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Sunday, May 8, 2016

What to do in Bagan, Myanmar

What to do in Bagan
A list of must see places and things to do in the Land of Thousand Pagodas.

Bagan (formerly known as Pagan) is located in central Myanmar and southwest of Mandalay. An ancient city holding one of the world's greatest archaeological sites. 

How to get there:
Booked Online for Yangon to Bagan or Fly directly to Ngaung U Airport
By Bus: Aung Mingalar Bus Station to Bagan Shwe Pyi High Way Bus Terminal 
JJ Express Night Schedule: (Last trip) 20:00-5:30
Bus Fare: 25 usd / 30 sgd per pax

Bagan Compulsory Tourist Entrance Fee: 25,000 Kyat
Taxi to main town Nyaung U, catch the Sunrise and transfer to Shwe Nadi Guest House. Taxi Fare: 30,000 Kyat 


1. Rent a Horse Car 
Horse Car Whole Day Tour Price: 25,000 kyat - 30,000 kyat

There are more than a thousand structures to visit in the city it wasn't called  "Land of Thousand Pagodas" for a reason. Our guide made sure we went to the famous and beautiful one's in the area. 


2. Shwe San Daw Pagoda
We started the trip early in the morning with JJ Night bus express from Yangon to Bagan (Ngaung-U). Upon arriving in town we hired a taxi to send us to the nearest pagoda to see the sunrise. The drive to the sunrise area was less than an hour. I'm not 100 percent sure what's the name of the pagoda but I'm guessing its in Shwe San Daw Pagoda. Climbing up an inclined stairs at dawn wasn't really a good idea. One slipped means total damage not just only to yourself but for the person next to you. We made it to the top along with a bunch of tourist with the same agenda. I always try to avoid the crowd, look around and find your sweet spot even if it means going a bit down the pagoda. As the light fills the dark sky with shades of red, orange and yellow we stand in awe at its magnificent beauty. It was our first sight of Bagan, a temple town they call it. The sunrise was a splendid way of welcoming everyone of its architectural beauty infused with natures explicit radiance. We stayed longer as planned, ate some crackers and stare at the horizon before getting down the pagoda. Good thing the driver was still there waiting for us. 

We took our breakfast, shower and rested for a few hours then we proceeded to our next pagoda hopping. 


3. Shwe zi gone Pagoda
Our first stop is the Shwe zi gone Pagoda considered as pilgrimage centre. We didn't do much here as it was really hot, skipping from one shade to another and running like kids to the exit way. Good thing we found this colorful tiled floor in one of the shaded part of the pagoda. The colors were pretty with variety of shapes and designs, it was pleasing to the eyes. While we were having our moment of peace two girls approached us and handed a flower with three incense. I was confused. They asked us to placed it infront, just beside the small Buddha on the wall. Afterwards, unsurprisingly they asked for money, I denied.  They didn't stopped there one girl took some paper bills in her pocket and showed us our country's currency which they want us to buy, that really caught me off guard. We politely said no, left our resting place and run our feet off to a nearby shaded area. Before we came inside the pagoda two girls escorted us from the entrance, they asked us to leave our slippers and  attached a handmade butterfly pin on each of our shirts. We thought that was the pagoda's way of welcoming tourist, it was so overwhelming and our smiles was all over our faces. 


4. Next we went to a pagoda nearby Wetkyi Inn Village wherein we bought two paintings for the price of 30,000 kyat. The artist itself was there and his name is Moon. He added sand to his art which makes it unique compared to the ones sold in the pagoda's market. I was drawn to it immediately, thought of my mum's collection at home and bought it right away. Moon also showed us around the temple, the rooftop and took our pictures. He laughed as we skipped and hopped from the hot stone floor, running like kids to the cold temple floor to take a look at a proud picture he just took and of course back again to get another awesome shot. The warm weather plus the lava stone floor was nothing to him. After having a conversation about his city and bargaining with his paintings we proceeded to our horse cart with our driver named Chin Lai whose patiently waiting for us with his all-time buddy named Rambo, who carried all the load to stroll us around the city. 


5. Htilominlo
A large temple towering three stories high and built on red bricks. There's a lot of souvenir shops here but then I've already purchased a painting at our previous stop. 


6.On the Road
Open your eyes to the beauty of Bagan. Drink lots of water, wear summer clothes, bring your cap, wear your sunglasses and be polite with the pagodas and temples you go into, last but not the least show your appreciation with a big smile to the local people. 


7. Bu Paya
A pagoda built near the Ayeyarwady River. The small pagoda was said to be dedicated to the God of Storms. It's a different view in this side of the road as you can see a wide expanse of the river while below the pagoda there's a lot of fishing boats in different arrays of colors. There's also saw a few vendors selling a variety of stuffs outside the pagoda for food enthusiast. 

8. Mahabodi Pagoda "Indian Style"
The last pagoda for that morning was an Indian Inspired Pagoda named Mahabodi Pagoda, it looks lost and at the same time where it belongs. Chin Lai told us its the only one of its kind in Bagan. He also suggested we meet his friend to have our first Thanaka Face Painting after visiting the Pagoda. I was more excited about the face painting than visiting another pagoda so we had quick peek inside and sat on the chairs for a few minutes. 


9. Thanaka Face Painting
It turns out that his friends place was just right beside the Mahabodi Pagoda, a small hut run by a friendly Burmese lady. Thanaka is a yellowish like paste made from a whitish yellow ground bark. It's a traditional routine for Burmese to have their face painted every day, mainly used as a sunscreen and as a cosmetic product which keeps the skin cool, tighten pores and even used for skin disorders. I thought at first it was a religious act,like for Indians they placed dots or a small line on their foreheads after visiting the temple. It's amazing how each culture differs from one another. I'm lucky to experience both cultures in my lifetime. The lady then rubbed the thanaka bark in a circular smooth stone ,added a few drops of water then it produce a liquid paste. The liquid paste was then applied on our faces: both cheeks, nose, forehead and on the chin. My friend had the leaf design which she draw using a small stick while I had the brush strokes with the use of an unused toothbrush. The paste had a cooling effect, it was even better when we used the fan to dry the paste on our faces. I had to close my eyes for it's relaxing,cold effect it had on my skin. After being expose to the sun for the whole morning it was such a wonderful feeling. We kept on laughing as I brought along my foolishness with me, she was almost done with my face painting when I accidentally touch it so she had to rub in another paste to cover it up. 

It was sad to say goodbye to such a warmth,hospitable lady, I'm overwhelmed with the friendly gesture she has given to two strangers in her homeland. This is the kind of experience which makes traveling more rewarding, its not just about what you've seen but more on the connection you've felt with strangers who doesn't even speak the same language as yours. 


10. Authentic Myanmar Food for Lunch
Afterwards, we proceeded to a small open-air eatery for an authentic Myanmar meal. We ordered Chicken with vegetables, fish curry with two plain rice plus watermelon and lime shake, and it comes along with three side dishes: beans, salad and tofu with tomatoes. 


11. Tharabas Fortress Entrance "Gateway to Old Bagan'
I love this mark it makes me feel like I'm entering a different wolrd. An ancient city built centuries ago with intricate architectural designs, which clearly shows mans intelligence way before the dawn of technology. 


12. Shwegugyi Temple
In this temple we didnt do much we just walk clockwise,saw some kids playing around and viewed the highest temple. We learned this interesting fact from our first pagoda visit in Shwe San Daw Pagoda where in a guy approached us and offered a tour around the temple. We politely said no as we're not big fans of following a person going from one place to another. Let's just say we want to take our sweet time in every corner we find pleasing to our eyes. He said we have to walk clockwise around the temple and in pagodas to keep the religious landmark to our right, and to follow their custom, manner and etiquette in Myanmar. 


13. Check out: Colorful Umbrellas - Shwegugyi Temple
Check out their cool umbrellas in different colors. If I'm not mistaken they're all handmade from scratch. I saw these colorful ones while roaming around in Shwegugyi Temple.


14. Thatbyinyu Temple
The moment we arrived in this temple a young teenage girl approach me right away. She said I looked beautiful which always brings a smile on my face, I mean who doesn't want to be called beautiful right?! It could have been a sales technique because she was able to persuade me to buy the postcards she's selling. At first I hesitated to buy the postcards, we went inside the temple first and made our clockwise tour. When she saw us making our down the temple she ran and smiled. She's a student and on weekends she sells postcards to tourist to finance her school needs. I was quite surprised when mentioned she knows about "Dyesebel", a popular drama series in Philippines, even made a fish gesture to symbolize the mermaid in the tv series. Eventually I bought all 10 postcards, I had the feeling she was genuinely friendly, it was a perfect gift for my colleagues. It is light weight, a perfect souvenir to buy for a backpacker and the pictures were amazing series of shots in Bagan.


15. Ananda Temple
Chi Lai insisted we drop by this temple as it is one of the most beautiful temple. He said what makes it special is that inside the temple the Buddha seemed to be smiling to all his visitors. 


16. Dhammayangyi Temple
It is considered as the largest of all the temples in Bagan. We walked clockwise inside to continue the practice , saw dangling puppets dressed in different ways and had a few drinks outside the temple. 


17. Check out: Traditional Burmese Puppets - Dhammayangyi Temple
These were hanged in the trees when we were in Dhammayangyi Temple. Thou they're not dancing yet along with their master they seemed to come alive with every swift of the wind.


18. Exchange glances with a Stranger
I've found this guy along with his other biker friends catching up on us. We both took shots of each other, shouted a few greetings and off we went our separate paths. I was laughing like a little kid seeing her favorite mascot for the very time. I love meeting strangers this way. Riding a bike was definitely faster,you can go and stop anywhere you want but I've realized renting out the horse cart with a local is another unique way of seeing the place through someone else eyes. Chin Lai shared a few of stories of the places we've been to, I may not remember all of it due to my poor memory but I will always know he has showed Bagan to us in a different way. He didn't introduced the place as a tourist attraction or one of the best archaeological site in the world, instead he showed as his home and he was glad to share it with us.


19. Sulamani Temple
My favorite temple is the Sulamani Temple in the late afternoon, the temple looked gloriously beautiful with the orange light. Chin Lai suggested we skip the sunset in the pagoda due to the cloudy day. However, we saw that the weather was fine and when we came in Sulamani Temple the orange light painted the temple in such a radiant glow. We hopped and skipped with excitement as we know the sunset is going to be epic. We took a few jumpshots from here and there and off we went our clockwise routine in each temple and wave our plea to Chin Lai to see the sunset.


20. Bulethi Pagoda
Start the day watching the sunrise and end the day watching the sunset.
The sunset was spectacular. Beautiful, Captivating and Epic as it will always be. We sat at the perfect spot,captured the perfect moment and sealed in our hearts one the most amazing sunsets of our lives.


We have this small map of Bagan which serves as our guide to which places we've been to. 


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