Tag Archives: Bagan

Day 12 – Mons, Monks & Monkeys

23 Mar

For some reason, my mind thought that 5:30am was a good time to wake up … two days in a row, does not make a pattern.  As the real start was due at 8:00am, this meant plenty of time for breakfast!  The made to order waffles and honey were fantastic, and went nicely with the bacon and toast.  I couldn’t get more un-Burmese than that!

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The view from OK Kyaung

We headed first to the temple of Ok Kyaung, which afforded spectacular views of a large number of other stupas and temples, after climbing only a short flight of stairs.  George’s “cousin” from yesterday was nowhere to be seen, but plenty of others had filled her spot.  I started a photo taking competition (starring me and some bricks) in which Karen, Albery and Ethna all took part.  Results will be announced later.

A short hop to the Dhamma Ya Zi Ka Pagoda, which stood in front, saw us do the now traditional clockwise tour of the outside.  This one had a large golden dome, shrouded in bamboo scaffolding, and lots of smaller golden stupas sitting on strikingly red bricks.  Instead of having the traditional 4 Buddhas, this one had space for 5 – in preparation for the coming of the next Buddha – due in about 2,600 years time. (Every 5000 years – the last Buddha was born in 600BC).  Now that’s future planning!  Also around here were a camera crew and a French presenter practicing her English speech.  That doesn’t sound like a great combination.  And it wasn’t.  Inside, next to yet another Buddha shrine, was a glass object bejewelled with rubies and sapphires, which would normally shine at the very top of a pagoda.

We moved on to the local village of West Pwazaw and met with the former village chief who was obviously a wealthy farmer.  He employed 8 people and seemed to enjoy not having to do much himself!  They farmed sour plums and we witnessed how they crushed and separated the kernels which are then sold to the Chinese for £6/kilo for unknown reasons – they really don’t know what they do with them!  They also grow peanuts, sesame, beans, pumpkin, corn and cotton.  There was a demonstration of how to spin the cotton into yarn, and of course an opportunity to purchase the final product.  Despite the rest of the village owning enough cows to keep Tesco in beef burgers for months, this family only owned two cows – because they also owned a tractor!  With 5 children, 2 sons were still at home, two daughters are nurses (one still in the village) and the fifth was obviously not important (or I didn’t listen).   Lacquerware production was also on show.  It’s made from bamboo, horsehair and the sap of the lacquer tree.  I wondered why all the horses had short hair.  Funnily enough, it’s “lucky” to buy two, rather than one.

After being offered some rather tasteless tea (or maybe it was just my cold), we walked around the village – highlights included a man painting a wall without moving the bricks in his way, or indeed, finishing building the wall; a pen full of goats who wanted to like my hand – little do they know what I have in store for their friends on Saturday; a woman with the largest cigar on the planet; and a man who made bamboo cages that confuddle George – apparently they were rubbish bins.  We saw bamboo being split, some friendly cows and a cactus hedge.

Leaving the village behind, we attempted to document any remaining stupas that we’d not yet seen.  This started with the tallest (Thatbyinnyu Temple) and then Nanpaya Temple – with a very hot tiled floor outside, I was back to doing the Burmese Waltz across the ground in bare feet.  They should at least have a bucket of water on standby, if not a full first aid team. Inside were four columns with intricate Hindu inspired carvings and a missing Buddha on the raised middle platform.  This is different from most temples, in that they normally have four Buddhas facing every direction.

Outside the temple were some ogres and haspa (sp?) “curvings” (sic), as well as a good assortment of children trying to flog some postcards.  “Very nice, but I don’t need any” was a standard John2 response.  They’ve got to try refining their technique, as the bargaining reached $1million at one point.

In the next door temple, we had four large Buddhas, who looked like they had forgotten the dimensions of the building they were in.  As a result of their size, they look down on the visitors, apparently in reference to the sorrow of the king and queen that had them built.  Saving on the traders here, they had a large gold pot where you could just throw your money away.  Unfortunately, I was suckered in on the way out – another sand painting bought!

Back at the hotel, I had a chance to freshen up and eat (chicken and cheeseburger and fries) before heading off to Mount Popa with Tom and John.  We ducked the Explore version for a local taxi (saving $17 each!).  The journey took an hour, but it completed all possible methods of transport during this trip.  And it had working air con!

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Not the real Mount Popa

On arrival at Mount Popa we faced a 777 step covered climb – 1/3 in shoes, and 2/3 in bare feet.  The steps were full of local tourists and macaques (monkeys).  Fortunately the tourists had been toilet trained.  The macaques had not.  The monkeys were scavengers and would happily grab any food from your hand.   They also didn’t respect the Buddhas.  A team of cleaners managed to mostly keep the tiled steps clean and a group were feeding the monkeys at the bottom to try and encourage them to stay there, rather than pester tourists all the way up.  This didn’t work.  There were two sections of steep metal steps which had obviously been frequented by the monkeys more than the cleaners.  Razor wire was used to try to keep the monkeys away from key areas, but they didn’t seem bothered with it at all, using it to climb up and through.

At the top, it was a bit confusing, as there was a collection of shrines, no open space, lots of plaques and lots of people.  We worked our way around, admiring the views from all sides and were asked to star in a few photos by a monk.  We then persuaded a monk to take part in the photos as well.  Fair’s fair.  Anyone can sponsor anything for any reason – a few restaurants had plaques – from Beijing and San Francisco!

As a side note, we didn’t actually climb Mount Popa, but the rocky outcrop, half its height, officially called Popa Taung Kalat.  But known to the casual tourist as Mount Popa.

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Monks slapping monkeys

Descending and using all the available wet wipes to clean the monkey pee and monkey poo off our feet, we rejoined the taxi driver for the trip back to the hotel in Bagan.  My Pringles and Haribo were cracked open and eagerly finished off by traveller Tom.  I may have helped a bit.  The road back had some roadworks, the men making the tar and the women carrying it to the road for it to be applied by hand by more men.  Time consuming work!  In the middle of nowhere, we also ran the gauntlet of some people, mostly young, begging along the road.  They did this by trying to run in front of the cars to get them to slow down.  We sped up.

After dressing for dinner (well everyone else did – I put clean socks on), we met in the hotel foyer and the group flag photo was done.  Hotel staff are better photo takers than I am!  Disappointed to find that I’d been sold a dirty flag though!  George seemed to have a problem knowing which way up it went!

For our final group meal, we headed to the Star Beam restaurant, and after the meal Graham led the group thanks with a speech he’d spent all afternoon preparing for.  George replied.  “Yes. Yes.”  I hadn’t appreciated this was his catchphrase until this moment.

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Cassandra then led us on an ice cream hunt ending, very easily, with a peach and guava variety.  Delice. An early night as we all have planes to catch tomorrow – some of the group are heading to the beach extension option, and the rest of us have a couple of days in Yangon before our flight home.

Still plenty to come from me …

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Day 10 – Boating to Bagan

21 Mar

Ug, Ug, Ug, Ug.  Tried a shower to wake me up.  It only partially worked.

5:00am alarm (a time I never knew existed). 5:45pm boiled egg breakfast avoided. Who gives you a croissant, butter and jam but no knife in a packed breakfast?  Claire instantly regretted her choice of an egg free breakfast, with the fruit only option that was provided instead. I did manage to persuade the hotel to post the postcards for me.

With our bags loaded on the bus, we headed to the jetty for our fantastic, golden floating boat – not!  To reach our actual boat, we had to clamber through 3 other boats, with varying degrees of safety features to prevent you falling in the water or getting crushed between boats.  The rather shaky green steps were a particular highlight for the H&S report.  On board we headed upstairs to avail ourselves of the various seating options.  These were : cushion or no cushion, shade or no shade.  After much thought, I settled on the cushion no shade option.

The soft southerners were busy with all manner of second or third layers – from simple jumpers, to hoodies and down jackets.  As the boat got underway, the coffee, tea and toast was served below and a queue formed, including the variety of other passengers on the boat – including some Germans / Swiss.

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George helped me don my Longyi – Pasoe style.  I thought it might help prevent some sun burn later on.  However, jammy toast, stairs, and a slightly long longyi was a bad combination.  The toast survived!  Without access to any pockets, I adopted the local look by stuffing my phone into the pasoe.  Trying to catch up on sleep wasn’t going to be possible on this trip, but I tried.  Sagaing, a former royal capital & pagoda (number 1462 in our trip notes) interrupted my snooze.  Several photos later, and I was able to return to blogging, in the sun.

Our estimated 9 hour journey progressed but by 8:30am, some were already contemplating the alcohol options onboard.  Unfortunately the Mandalay rum was completely finished.

 

After a morning geography quiz game, where any Italian question was answered correctly by “Florence” and an early lunch consisting of rice, vegetables, chillies, egg and peanuts, the group began to show signs of restlessness.

It didn’t help the situation when we managed to follow a very noisy boat for a good hour, which also prevented any meaningful conversation.  However, we eventually managed to shake it off, and continued at a sedate 11mph (according to Waze).  I now also understand why the locals keep playing with their longyis.  Tucking in is not the same as a real knot.  However, they are really cool (in all senses of that word) – I’ll be mass importing them to Scotland and they will be available for sale at reasonable rates.  Much cheaper than a kilt!

By early afternoon, we had all pretty much set up camp as either shade crawlers or sun worshippers.  Books (the paper variety) were held poised near faces that that had long since been able to keep eyelids open. I was unable to join in, unfortunately.  Sleep is for later.

We passed families living and working by the river.  Fishermen and farmers, kids collecting water and mothers sheaves of crops.  They had to negotiate the steep sandy cliffs to the islands and banks in the river.  Dredgers were also out, helping Google Maps to be highly inaccurate as to the location of the island.  Our cheroot smoking skipper got us through with problem.

Passing the Pokémon inspired town of Pakokku and a really long bridge, George informed us that there was only 1 hour left.  As it turned out, he was stretching the truth a little.  “Ish” entered the Myanmar language.  Our 9 hour journey actually turned into 10.5 hours.  Thankfully, he also broke out the cake from his bag at this point and passed it around.

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Finally, at 5:30pm the “May Kha 2” docked in Nyaung-U (just a short bus ride away from our hotel in New Bagan).  However, getting off the boat proved the toughest task yet.  The two boats moored alongside were easy enough to cross, but there was then a sequence of 3 or 4 narrow boards, with only 2 handrails available.  All the time, kids were playing and adults were washing in the water beside us.

We made it safely to the bank, and watched eagerly to make sure the porters carried our luggage safely across as well.

A new bus met us, and we transferred to the hotel – for 3 nights.  It has a pool, but no WiFi in the rooms (only at reception or the pool). This will make photo uploading tricky.

 

We met for food and walked to the local restaurant without George – see, we can do things ourselves after all!  The food was great – chicken curry with coconut milk (Burmese style) and coconut rice, but the service was very disjointed, with either the curry or the rice arriving independently of each other.  But at only £4.20 for the entire meal, no-one was really complaining.  The families that now live in the one street that is “New Bagan” were evicted from their homes in “Old Bagan” in 1990 by the government, but are now quite happy to develop their skills in the tourist trade.  It’s obviously still a work in progress though.

After some debate regarding the time of the sunrise, we all headed to bed.  Another 5am start tomorrow (optionally) to see something that happens every day. Why did I volunteer for this?

Because it’s a special place …