Bagan - Temple Central
Trip Start Jan 08, 2007
16Trip End Feb 09, 2007
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
Kaday Aung Hotel
Rested and fed, we were ready to temple down.
Like many of Myanmar's principal tourist regions, there is a government fee. For Bagan, it was $20. No one asked to see proof of payment during our entire stay, or in any other tourist region for that matter, so it seems to operate on the honour system
Debbie had done her homework. After countless hours on the internet and in travel guides, she had her temple list in hand. The three-star items were "must sees". Two-star were possibles, where more information or easy access would make them worth a look. Thi Ha, an old hand at touring Bagan, seemed impressed by her selections.
I won't go into details on the individual temples. It's reported there remain at least 2000, about half of the original number constructed in the 11th to 13th centuries, covering some 42 sq. km. of Irrawaddy River plain. They come in all sizes, many different shapes and styles, and a variety of finishes and colours. We saw hundreds, inspected dozens and entered or climbed several over the next few days. Many we had to ourselves, while others were shared with Europeans, often on tour buses.
A few sites are popular and spacious enough to support a collection of vendors. They offered little of any interest to us, with the exception of the odd picture or bit of jewellery. Postcards and little carvings were common. They could be mildly annoying at times, but generally good-natured
We encountered a number of French, plus Germans, Dutch, Italians and Aussies/Kiwis to lesser degrees. Of the few Canadians we encountered most were from Quebec. Dan, a trained linguist and native of Northern Ontario, was immediately joking with them in patois. Americans and British were relatively rare.
Shoes are removed in (and on) all temples. Most surfaces were reasonably clean and smooth from constant use, but sometimes heat was an issue in direct sunlight. We also dressed modestly, as one would in a European cathedral. Interiors were seldom elaborately decorated in Bagan's ancient structures, but a few of the Buddha images were impressive.
Outside one of the temples, a group of young local men were engaged in a pick-up exhibition of the ancient national sport called "Chinlone". This means "cane ball" after the only piece of equipment needed.. The play looks similar to Hacky-Sack. The ball is a hollow sphere of rattan, not fully enclosed, about six inches in diameter. It is really a non-competitive art performed solo or in teams, ideally of six. Just before leaving Canada, I'd caught an CBC Radio interview with Greg Hamilton, director of a film (The Mystic Ball) on this sport and his passion for it. I've always considered Dan a natural athlete
On our second day we headed out of Bagan to two nearby sites, Mt. Popa to the east, and the town of Salay to the south. Mount Popa is geographically impressive. Said to be the core of an extinct volcano, it rises dramatically from the surrounding plain like Devils Tower in Wyoming (remember Close Encounters ...). Crowning the peak is a complex of stupas and monasteries, and a panoramic view of the surrounding plain. Getting there (ie. the half-hour climb to the top) is only a small fraction of the fun. You see, they have a lot of rude monkeys that are not temple trained. Remember the barefoot-in-the-temple rule? The hundreds of steps to the top are all considered too sacred for shod feet, but not for monkey poop. We went through a lot of handy-wipes on that excursion! If you get there someday, look for pieces of petrified wood along the roadways. I didn't read about that until we'd left.
Salay is a small town with a big soul - or at least 50 or so active monasteries. We concentrated on a lovely teak one dating from the 1880's with renovations within the last fifteen years to protect the intricate wooden carvings
Next day was our last with Dan and Carolann, and she was still keen on lacquerware. I had never appreciated that Burma is the global centre for this craft, and the Bagan region is the country's main producer. Lacquerware starts from coils of bamboo with several layers of polished and decorated black varnish. The tree which supplies the varnish is native to the region, and it has been produced in this area for two centuries. Formal schools were established in the 1920's to support the industry.
Thi Ha drove us into town to the workshops and sales outlets. As we entered the workshops, the managers thoughtfully turned on the electric lights so we could see the intricate hand work being performed. Men and women of all ages were engaged in the many stages of producing this lovely product. How they managed such detailed processes without this illumination was a mystery!
That afternoon, our friends were taken to the airport and we prepared ourselves for an early start in the morning,