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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Bagan, Myanmar

A Land of Thousand Pagodas
Bagan, Myanmar 

Our next destination is an ancient city in Myanmar known as Bagan. It is located in central Myanmar and southwest of Mandalay. A place holding one of the world's greatest archaeological sites. 

March 13 Bagan (Ngaung-U)
Booked Online
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

The night before we boarded the JJ Express Bus Service bound from Yangon to Bagan. The bus took off around 8 in the evening with traveling time of 10 hours thus arriving just about 6 in the morning. Bagan is definitely on our travel list, we didn't even have to think about it. There are approximately 2,000 pagodas and temples in the area. Each one built on different centuries and stood against time. I want to be on one of those pagodas to see the sunrise and sunset. It may sound absurd to some people but every places I go to the sun in the horizon gives a different warmth and feeling, even thou its the same sun I've seen a thousand times. 

In the terminal, just upon arrival and everyone slowly stepped out of the bus a few taxi drivers came after us like wolves which reminded me of my sleeper bus arrival in Cambodia. One driver kept following us all around the place. I was irritated with his presence , he didn't gave me and my friend privacy to talk about our plan. Funny thing is we actually don't have a plan. We were thinking that if we get there early as scheduled then we want to see the sunrise in one of the pagodas and if its late then proceed straight to our guesthouse. Luckily we made it just in time for the sunrise, the irritable driver eventually convinced us to take his ride to the pagoda and our guesthouse. 

Taxi to main town Nyaung U, catch the Sunrise and transfer to Shwe Nadi Guest House. Taxi Fare: 30,000 Kyat 

Bagan Compulsory Tourist Entrance Fee: 25,000 Kyat

I was surprised when we drive through a checkpoint office we were asked for a compulsory tourist entrance fee. They said every foreigner has to pay for it to gain access to all the pagodas and temples in Bagan. I even thought it was a scam but later on we've found out its an official rule. What a great way to invite tourist to visit their country. The drive to the sunrise area was less than 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. During the drive going to the guesthouse he continued to talked about the day tours, in a hard selling kind of way. He has done it the moment we arrived in the terminal and even all the way to our guesthouse. We were tired from the long bus ride instead of getting mad we kept our mouth shut. Sometimes you just need to be silent to send out your message to somebody.

Check in Shwe Nadi Guest House
1 day stay 25 Sgd
Check out by 6 pm
Breakfast and Rest in Guesthouse

We had our breakfast while waiting for our room. I was quite impressed with the breakfast meal served in our table. I had a few toast bread with a variety of bread spreads,a scrambled egg,two mimosa (Indian pastry), small cups of coffee and orange juice and a small bowl of watermelon slices, plus a banana. A refreshing meal followed by a refreshing shower. Our ultimate plan for that day is go on a Bike tour on our own hopping from one pagoda to another. However, the moment we went out from the guesthouse we knew the heat of the morning sun will burn us alive. There's a normal bike and motorbike rental in the guesthouse, both options were not suitable for us, one is that its too hot to bike around and two we don't even know how to operate a motorized vehicle. I can't remember the last time I drove a scooter. One guy was hanging around in the guesthouse lobby, he then approached us when he knew about our dilemma. He offered to take us around with his horse car for the whole day. It was an excellent idea. We still wanted a different kind of experience even if we're taking the convenient method of transportation. Riding the horse car adds up to an authentic vibe to our Bagan tour. 

Horse Car Whole Day Tour Price: 25,000 kyat - 30,000 kyat
Itinerary: Visit as many pagodas as we can
Goal: Sunset View in 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. 

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 see the picture he took and back again to get another 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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

Exchange glances with a Stranger
We continued our pagoda and temple hopping in the afternoon. 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.

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 maybe be 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.

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.

Bulethi Pagoda
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.

Night Bus from Bagan to Ngaung Shwe-Inle Lake
Free Night Bus pick-up transfer from Guesthouse to Bus Station

Booked Online
Bagan Shwe Pyi High Way Bus Terminal to May Gate
Bagan Min Thar Night Schedule: (Last trip) 20:30-04:00 
Bus Fare: 25 usd / 30 sgd per pax

We wanted to spend another day in Bagan, despite just having a whole day experience felt like a week of traveling. Jumping from one pagoda to another , running from a temple to another and sweating like a World Champion Boxer made it all worthwhile. I guess that's why it felt longer because we've seen so many things and had a good time with each one of them. Chin Lai wheeled as back safely to the guesthouse, he even called our bus company to pick us up at our place instead of going straight to the station. As we said goodbye to Chin Lai and Rambo it powered the travelers soul in me, I thank God for all the people we've meet in Bagan who were truly kind to us and were willing to go the extra mile to put a big smile on our faces. 

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