Sunday, June 16, 2013

Day 3 - Bagan - Land of Ancient Temples, Pagodas and Stupas

14 May 2013 (Tuesday)

I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and could not get back to sleep. I was just turning and twisting in bed and decided to get up to finish packing at 3:40 a.m. At 4:50 a.m., I went down to the reception and the co-owner has already opened the hotel door. A taxi was waiting outside. A day earlier, the owner told me I could leave at 5:00 a.m. and it would take half an hour to reach the domestic terminal, in time for check in for my flight at 6:30 a.m. The taxi actually took only 15 minutes to reach the airport.

The domestic terminal seemed like any other airport, but there was no modern technology in use. My baggage was screened before I could enter the check-in hall. There were no Air KBZ check-in counters. When I inquired with a worker there, he told me the check-in counters for Air KBZ was at an adjacent hall, out of sight of the first hall where I was in.

Air KBZ check-in counters. It was a new experience. There was one officer who handled the boarding pass and another who stuck the KBZ "boarding sticker" on the shirts. For what purpose did the sticker serve?

Air KBZ boarding pass. NYU is the IATA code for Nyaung U (or Nyaung Oo) Airport in Bagan. No departure gate number was stated. All departures went through the same departure gate.
Instead of an announcement over the public address system as we have come to expect, an employee of the airline concerned would stand at the door of the departure gate, held up the placard stating the flight number and announced at the top of his or her voice that it was time for boarding. This was a new experience for me.

Taking the bus to the plane on the airside ... None of the domestic terminals were equipped with aerobridge. Maybe Airasia should introduce this service at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal. Pity those who are no longer young and strong who have to walk long distant to the plane/ arrival hall.
Yangon International Airport domestic terminal airside.
I made an acquaintance of NTHA, a journalist from Vietnam on the plane. She was sitting beside me on flight K7-222. She had another two friends with her, who were journalists too. They were all born and raised in Hanoi and are proud Hanoians. They had been travelling a lot around South-East Asia and are very experienced flashpackers. We had common interests and it was interesting to listen about her experience.

From the air, I could see that Bagan was different. The land was semi-arid. There were more surprises too, for I had always thought that Bagan is a modern town like Yangon, full of concrete buildings, albeit smaller in size. I have never realised that Bagan (or rather New Bagan) is more like a village with dirt roads.

The semi-arid Bagan landscapes from the air
Pagodas could be seen from the air
Arriving at Nyaung Oo Airport
We had to buy the Bagan Archaeological Zone Pass for USD10

Instead of going to Old Bagan, I decided to join NTHA and her friends to go to New Bagan. This would save me some taxi fare, as well as theirs. The White House owner had actually told me that the fare should not be more than 6,000 Kyat based on the feedback received from another hotel in Old Bagan. We used that as our reference point to bargain the fare with the driver but he was steadfast. He said 6,000 Kyat was the fare to Old Bagan and 7,000 for New Bagan. New Bagan was farther away. The fare to Nyaung Oo, the nearest town, was 5,000 Kyat. In the end, we gave up. My share of the fare was 2,000 Kyat (saving me 4,000 if I were to go to Old Bagan).

The 'taxi' driver helping to load the baggage into his van
The road to New Bagan town
Semi-arid desert flora
NTHA and her friends had booked a triple room with Mya Thida Hotel through Agoda. I did not have a booking. It was the low season and I was optimistic I could easily get a room in New Bagan. When we arrived at Mya Thida Hotel, I went to the reception desk. Aung Su Wint came out and greeted me and asked whether I was the one who had booked the room and was arriving that morning. I said no and told him it was the girls. As expected, a single air-conditioned room was available for USD25 per night and I decided to take it.

While registering our names at the reception desk, we inquired with Aung Su Wint and his partner about getting a horse-cart to see the temples and pagodas. They replied that the horse-cart was 20,000 Kyat per day and a bicycle was 3,000 Kyat per day. He suggested that instead of taking the horse-cart, we could hire their air-conditioned van, which would cost 45,000 Kyat per day. He said the cost would be almost the same as hiring two horse-carts, since a horse-cart could only take two passengers. We tried to bargain with them but were unsuccessful. In the end, we discussed among ourselves and agreed to take the van as we could cover more places in the comfort of an air-conditioned van. Aung Su Wint also agreed to reduce the price to 44,000 Kyat and my share of the cost was 11,000 Kyat.

Inquiring about transport to the Archaeological Zone with the bosses of Mya Thida Hotel, Kyaw Wai Linn in singlets and Aung Su Wint behind the counter
This is New Bagan. It does not look like a town, more like a village. There were still unpaved streets. Time really stands still here .... New Bagan was established when the government moved villagers out from the Archaeological Zone to be resettled here. No building higher than two floors were permitted
New Bagan street ... steady neck
We set off to see the temples and pagodas at about 9:10 a.m. Aung Su Wint was our driver cum tour guide.

Click to enlarge. The track was from Garmin eTrex 20, displayed on Basecamp. Names in block letters were waypoints from my eTrex 20. The morning tour was to the North and the afternoon tour to the North-east

Our first stop was Manuha Phaya
Nanpaya Temple lies close to Manuha Phaya
Bas relief at Nanpaya Temple
Nanpaya Temple art on the girls' forearms
Gubyauk Gyi
Gubyauk Gyi
Shwe San Daw Pagoda, the location for viewing sunset. This was the only place where our Bagan Archaeological Zone Pass was checked
Comparing them side-by-side, we can see how tiny the humans are against the size of the pagoda
Climbing up Shwe San Daw Pagoda
Shwe San Daw Pagoda - we were there in the morning and therefore there was no sunset to see
Click to enlarge. Shwe San Daw Pagoda - the view from here was spectacular. The Bagan Archaeological Zone was a vast plain. Ruin temples, pagodas, stupas and monasteries dotted the landscapes and could be seen as far away as the eyes could see. Beautiful and awesome!
Dhammayangyi Temple
Dhammayangyi Temple
Dhammayangyi Temple
Thatbyinnyu Phaya
Ananda Phaya
Ananda Phaya - another entrance
Inside Ananda Phaya
The oldest wall built in Bagan. It was built by the first Bagan king about 1,000 years ago
The horse cart cost 20,000 Kyat a day
A Bagan shepherd and his goats
Dhamma Ya Zi Ka Pagoda
Dhamma Ya Zi Ka Pagoda. The apparition of the nat/ spirit, an ancient army general who was sacrificed to protect the pagoda, was captured in a photo. He was said to have possessed a man and through him, told the people where treasures were hidden so that they could be used to finance the repair and renovation of the pagoda
Thon Zhu Phaya ruins. I love the ruins around here. No restoration work has been carried out and was as original and ancient as it could be
The monastery near Thon Zhu Phaya
Ruins near Thon Zhu Phaya
Ruins near Thon Zhu Phaya
Ruins near Thon Zhu Phaya
Ruins near Thon Zhu Phaya
Ruins near Thon Zhu Phaya
Click to enlarge. Thon Zhu Phaya ruins
Thisa Wadi Pagoda - another pagoda to see the sunset ... the stairs are inside the pagoda. This was the last pagoda we visited today and it was getting dark.
There was no sunset to see from Thisa Wadi Pagoda as the sky was cloudy
During our tour, there were intermittent drizzles in the afternoon. The wet weather was said to be the effect of the tropical storm Mahasen and was expected to strike Bangladesh on 16th May. At least, it cooled down Bagan and made the weather more bearable.

By the time we left our last stop at Thisa Wadi Pagoda, it was already 6:50 p.m. and getting dark.

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