26th Mar 2015 - 28th Mar 2015 - Burma
Between the 11th to 13th centuries, Bagan underwent a construction boom with more than 4000 temples built in an area of approximately 26 square miles. Earthquakes have ruined a number of them but 2217 remain. The temples that remain are in various stages of reconstruction and some are garishly decorated with fairy lights at night.
To reach Bagan, we took a 12 hour boat ride down the mighty Ayeyarwady River. It was a relaxing journey even if the scenery got a little repetitive. For the majority of the trip there were very limited signs of life, just the occasional cow or farmer.
There are many different ways to explore Bagan, but we settled for just three of them. First up, we spent a day exploring by bus, driving between the different sites spread out between Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung U. To gain an idea of the scale of the plains, our first visit was to Pyathada Paya, built during the end part of the 13th century, which we were able to climb to the top and get incredible panoramas. Also up there was a film crew, shooting what appeared to be a Spanish version of The Amazing Race. After a brief photo stops at Sulamani Pahto, also known as the Crowning Jewel, and Dhammayangyi Pahto, filled with bad karma due to its somewhat dubious history. It was built by King Narathu to atone for his sins, as he’d already killed his father and brother plus one of his wives. He also gave strict instructions about the construction and cut the arms off of workers who failed to live up to his meticulous standards. The temple of Shwezigon Paya had similarities to the Shwedagon Pagoda, not least the giant golden stupa in the centre. Our final two stops before lunch were Wetkyi-In-Gubyaukgyi with beautiful frescos inside although a German collector removed a number of the panels on which the frescos were painted, followed by Htilominlo Pahto, marking the spot where King Nantaungmya was chosen, by a leaning umbrella of all things, to rule over his 5 brothers.
After a spot of lunch, we visited Ananda Pahto, one of the best preserved of all the temples but also adorned with fairy lights after dusk. One of the earliest built of all the temples, inside there is a ring which had 4 different posed 9m high standing Buddha’s. Directly opposite was Thatbyinnyu Pahto which unlike all the other temples was white in colour. Our penultimate stop was at Gubyaukgyi, also with a number of painted frescos inside. The final stop for sunset was atop a brick monastery, but sadly the sunset wasn’t all that great.
Our second day in Bagan, we tried out two more forms of transport. First up, and by far the earliest start of the morning, was a 1 hour hot air balloon ride over the plains. We were picked up in a beat up old bus and driven down to the launch site. Once the balloons were inflated we soared over the plains, skimming the tops of temples or as high as 900ft up for the ultimate panorama. After landing, right next to a temple no less, we were treated to a champagne breakfast before being taken back to our hotel a little tipsy despite it not even being 8am!
By 10am, we were on our third form of transport for the town – two wheels. The bikes we hired weren’t in the best condition but it meant we were able to get up close to the temples whilst negotiating dirt tracks and sandy paths. In places the sand was very deep and we got a little bogged down whilst cycling. But in the end, we managed a couple of hours of cycling in 40 degree heat before retiring to the hotel pool.