Backpacking across Burma, Bagan

7:42 AM

Ten hours after we left Yangon, we stepped off the bus to a pitch black morning and were led by the hostel welcome party to a horse buggy. The deafening silence was rhythmically broken by the clackety-clack-clack of the horse’s hooves and somehow lent some kind of comfort as we made our way through the darkness. We arrived at the door of the Eden Motel quite shaken from the ride and were very thankful to be immediately led to our spacious AC-ed room. The receptionist, who was obviously roused from his sleep, did so with a smile and surprisingly didn’t charge us for the early morning accommodation.

Not a single streetlight on this road. 
The Burmese have this culture that one offers a glass of water to just about anyone. They place a jar of water next to the front door. 
Perhaps a remnant of the British rule? A red post office letter box right along the main road. 
This, though, deprived us of the hostel’s breakfast and thus had to break our fast with the banana pancakes served at the eatery next door.  After having our fill, we then hopped on the same horse buggies we took early that morning. Evidently, it’s the way to go if you want to see the sights around town.

Bagan was my Myanmar dream of terracotta stupas and pagodas, randomly sticking out of the lush greenness. These structures were completely foreign and quite awe-inspiring. They used to be on the UNESCO world heritage list but were unfortunately taken out due to poor restoration work.

Just some of the thousands of Budhhist temples in the "Bagan Archeological Zone". 
The architecture is so foreign that sometimes it seems to be of another world. 
What's left of the colorful frescoes of Upali Thein, an ordination hall. 

Everything that the seller holds dear. Aung san suu kyi's face on  a cash box of the seller at Ananda Phaya. 
The political "wall" of The Moon. 
Rare twin buddhas at Dhammayan Gyi. 

A herd of goats crosses the street. 
The heat was enervating to say the least but it was a price I gladly paid to see the sights. The day ended with a cloudy sunset but the view from the top of Buledi, a pagoda with an open terrace several levels up, was still breathtaking. We had to climb over the locked gate to witness such spectacle. Other travelers followed suit, trespassing of such kind is perhaps a usual occurrence.

Birds fly over twin stupas. 

Ice, a chinese lady we had the pleasure of meeting on top of Buledi. 
Here's a photo of us, taken by Ice. 
Lovely light as we made our way home. 
It was another early start the next day, with us racing against the sun.  Catching the sunrise on top of Shwesandaw Paya is a must-do and we were determined not to miss it. But like the prior afternoon, the mighty sun refused to greet us in all her brilliant glory and opted to hide behind the clouds. It was very disappointing at first but surprisingly, this caused a rather enchanting cast over the land which rendered it more dream-like.

Breaking dawn in Bagan. 
We had to climb all these steps in the dark!
After breakfast at the hostel, we set off for Mt. Popa to see the picturesque Popa Taungkalat (Taung Kalat), a monastery atop an outcrop and home to 37 Mahagiri Nats or spirits.  On the way, we pulled over at an old-fashion mill where they make palm oil and sugar with the help of an ever faithful cow.

Our driver has an interesting smile, many thanks to beetle nut chews. 
The farmer gets on a plank while he hits the cow to keep it walking. 
Successfully grounded some palm sugar. or is that pepper?
The view from the road got us excited for Popa Taungkalat as it looked magical from down there. To reach it, we had to climb several hundred steps while maneuvering amongst animated monkeys and their sh*t. There were a couple of volunteers stationed at every flight, wiping off feces and asking for money in return. To them, I was very grateful for making the trek a bit bearable. We eventually got to the monastery and shrine which seemed to me a haphazardly put complex that didn’t earn the climb.  

Popa Taungkalat seems magical from afar. 
One of the many monkeys that reside in Mount Popa. 
A group of young monks climbing their way to the monastery/ shrine. 

That umbrella-like feature is said to differentiate Burmese Pagodas/ Stupas from the rest. 
This bit part felt like I might have been in the himalayas. 

Our driver led us to a local favorite, Mon Myat Restaurant, for lunch where we had our most delicious meal yet. In attempt to burn off the many calories we’ve devoured and see more of Bagan, we biked around town that afternoon. The dirt roads proved to be too trying and so in effect, we mostly stuck with the paved ones.

I barely reach the shoulders of our German hostelmate!
Here's us, on rented bikes, peddling around Bagan and Nyaung U.  Photo by Raffy Vicente
We stopped by a streetside bookseller stall along restaurant row.  Photo by Raffy Vicente
The day, and our visit to Bagan, ended with dinner at Pyi Wa, a lonely planet recommendation, where we sat next to a stupa and a table of four good-looking Spaniards.

Dinner by the ruins, Bagan style
Some Myanmar Beer to go with our Burmese dinner. 
We woke up early, again, the next morning to catch the eight o’clock bus to Mandalay.

*Next post: our adventures in Mandalay

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