25 Nov

Bagan is a huge collection of ancient temples and stupas sprawled across a dry and dusty plain some 100+ miles south of Mandalay along the Irriwaddy River. We arrived in Bagan by boat; as the boat approached the “dock”, we caught glimpses of several smaller stupas built along the riverbank, a little tease of what was to come (I use the word dock loosely since there was not in fact a dock, but several wooden planks laid in the muddy bank for us to wobble across as we disembarked). Bagan was constructed back in the 11th century when the Burmese converted from Hindu to Buddhism. For 250 years, the Burmese went on an absolute building spree; there are almost 4,000 stupas in the 26 square miles that make up the Bagan Archeological Zone. A Mongol invasion, several earthquakes, and haphazard reconstruction efforts have had their impact, but the ruins of Bagan are still amazingly beautiful.

In visiting Bagan, it was impossible not to mentally compare the ruins to the temples of Angkor Wat, another set of famous ruins in Southeast Asia. Both sites are incredibly impressive for very different reasons. The temples of Angkor are stunning simply for the temples themselves. Each building is more astonishing than the last, huge wats rising out of the surrounding jungle, covered in tangled vines. There is no denying that the temples of Bagan are architectural feats in their own right; however, the most impressive part of Bagan is the sheer number of buildings scattered across the plain. If one stands on the top of a given temple and stares into the distance, the pointy tops of stupas stretch as far as the eye can see in every direction. While watching the sunrise one morning, I tried to count all of the stupa tops I could see. I gave up when I got to 68 and realized I had only counted a fraction of the temples that were visible from my vantage point. The best explanation I can give may be this: these five photos were all taken from the same location. I stood in the middle of a field, rotated on the spot, and snapped every temple in my line of sight. We were completely surrounded by stupas!


Have e-bikes will travel! Jen looks psyched about hers


Nancy & Zach

We spent two days exploring the temples of Bagan, zooming around the countryside on e-bikes, the anemic little siblings of motorbikes. It was great fun wandering around in this manner, admiring the views, stopping at whatever temple struck our fancy, and photographing everything in sight. Some of my fellow travelers, Nancy, Michelle, and Jen, were brave enough to view the sunrise via hot air balloon. Yours truly, being somewhat terrified of heights, was more than happy to hang out on the temple with Zach, feet safely in contact with the ground. We watched two sunrises and a sunset from the tops of temples; there is something quite zen about watching the sun rise up through the mist while perched atop an ancient building constructed almost a thousand years ago. Not too shabby!


Tired but loving life

IMG_3799We also visited a local lacquerware business. Lacquerware is made by forming bamboo into shapes, then coating it with a zillion layers of resin (we were told the good stuff has a minimum of fourteen coats). After the many layers dry, they decorate the outsides with traditional patterns. One piece takes about six months to make. I bought a pretty bowl or two. One final adventure was encountering a random village parade: a float with a band, cows decked in flowers pulling wagons, and children in fancy costumes. I’m honestly not sure who was fancier, the little girls or the cows! Unfortunately, I can’t for the life of me remember what holiday was being celebrated. And now, as usual, a sampling of the many (many, many, many) photos I took. 🙂



Sunset from an ancient temple – note the height and lack of railings


Dhammayangyi Pahto


The start of day


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