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Temple-hopping in Bagan

imageBuffet breakfast, showered, packed. We met Lay Lay at the reception hut and loaded up the Alphard, opting for a van to airport instead of another boat to van transfer.

It was that time of day where the villages were coming alive. Children going to school, farmers tilling their land with tractors, ox-drawn carts being lead through the streets, Chinese Buffalo-led tractors pulling trailers of raw materials, mopeds and bikes of hotel employees on their way to work. Only the dogs seemed to be resting – commonly in the middle of the road.

The driver gave a courtesy honk at a every moped, biker, and other obstacle in the street – this meant he was honking incessantly. Once past town, we came upon a new monk initiation ceremony taking place in the street along a lake. The different tribes were wearing their ceremony garb, chanting, singing, and marching through the street to the beat of the drums. Our tribe was spotted on the side of the road, adorned with large cameras and documenting the festivities.

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Most people got around on Chinese, Japanese, and Thai motorcycles. There were newer-model Japanese cars mostly; I enjoyed spotting the non-American Toyota models. We passed many different types of crops – corn, sugarcane, citrus. There was a lot of commerce on the roads through the hills to the airport/train station.

imageHeho Airport was swarming with tourists. We hung out outside, watching the planes takeoff and land. Easiest boarding process ever: Walk towards the plane, wait for someone to ask for a ticket, get on. A short, 30-minute flight on the Air KBZ ATR–72–500, complete with cake, soda, and candy; It was like an airborne kids birthday party. Upon landing, we grabbed our bags and met Min Min outside the terminal where yet another van was waiting.

On the way from the airport, I noticed a flurry of new construction. This area was obviously booming, likely from tourist profits made possible by the recent governmental changes. We stopped at the large Shwezi Gon pagoda, built by King Anawrathta in the early 11th century, listening to Mr. Min Min tell stories of Buddha as the hawkers lined up to pitch us souvenirs. From there, we visited the 13th century fresco caves of the Kyansittha temple. It was a very dark man-made stone/brick structure with elaborate paintings on plaster of select teachings of Buddha formerly used primarily for solitude and prayer. Unfortunately, insects had eaten away at a fair amount of plaster over the years.

Leaving the caves, it was hard not to notice the myriad of golden brick stupas and temples, scattered throughout the landscape. It reminded me of Gettysburg, where everywhere you look there is some kind of monument. The van driver took us to have lunch at a popular upscale restaurant on a cliff with a view overlooking Ayeyarwaddy River. We dined on various preparations of duck, fried fish, curried chicken, and lentil soup. Fresh fruit seems to be a common meal-capping course and no meal would be complete without Myanmar beer.

imageWe checked in at the Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort to relax for a little while. The hotel and grounds were pleasant – clean, well-kept, and reasonably modern. It was situated along the hillside overlooking the river and adjacent to many stupas, the ruins of several they had restored themselves. Chris and Dan had a river view, while Adam and I had slightly smaller room nearby. Thankfully, most Burmese speak English as a second language and all the staff were very accommodating.

Later, the van driver and Mr. Min Min took us to the whitewashed Ananda Temple that housed four standing Buddhas and dozens of frescoes, where the entrance hallway was lined with souvenir stalls. Adam and I were amused that the shoe rule was essentially “No shoes in the gift shop.” We spent some time wandering the temple and listening to our guide tell us more stories of each painting. It was a fascinating building, though also affected by insects eating the plaster and was whitewashed many decades ago. Fortunately, there is now funding to remove the white paint and restore the elaborate wall and ceiling patterns.

Moving on, Mr. Min Min brought us to Shwesandaw Pagoda, where we joined the gaggles of other tourists upon the monument to watch the sun set behind the pagodas. For some reason, Asian people really like steep staircases, perhaps to make western tourists nervous centuries later. I made it up to the third tier before deciding that was far enough. While waiting for sunset, I counted the number of tourists clad in the locals’ longyi, a type of sarong. When I had had enough, I made my way down the steep stairs among the dozens of pushy tourists and waited for the rest of the group to descend among the sourvenir-hawking locals. Every time I approached a stand and considered a purchase, the competition would get louder and pushier, dissuading me from any purchase at all. Back together on the ground, we returned to the hotel for the evening.

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Adam and I attempted to do laundry in the sink of the hotel in Mandalay, but our clothes didn’t dry by the time we had to leave for Heho. This hotel offered a laundry service, and we took full advantage of it.