Summary of Our Bagan visit
We spent two days and two nights in Bagan and this duration was more than enough to enjoy its fabulous sunset and a sunrise. There were thousands of pagodas, ruins and temples in Bagan so we only selected a few to visit :- the oldest, the grandest, the whitest etc etc.
The sunset and sunrise experiences were “to die for”. The sun setting and rising over the horizon on the plain of Bagan which was dotted with pagodas and ruins were incredible.
getting to Bagan from Inle Lake
A road journey from Inle Lake to Bagan would take about 6 hours as for flying the time needed was only 40 minutes. Again we opted for a flight to get to Bagan. Our flight was at 9.30 am in the morning which meant waking up early at 7am to have for breakfast, checked out of resort and a 30 minutes ride to the airport, to check in etc etc.
It was a nice short flight to Bagan and on touch-down we met our guide in the arrival hall. This was the third guide in this trip. Though we were taken care of by different guides in different cities, OneStop-Myanmar (Myanmar tour agency) had made our transition between cities and guides seemlessly. Never once did we felt lost!
Our transport vehicle was another spacious MPV with good space, great aircon and many bottles of mineral water.
BAGAN – unesco WORLD HERITAGE site
Bagan was an ancient city, it was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, the first kingdom that unified the regions that later constituted Burma. Today Bagan was an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the 11th to the 13th centuries more than 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed on the plain of Bagan. Today about 2,200 of these temples and pagodas survived. We came to Bagan not to visit any particular temple, there were just too many. We were in Bagan to view the famous sunrise and sunset over the Bagan plain and over the many temples and pagodas.
This was the first pagoda we visited in Bagan. As usual shoes and socks had to come off and I had to put a scarf over my shorts. Our guide led us to a signboard which had a picture of the Pagoda and started his detailed explanation of the structure and history of the Pagoda. “Information Overload!!”
Shwezigon Pagoda of Bagan reminded me of Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon (built sometimes between 6th to 10th century) . Beautifully goden. Shwezigon Pagoda was one of the oldest and most impressive momuments of Bagan. It was built in the 11th century (1102) by King Anawrahta to enshrine a collection of relics including a bone and tooth of Buddha.
The impressive Shwezigon Pagoda sat on a high platform (4 tiered terrace). Everything was golden. The tiered terrace was lined with golden plate. Our guide told us that the pagoda had been damaged by many earthquakes and was renovated several times. In the recent renovation the pagoda was covered by 30,000 copper plates donated by locals, national and international visitors to Shwezigon. Standing at the base of the Pagoda, it was not possible to spot any copper plates.
Our guide pointed to a small pool of water in a “pothole” on the floor. It was located before the upwards-heading eastern steps that led to the top of the pagoda. We squatted down and at a certain angle we could see a reflection of the pagoda all the way to its top in the water. Apparently this was not a “random” pothole. This “pool” was intentionally created so that Myanmar monarchs did not have to tilt their heads backward (which might caused them to drop their crowns) when looking up at the “hti” sitting on the tip top of the pagoda.
Unlike Shwezigon Pagoda which was very maintained, Htilominlo Temple was not. It was built during the reign of King Htilominlo in 1211-1231, which meant Htilominlo Temple was “newer” than Shwezigon Pagoda. It was known for its elaborate plaster molding. The temple was three stories high, with a height of 46 metres (151 ft), and built with red brick
Surrounding the temple were many local stores selling local goods, arts and touristy products. There were many beautiful “sand” paintings, which was tediously created by artists that used the fine sand from the banks of the Irrawaddy river and glue to create the pictures.
On the first floor of the temple, there are four Buddhas, each facing one major direction (North, South, East and West). The temple was damaged in the 1975 earthquake and subsequently repaired.
We were more impressed with the external facade of Htilominlo Temple than its interior. The intricate craving on the external walls were lovely and reminded me of “lace-work”
During our visit Htilominlo Temple was undergoing restoration so the temple “top” was obstructed by hideous scaffolding.
Lunch at a local eatery
We did not plan to have lunch but told our guide and driver to go ahead to have their lunch. Our guide and driver drove to a local eatery which was definitely not the type they would bring their “customers” to. It was an quaint local eatery, with thatched roof and no walls! Our “not eating lunch” intention flew out the “window-less” eatery.
There was no menu, so to order our food, I went with a staff to a huge table near the edge of the eatery which held many big metal pots of food. I pointed out to the stuffs that I thought we would like to eat. I picked a couple of meats cooked in chilly sauce an some “vege” dishes.
The food was not fantastic, they were edible, one was tasteful, one was too spicy and the vege were rather plain tasting. Overall it was an interesting experience eating like “real locals” under the shade of a huge thatched roof, scoping food into our mouths with one hand and chasing flies away from our plates with the other hand.
Ananda temple was an impressive white temple. Its structure looked like a mixed between an abbey and a Myanmar temple which was probably the reason it was also known as the “Westminster Abbey of Burma”. This Buddhist temple was built in 1105 AD.
The temple was also damaged in the earthquake of 1975. It was fully restored and was well maintained by frequent painting and whitewashing of the walls. To celebrate its 900th anniversary since its construction, the temple spires were gilded.
The layout of the temple was the shape of a Greek cross, the four arms led to a small golden pagoda with an “umbrella looking structure” known as hti at its top. The “hti” was a standard feature of Myanmese temple.
In the temple were four standing Buddhas, each in a hall of its own and facing one of the four cardinal directions (East, North, West and South). To get from one hall to the next we walked through a network of straight corrldors decorated with more buddhas sitting in niches.
The four standing Buddhas were about 9.5 meters tall and they were made from teak wood covered with golden “stuff”, probably golden leaves. They represented the four previous Buddhas that had reached nirvana, namely Kassapa Buddha (South), Kakusandha Buddha (North), Konagamana Buddha (East) and Gautama Buddha (West).
Kassapa Buddha was the last of the four standing Buddhas we saw. Our guide took the effort to pointed out that depending on the distance we stood from the base of Kassapa Buddha we would see a different facial expression. At a nearer distance we would see a frowning expression and at a further distance we would see a smiling expression. In the old days, when the king came to the temple he would pray at a position nearer to Buddha and the peasants would pray at a further distance away. So the Buddha frowned at the king and smiled at the peasants.
There were many temples in Bagan and it was impossible to view and get into all of them. We focused on the more significant ones, the more symbolic ones, the more uniques ones. For some of the temples we declined to enter into the temple and was happy to see them from afar.
That-Byin Nyu Temple
That-Byin Nyu temple was a buddhist temple built in 1150-51. At a height of 66m, this temple was the tallest temple in Bagan. The temple structure resembled a two square “cubes” stacked up. On top of each cube was a series of receding terraces. At each corner of the terraces was a stupa oblelisks on square base. A tall tower rose up in the center of the entire structure with a “hti” at its top.
That-Byin Nyu Temple
Shinbinthalyang temple was a rectangular brick structure and it housed a huge reclining Buddha statue. The statue was 60 feet long and was constructed in the 11th century. The temple seemed barely large enough to house the reclining Buddha!
The “position” in which the statue lied symbolised certain “status/stage”. The statue “body” was lying on its right side, with his cheek resting on his right hand. This was the position of Parinibbana (the Decease). Usually in the Parinibbana the head should point toward north but in this case it was pointing southwards. A possible explanation to this perculiarity was that the statue was made to face the Shwesandaw Pagoda.
Bagan was located in an active earthquake zone and had suffered from many earthquakes over the years, with over 400 recorded earthquakes between 1904 and 1975. The quakes damaged many temples and today only 2229 temples/pagodas still stood.
Afternoon tea by Irrawaddy river
On our first day in Bagan, by mid-afternoon we had already visited the main/famous temples/pagodas. We had enough and did not want to walk into another temple, so we requested our guide to bring us to “somewhere” for afternoon tea.
Our guide brought us to “Fantasia Garden” which was a cafe overlooking Irrawaddy River. We ordered drinks and “finger-food” and lazed the afternoon staring at Irrawaddy River.
Sunrise and Sunset at Bagan
We came to Bagan not specifically for the temples or pagodas but for the gorgeous sunrise and sunset over the Bagan Plain. They were the highlights of our Bagan visit and an absolutely “must”. We strongly felt that without them we might as well not visit Bagan. To increase our chance of viewing at least a beautiful sunrise and a sunset we planned for two sunrises and two sunsets viewing in our schedule. If the first sunset or sunrise experiences were not successful (due to weather or unexpected conditions) we still had another chance.
There were several locations to view our first sunset and we trusted our guide to bring us to a right and good place. Our guide picked us up at Fantasia Garden (cafe) just after 5 pm and drove us to a place that was some sort of an embankment.
This viewing place (Nyaung Lat Phet Viewing Mould) was just “right” for mum. At 80 years old the steps to the embankment was just manageable for her. The place was “wonderfully” not fully packed with people and our guide explained that due to the pandemic (covid 19) in Wuhan, Chinese were banned from visiting Myanmar which accounted for a smaller crowd!
It was an amazing experience to witness sunset over the Bagan plain. The colors of the “layered” atmosphere/scene was undescribable. The Bagan plain was washed with one main color which morphed as the sun set . The main color changed from yellow to gold, to orange, to pink, as for the layered atmosphere they adopted various shades of the main color.
The 2nd morning we left our hotel at 5.30 am to catch a beautiful Bagan sunrise. We were driven to a popular “sunrise place” some 10-15 minutes away from our hotel. Again we walked up an embankment and waited for the sun to rise. Though the sun had not rose over the horizon the sky had already brighten up.
Sunrise over the Bagan looked similar to sunset if not for the many hot air balloons that filled the air. It was amazing to see balloons, temples, pagodas and the sun coming together to make a lovely sight!
We did not want any temple visit on day two. So our guide kept us occupied by bringing us to a lacquer craftshop. We visited “Mya Thit Sar Lacquer Wares Workshop” which was only a 10 km drive from our hotel. At the workshop there was already a group of tourists “listening” to a briefing done by an English speaking staff. Once the briefing was over, the group of visitors went on to tour the workshop. It was then our turn to sit down for a “briefing”. We learned that lacquering craft was indeed comprised with many “tedious and manual” tasks. Lots of effort and time went into creating a beautiful piece of lacquer product.
After walking round the workshop and seeing the craftmen at work at a close distance we went into the Lacquer display shop to check up some products. We seriously were looking for some lacquer products to bring home but after walking at least five rounds around the many rows of display shelves we left empty handed. None of the product appealed to us!
Like in Inle Lake, our guide brought us to a local market. It was a huge large market with many many stores. There were fresh produces, local textile products and daily needs. Bagan market was similar to Inle Lake market very “raw” and “dusty” though much larger. It was not a “must visit” especially after we had already visited Inle Lake Market. Seen one seen all.
On the second day we also visited a typical Bagan village to learn about the villager ways of life . It was a real village not a set-up for tourists.
A typical house in a villageWe had a chance to view into the thatched houses of the locals in the village. We saw the sleeping area, the very opened cooking area, the relaxing area in the house. We walked by a convenient store in the village, some animal holding areas, dried crop areas etc etc. Our village guide was a female villager who was studying in a University in the city. She could converse in English and explained the day to day happenings in the village as we strolled passed the big and small thatched houses.
After a “hot” one hour walk we ended at a village-cafe to have some cool “can” drinks.
We ate one dinner in our hotel restaurant which was quite nice and reasonably priced. We did not have our 2nd dinner at the same hotel restaurant as we found the menu choice too “limited” and did not want a “repeated” dinner. The dinner costed 19500Kyat (USD$16.50, SGD$19.50) for four.
Lucky for us, there was a local restaurant just on the right side of our hotel. We went there on the 2nd evening for dinner. We ordered “this and that” and desert (water melon) was provided free. The dinner for four was only 15,500Kyat (USD$11.50, SGD$15.50).
Our Bagan hotel for two nights was Golden View Hotel. It costed USD$155 for two rooms for two nights which included breakfast for two mornings. The cost of the hotel in Bagan ranged widely, there were some that was so expensive which I was not sure it they were worth the price. We picked Golden View Hotel for a few main reasons, it was new, it had a roof top balcony where we could view sunrise and sunset and its price was inexpensive.
Our rooms definitely lived up to our expectation. The entire place smelled “new”. Our rooms were cosy, clean and beautiful. The ensuite toilet was nice too.
On the 2nd evening in Bagan we went up to the rooftop to view the sunset.The sunset view was beautiful but definitely not as beautiful as the sunset view at the embankment of “Nyaung Lat Phet Viewing Mould” where our guide brought us to, the day before. At the embankment there was less forest obstruction and the temples/pagodas appeared larger.