Bagan, city of the temple run
When we travel, we are always looking for those special experiences, the moments where you can’t help but take a deep breathe in to suck it all in, and sigh at how beautiful it is. Traveling isn’t about ticking tourist attractions off the list, or jamming your brain full of information at museums, it’s about taking the time to truly immerse. Bagan was one of those special places.
We woke up bright and early (which wasn’t actually that difficult…maybe still jet lagged?) at 6AM to go up on the rooftop of our hotel to witness the sunrise and ascent of the hot air balloons. A fog lingered low on the treeline giving Bagan such a mystical presence.
As we sat there sipping our warm coffee, silently watching the distant balloons slowly rise, the interspersed flickers of the torches, set to the looming backdrop of the pagodas. We couldn’t help but feel that deep sense of serenity and delight. Away from the hustle of a big city, all we could hear were the chirping of birds. I took a deep breathe in, sucking in the smells, the sights, and sounds of such a beautiful place.
Hopping on our rented E-Bike, we slowly rode towards the first temples. (Only E-bikes are allowed for tourists, which is a good thing because they are silent, helping keep the serenity of Bagan). B
agan is home to world’s largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, where it was estimated that as many as 13,000 stupas once stood on this 42 sq km plain. Today, there are only approximately 2,200 remaining.
Oh by the way, we didn’t know there was a difference between a temple, stupa, or pagoda (I thought they were all interchangeable). Turns out:
Temple: Is hollow inside and usually has four entrances that you can go in from
Stupa/Pagoda: Is solid inside so you cannot enter, but can go around it
After a short 10 minute ride, we arrived at our first temple, which unexpectedly appeared from behind the trees. There was nobody else there but one local gentleman sitting near the entrance doing his sand paintings. He approached us and showed us around the inside of the temple, explaining it’s ancient history.
His name was Ko Myo, and he was a sand painter, just like his father.
Taking a seat inside the temple, we got to hear about his life in Myanmar, about the government, and how the country has changed over the recent years.
For example, it was only until a few years ago that the country opened up to telecommunications, where previously it was a state-owned monopoly. This meant that mobile access was only available to the military and private wealthy subscribers who paid more than $3,000 to get a SIM card.
He also explained why most Burmese people have black stained teeth, since they chew on tobacco laced leaves with lime. It is apparently not as bad for the health as compared to smoking, since they spit it out after chewing.
We spoke for over twenty minutes, and he never pressured us to buy his paintings. He simply wanted to share his experiences with these adventurers, and maybe practice a bit of his English at the same time.
As the sun set, we went back outside to photograph the beautiful Temple. We said our goodbyes and hoped we’d see him again.
4 more days in Bagan… I look forward to the experiences it holds.