I’m not sure but I think we accidentally converted to Buddhism. We were going to Bagan, one of the most significant archeological and religious sites in Southeast Asia, to tour its abundant collection of Buddhist temples, shrines and stupas. Having already visited numerous Buddhist complexes in Indo, Thailand and now Myanmar, I started to wonder if we weren’t really on some sort of pilgrimage.
Upon arriving at the airport we were required to pay 25,ooo kyat each to enter the Bagan Archeological Zone. We based ourselves in Nyaung U, a charming town with a relaxed vibe, and took a cab to our hotel. Our opportunistic cab driver wasted no time in selling us his service for an all day tour to explore Bagan’s temples. One minute we are answering his seemingly innocuous question about our plans (answer: dunno) and the next thing we know we are paying him 35,000 kyat to be our driver and “guide” for a day.
The plan was to start early the next day and visit the more
touristy culturally important monuments that will give us an overview of the different architecture styles and features that evolved over time.
We began with Shwezigon pagoda right in Nyaung U, admiring it’s mummified giant gold stupa which served as a prototype for later temples such as Shwedagon in Yangon.
From there we did a quick stop at an orphanage before continuing on our temple tour.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around temples of different sizes and shapes, marveling at the intricate stucco work and distinctive elements,
ducking into hush interiors some with faded colorful murals,
climbing hidden narrow stairways that lead to panoramic views
and exploring dim passages that all lead to Buddha.
Along the way, we were greeted by friendly locals trying to sell us lacquerware, baggy elephant pants, and sand paintings (unique to Bagan). Some would follow us inside a temple acting as our own personal guide and then guilting us into stopping at their shop “to just take a look”.
Finally we ended the day climbing Shwesandaw pagoda for a sunset view of hundreds of temples rising above the Ayeyarwady plains.
At the end of the day, we would visit over 20 pagodas each with it’s own unique characteristic and history.
Here’s a sampling of the temples we saw:
The views from top of Buledi
Alotawpyi Gu Hpaya
Khay Min Ga
This Buddha’s expression changes from a frown to smile as you walk away
Gates of Old Bagan
Gaw Daw Palin Phaya