Day 11 – Stupafied in Bagan & The Stairway to Heaven

22 Mar

Shock, horror! A 5:30am start meant that breakfast had to be postponed!  This was to facilitate the sunrise – an event that has been happening successfully without me missing breakfast for the whole of my life.  A truly landmark moment.

Our coach took us to the Shwesandaw Pagoda and in the dark we climbed the steep, deep steps to one of the terraces to witness the sunrise over the temples of Bagan.  And some balloons.   The mist cast an eerie scene as the gloom became brighter. It’s easier to show in pictures.

Back in the hotel, the ubiquitous chicken sausage was available!  Between that and the bacon and waffles with honey, I was reaching nirvana.  It was still only 7:00am!


As the full group met for the official program, our first unexpected diversion occurred when we encountered a parade of novitiate kids sat in carts pulled by bullocks (that’s male cows).  All in the brightly coloured outfits, their scowls gave away the early morning and the fact that they weren’t used to so much attention from their parents, the locals, and us.  I felt quite sorry for them.  The truck carrying the live band, PA system and singer trudged along at the back.

Back in the bus we encountered another procession – this one involved a man in an unfeasibly large moustache (a Burmese Charlie Chaplin), together with some transgender folks – or drag queens, George wasn’t quite sure.  For this one, the PA system was being pushed around on a cart, with a cable attached to the generator that was being pushed close behind.  The star of the show however was undoubtedly the elephant that had been hired for the event.  Probably by someone that had more money than sense.  With 2 kids riding on top, and the bright red and yellow clothes gently swishing in the wind, it created quite a scene.  Also in the procession was an archer as well as small kids on big horses.  At the very back was a dancing elephant costume – at the back because they were trying to change over the dancers, and this proved rather difficult.

Back on the official tour, we tried to take in as many of the 2,200 stupas and temples in Old Bagan. Or so it felt.  We started just past Myin Ka Bar where we discovered that children enhance the temples built by the parents by building over the previous one, or putting a bigger Bhudda statue around the previous one.  Leaving this area, we met a female clothes vendor on a motorbike.  Some bought a few things, but most didn’t.  This was to prove a bad mistake.

At Ananda Temple, we witnessed the first of the major crowds.  This is one of the most spectacular temples, and therefore on everyone’s itinerary.  The bamboo scaffolding was out and workers were breaking all the H&S requirements.  But the outdoor restoration work going on was spectacular – cleaning the black mould off and returning it to a pinky white colour.

Inside there were four Buddhas – in four different poses – one for enlightenment, one preaching, one showing no fear and the other philosophy.  Also showing were many niches with images (in gold) depicting the life of Buddha.  These possibly included his first date, his first drunken night out and (genuinely) his first steps – being taught to walk by two people who were even smaller than him.

On existing the temple, our female clothes vendor was there again, and her English was pretty much perfect.  She had taken “maybe later” and run with it.  Several more people in the group thought they were getting a good bargain.  But she can’t keep following us all day.

We arrived at Shwe Zigon, the next temple on the list, to find her waiting.  She had either asked George where we were going next, or guessed.  Or she could be his cousin.

Unfortunately, the temple’s stupa was entirely covered in a shroud as they were reapplying the gold leaf and they need to protect it from the wind.  However, the rest of it more than made up for that.  Four sides of flaking gold leaf and red paint made an impressive sight.  On each of the shrines, food had been left, but I refrained from eating.  In a side shrine, a strange sight awaited – a statue with money stuffed everywhere and a cigarette in it’s mouth.  Weird.  Kids were selling their colouring in for 60p and a hermit was acting out of character.

The next stop was Htilominlo.  Guess who was there waiting for us.  Her name is Win, as in winner (her words).  By this time, most had admitted defeat and opened up their wallets and purses to her.  Albery was on his third t-shirt and first shirt.

Anyway, in the grounds of Htilominlo, sand painters were at work and we had a demonstration of how they produced their stunning painting – adding glue to cotton and then a layer of sand several times, before adding colour, or scratching away layers of sand.  The result was something that could be scrumpled up and return to normal instantly.  Of course I succumbed.



After wandering through and around the shrine I snuck out the back gate at Tom’s suggestion and climbed a nearby structure for a rooftop view.  Finding the stairs was a problem, as was standing up anywhere except the roof.

Amongst the stalls in the complex was a weaving demonstration by neck ringed women.  They didn’t look overly happy about it.

Moving on to a restaurant for lunch, Win was there to meet us once more.  I don’t know why as we were fast running out of money.  Karen was resisting however, and she must have sensed that eventually, it would happen.  Lunch for me was “Wet Thar Pone Yay Gyee Chet” – described as “Traditional Old Bagan style Braised Pork Curry with Soy Bean Paste”.  It was nice.  Ish.  The wasps however had more of a fancy to Cassandra and her lime juice.  The EFK (Epsom Fly Killer) sprung into action and succeeding in knocking more into the drinks than killing any.  This brought candles from the staff, to try and smoke them out.  The EFK’s napkins was close to catching fire, not only from the candle, but also from the speed of the wasps swotting moves.

Outside we saw some petrified wood – it looks like wood, but is actually stone.  Maybe it’s petrified because Win was still there looking for more customers.  Predictable, she followed us back to Ananda Temple where we boarded a horse and cart in pairs for trip through a village and around the countryside.  Industrial veg choppers, gold temples, and an impressive teak monastery.

We ended up on the terrace of South Guni temple to watch the sunset.  Several others were already there, and others were trying to climbing neighbouring temples, and seemed surprisingly upset when they were shouted at to get down, as only nominated temples are allowed to be climbed.  I’m not what’s worse – damage to the site or one less human.

Sunset was not as spectacular as sunrise and we passed the time chatting to some of the other travellers that were there.  On the way down, an enterprising old man had lit candles on the steep stairs.  With the low headroom and bare feet, death by candles is now on the list.  He also wanted paid for the privilege.


This evening, we attended a meal with music and traditional dance.  I was mostly busy being the wine waiter for Gail, Ethna and Julia, but I didn’t miss much.  The hammock based xylophone player in particular was in my eyeline and he also seemed glad when the evening was over.  The standout moment of the meal was the serving of the rice.  A huge bamboo steamer was placed in the middle of the table, but when the lid was opened, only a single portion of rice was on the plate.  Everyone got the same treatment.  Except John of course, who had discovered that pasta dishes were available.

Back at the hotel, we had seven barmen to serve us our drinks on the rooftop terrace.  Not as fast at that might sound.  George joined us to compare tongue twisters, and a rum sour.

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I was welcomed back into my room by the local wildlife.

Overall, and despite some of the comments above, it was an excellent with a wide and varied collection of temples visited.

Only 2,195 to go …


One Response to “Day 11 – Stupafied in Bagan & The Stairway to Heaven”

  1. kayeeceea March 25, 2017 at 1:10 am #

    Wow, a sunrise and a sunset! Stunning photos.

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