myanmar day 5 and 6… Bagan

i arrived in bagan at 6am, completely exhausted, and all i wanted to do is sleep. luckily, i was able to find a hotel immediately.. only 5$ for a room w/ a hot shower, air-con, breakfast, and towels included. not bad!

the guidebook describes bagan as “the most wondrous sight in myanmar, if not southeast asia”. that’s a pretty strong claim as southeast asia is full of some incredible places. the thing that bagan is famous for is, surprise surprise, temples… but the sheer quantity of temples here makes it stand apart from any other place in the world. around a thousand years ago, people started building temples in bagan. and they kept building and building. they didnt stop building for a couple hundred years by when they had built around 4,000 temples. as you move around town, there are temples everwhere you look. small temples, large temples, crumbling temples, dark temples, light temples.. it’s really crazy. also, these temples are really different than the other temples i’ve seen around the country. unlike the typical burmese temples which have the large golden bell shaped stupas, these temples are mostly made out of brick and stone, giving them this old historic mythical appearance.

the temples are spread out all over town, so the best way of seeing them is by bike. pretty much every guesthouse here rents bikes for a buck a day, and you just go off to wherever you want. it’s a bit hot riding a bike around town in the billion degree heat, but i was determined to go see stuff, so i set out. i was a bit nervous about biking around in my longyi. i could picture any second now, my longyi getting chewed up in the chain or gears or whatever and me crashing headfirst… luckily it didnt happen. oh, two things i’ve forgotten to mention earlier. it’s not only the men here that wear longyi. women wear them too. yup, the whole country wears longyi. the only differences are a) the patterns: men usually wear plaid or checkered longyi while women wear solid colors w/ designs on them and b)the way the longyi are tied: men and women tie their longyi differently. the other thing i’ve been meaning to mention is thanaka. when i first arrived i noticed that almost all the women on the street have this cream-colored paste on their faces. some of them have it very neatly on each cheek in a perfect square pattern, while other have it just smeared all over the place. it turns out that this is a special cream that is good for the skin and also used as sunblock and conditioner. it’s pretty trippy seeing so many people wearing the stuff.

one of the biggest pagodas in town is shwezigon paya, a paya that is built in the new style and not the old brickwork i mentioned above. as soon as i walked up to the pagoda, i instantly had a bunch of women run up to me and pin little owl penants to my shirt as “presents”. i kept saying over and over that i didnt want any, but they wouldnt listen. i quickly found out the purpose of the owls. as i walked down the corridor to the pagoda, women would jump up from their shop, run up to me saying “remember me! remember me!!” and pointing to the owl they had put on me, “i give you present earlier. come look at my shop!”. it was totally ridiculous, and it was impossible to even walk through since each woman would literally grab you by the arm and pull you to their shop. i was so shocked. i would have expected this tactic in any other country, but myanmar had seemed pretty much tout free so far. i had been so psyched to finally be in a country that was tout-free, but i guess that’s just not possible. it was sad that even myanmar had gone in this direction.

after shwezigon, i biked around and checked out some of the old temples. there’s just so many of them that you dont even know where to begin. you can’t bike down the street for 2 minutes w/out seeing a stupa. i knew i couldnt stop at all of them, but then i also didnt want to pass them up either. eventually i left my bike on the side of the road and wandered deep into the brush checking out temple after temple after temple. it was getting dark , and then the sun started setting. i looked around… not a single tourist in sight. it was kind of a remarkable experience… just me, an ancient pagoda and the setting sun. everything was completely tranquil except for the softly blowing (and much needed) breeze. i sat down and watched the sun set, realizing that i was in a really magical place.

the next day was more of the same. more pagodas, more biking, more heat. this time i watched the sunset from the top of one of the temples, looking down on the town from above. from above, you really got a good impression of just how many payas there were… tons of them scattered over the horizon. at the top, a family of burmese people spotted me in my longyi and got really excited about it, asking to have their photo taken w/ me. heh, i guess it’s not only in india where that happens.

after dark, i went searching for food. i’m ashamed to say that i’ve gotten to be very afraid of burmese food. in fact, i’ve kind of started avoiding it. i feel bad about it because usually i’m all about eating the food of the country i am visiting. i am usually really not down w/ eating western food while traveling. it’s important to experience everything about a country, and the food especially… but 95% of the time that i’ve gotten burmese food, i’ve ended up not being too happy w/ it. who knows, maybe i just need a break from it. over the last 2 days, i’ve had italian and thai for dinner…


2 thoughts on “myanmar day 5 and 6… Bagan”

  1. hey, when you get back you should start wearing your longyi around. those look dope! esp on hot days here in the bay! ill wear one!!!
    awesome read. i cant get enough of your and caryns travels…

  2. heh, i dunno if i’d feel comfortable wearing one back home…. i feel weird enough wearing one here!

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