taxi driver staring at us with full smile, as he guns it without a care in the world of what may be in front of him, or who or what is being covered in mud behind, because he is staring at us with that huge smile the entire time.  Clip-clop-clip-clop, the “most out of shape backpacker in the world” (see The Almost Perfect Storm, last paragraph) pulls up in a horse-cart, you gotta be kidding me, you just couldn’t take a taxi, could ya? We have to laugh. The chubby kid taxi is out, we hop back in, now we’re off!!!

     A short drive to the hotel, The Thiripyitsaya (fantastic hotel by the way), something to eat, and to bed. We get up the next morning to a beautiful, if not hot and humid day. Bagan here we come. A short walk out of the hotel, heck, on the hotel grounds, the temples begin. For those that don’t know much about Bagan, it’s sort of like a dry Angkor on crack-cocaine with about a million less tourists, which is a good thing. Small temples, large temples, colorful temples, drab temples. Mini temples, Massive temples, old ones and new ones, and ones in-between. Old Bagan, New Bagan, stupas, buddhas, kids, horse carts, cheroots, goat herders, monks, nuns, …and beer. It’s got it all.

     Bagan, once called Pagan, formally called Arimaddanapura or Arimaddana, also known as Tambadipa or Tassadessa, translated into “The City of the Enemy Crusher”, “The Land of Copper” and “The Parched Land”. …or “Angkor on Crack” of course. The “site” sits on a dry plain between the Irrawaddy River and the hills and mountains beyond. I put “site” in quotation marks because it really isn’t a site in the fact that it can be measured accurately with any kind of certainty, which I guess really confuses a lot of people. My reasoning: Old Bagan, the town, is actually newer than the actual Old Bagan. New Bagan was a new town where the people of Old Bagan were relocated too, the newer Old Bagan, not the Old Old Bagan. In the meantime there have been small towns popping up all over the place, and there are many who still live in Old Bagan, New Bagan, and Oldest Bagan. In Bagans heyday, there were over 5000 temples erected, today there are 2217, a lot of former ones destroyed from an earthquake in 1975. The only problem is that new temples are being built every day, and of the 2217 left, only a few hundred may be from the original 5000. The idea of Bagan is much more than its physical boundaries. There may be closer to 2500 or 3000 now since the earthquake of 75′, I don’t think anyone really knows, and the people don’t really care what the rest of the world thinks about physical boundaries, if they want a temple in their backyard, they’re gonna build it, whether it be in the “boundaries” or not, thus contracting and expanding the actual boundaries as each temple, stupa, or statue is destroyed or built.

     UNESCO, in all their infinite wisdom, doesn’t like this, and I was really surprised that this wasn’t one of their World Heritage Sites, because there isn’t anything in the world like it. Their excuse is the haphazard restoration of some of the temples and some buildings around them. Idiots. A bad government and the fact that it can’t be really measured physically doesn’t mean one of the last remaining cities full of thousands of stupas, temples and statues dating back to 107 AD doesn’t exist. Of all their reasons given, none of them are substantial and the only thing I can come up with is they don’t like the government. I’ve seen about a thousand UNESCO World Heritage Sites throughout the world, and many are literally shacks or mounds of dirt sitting in the middle of trash piles, yet they don’t think a few thousand temples are worthwhile. Again, idiots. Another example of political thinking over doing what is right. OK, rant over.

    Bagan is huge. You, or I, could walk it, ride it, climb it, as well as photograph it for weeks and not see all of it. There are a few paved roads, but not many, and cars aren’t allowed off them, giving most of the roads over to horse-carts, bicycles and pedestrians. Some of the temple roofs are accessible, some have fifty foot buddha statues in them, old, new, white-washed or gold-leafed. Little food stands and drink carts ply the trails and are placed around the temples. Kids are found throughout, selling postcards, harassing the non-wary – although not nearly as bad as most places. A number of towns are within riding distance and everything is relaxed. I think we went two days without seeing another tourist, except at the hotel.

     There isn’t much I can even say about Bagan, that could accurately describe it. It’s one of those places that has to be experienced to be understood. It’s out there, and not very accessible, which only makes it more desirable for me, but there also great places to stay, to eat and certainly to see. The people were fabulous, the “site” of Bagan itself was extraordinary, and the time and effort it took to get there was well worth the effort. The photo up above is a shot of the “Postcard Girls” working their magic …outside one of those multi-level, multi-thousand year old temples that isn’t worth saving according to UNESCO.

     We see the most out of shape backpacker in the world a few more times …still in the back of that friggin’ horse-cart. One day we see him with the most red sunburned tourist girl in the world. We see a few of the other people we took the boat with. We yell at the swiss couple one night from the back of our jeep as the driver whizzes by at around 40 mph. We meet a character named Bo-Bo at one of the temples, selling his masterpieces to the world… We sit at one of the nicest, as well as biggest, pools I’ve ever had the pleasure of dipping in, eating BLT’s and french fries, looking out over the Irrawaddy and watching the sun drop under the hills beyond. Mostly though, we walk, explore and look around in awe …as well as sweat. A fantastic ending, almost – still have a few days back in Yangon, to a fantastic country.

     Maybe a disappointing ending to an eleven part, close to twenty thousand word story, I know, but to try to explain Bagan is beyond me. I still have hundreds of photos to go through and put up, and will continue to do so, with stories for each, but for now, I’m going to have to say that this pretty much concludes my story of Myanmar, at least in continuous story form. From Bagan we headed back to Yangon for a few days, and from there off to Thailand. It is an amazing, amazing country full of absolutely amazing people. I would recommend Myanmar to anyone, from the experienced traveler to the timid unexperienced. Support the people as much as possible without supporting the government, read up before you go and remember to smile …as well as remembering “Mingalaba!!!”.

The End 🙂

A list of all the posts in the “series” – links opens to another page,
and also available anytime on my Index Page:

Travels through Myanmar I – Mingalaba!!!
Travels through Myanmar II – Before You Go
Travels through Myanmar III – Money Matters
Travels through Myanmar IV – Yangon
Travels through Myanmar V – Shwedagon Pagoda
Travels through Myanmar VI – The Seamstress
Travels through Myanmar VII – Mandalay
Travels through Myanmar VIII – Munchkin Banana Pirates
Travels through Myanmar IX – The Almost Perfect Storm
Travels through Myanmar X – Ferry Ride Photos
“Travels through Myanmar XI – Bagan” …this post.


18 comments on “Travels through Myanmar XI – Bagan

  1. Dude, your pictures in the post are absolutely incredible. They look like they came straight out of National Geographic. Very great story here!

    “Turn around to see our taxi doing its best impression of a chubby kid sliding down a slip and slide put on the side of a hill, diagonally” – this inparticular is a great image, and quite hilarious. Very well-written.

    I need to stop reading your blog because everytime I do I’m way too tempted to just stand up, lock the door to my current place of work, and never again return (which would be great, but unfortunately isn’t something I can do at the moment… Soon though!)

    I enjoyed the entire Myanmar series very much, and am looking forward to reading about your next location, as well as the random photos that you come across while going through them and decide to post.


  2. Thanks Nate!!!

    Yeah, I’m starting to look around, getting tired of this place, deciding if I wanna go full retard this time – Pakistan, Ivory Coast, …somewhere like that. But also looking at Calcutta and up into north eastern India (I can’t believe I’m saying I may go back to India).
    I started a Nigeria story a way back and never really kept up with it – I may have to do that, although I do have a few requests for Yemen …but than there is Ethiopia, and Mali, and Cameroon. Hmmm.

    Thanks for reading,

    • Hahah that is a bit crazy, but also a much different experience that most people will ever have, which is quite drawing.

      Hmmm personally, I’d love to hear about the African places since Africa is still where I’m thinking I might head to next. But either way, I’m sure you’ll get to them all eventually. I’ve been looking into Morocco, just as a first-time African country experience. From there I hear there are some oases in the Sahara that can be reached via camel and explored, which sounds pretty cool, but yeah, I’m still researching and deciding where to next as well.

  3. Really, this is not a UNESCO World Heritage site. That is stupidity. And I agree with you, the choices might be politically tainted. Hohum to them. So sad about this.

    • Thanks TBT …and I’m sure there is a lot to it, but in the end, it’s just the differences between UNESCO and the Burmese gov., and in my mind, when it comes down to it, it is that simple. Although, I’m sure there are thousands of pages written up about it.
      Thanks for reading and commenting,

  4. As usual – epic photographs and interesting stories.
    You gotta wonder, do they place a scorpion there to greet every boat just for the giggles?

  5. Oh Burma, what a place. I’d love to go (properly) in the future.

    Was it pretty restricted? I can’t imagine you can just walk in there and explore by yourself.

    • Paul …we walked in there and explored ourselves. Just make sure you bring new, new, new money. You have to stay away from the Thai border apparently, but other than that, we flew in without any hotel reservations or anything like that. One way flight to Bangkok was $25 USD total with AirAsia. Make sure you get a visa at home. The customs officials and military at the airport went out of their way to make sure we got through quick. Literally pulling us out of line and taking us to the front of that line solely because we were tourists. Great people.

  6. Such wonderful photos John. You capture any place so beautifully.

    The temple at the bottom reminds me of the temples in India with the images from the Kama Sutra carved on them. I saw a documentary on them recently and the history was intriging.

  7. John, I look at a lot of travel blog and photos and I have to say you have an eye for great shots. These are simply stunning. And reading about your adventures makes me smile! Keep it up good sir.

  8. Pingback: One Step at a Time #01 « Thatsofarah

  9. I have finally gotten around to reading your Myanmar posts. Lovely posting. Your photos of Bagan are phenomenal.. I wish I had the time and skill to do half that. Well, all your photos are. So colorful and clear. Finally, I so relate to the money issue!

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