Tag Archive: Bagan



This riverside hotel in Old Bagan was opened in 1922 to welcome a royal guest, King Edward VIII in 1922. A 2-storey colonial structure now proudly bears a sign citing this royal welcome, but this main hotel building does not have the same riverfront view as the deluxe room we stayed in. I like low-rise hotels. A rarity these days. Here in Bagan Thande Hotel, they have bungalows with decks facing either the pool or the great Ayeyawaddy river. I found it such a luxury to have all this open space!

 

 

 

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Dinners under the huge and lovely acacia tree were delightful, especially after a hot shower to cleanse all the dusts so prevalent in the plains of Bagan. There is an international buffet and breakfast is available as early as 6am. A short stroll from the hotel is a waiting area where one can rent horse carriages for old Bagan and nearby village tours.

 

 

 

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We waited for sunset from our riverfront room’s deck and loved the fiery spectacle! The manicured lawn, the potted plants, the aromatic flowers, and though I’ve never seen it, the resident owl in this hotel complex bring on such an air of royalty and privilege that is so welcoming, almost personal. Really puts you on a jolly holiday mood.

 

 

 

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Who would have thought there’s this slice of paradise in this archaelogical zone? Dining under the stars is a highlight, but so is the hour spent at sundown.

 

 

 

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C’es si bon! Oui, it’s so good. Stupa-fied or not, it’s worth visiting a few. Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan reminded me so much of the first pagoda we visited in Yangon: the Shwedagon Pagoda. Yes, all that gold once more! (“Shwe” means gold) Built in 1084-1113 AD, Shwezigon by the eastern bank of the Ayyarwady River in Bagan actually predates the pagoda complex in Yangon. Way earlier! And it easily became the prototype of subsequent pagodas built all over Burma.

 

 

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Just as graceful and majestic is another temple popular with tourists: Shwe San Daw Pagoda. It’s where we climbed up for a better panoramic view of the other Bagan temples and where we waited for sunset. Too popular, I’d say, as throngs of both pilgrims, tourists and serious shutterbugs with their tripods seem to have all assembled in this 5-storeyed temple likewise built by King Anawrahta. A devout Buddhist, he is the founder of the first Burmese Kingdom. He built Shwe San Daw after his conquest of then Mon Capital, Thaton.

 

 

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No “Shwe” prefix this time. But That Byin Nyu Temple is one of the tallest, if not the tallest, temple within Old Bagan. This white monolith is just a few meters from our hotel and I would have wished to climb it for a sunrise view. But climbing the temple has been banned after an earthquake rendered the structure unsafe. Up close, one even finds portions whitewashed in a futile restoration attempt. Hopefully, the structure will stand for many more years to come as a testament to Myanmar’s glorious past.

 

 

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If there’s a tallest temple, there’s the largest temple. Dhammayangyi Temple’s imposing structure makes for a truly majestic sight from the outside and more so, from up above. I have to borrow a photo from a friend who went on a hot air balloon ride one foggy morning to prove this point. (Thank you, Maricel, for these fantastic shots!) Too bad we didn’t have a chance to check out this temple’s interior hallways with its high ceilings and narrow corridors. But a grim and morbid history is attached to this surreal edifice. The temple was built by a sadistic and likely psycopathic King Narathu who killed his family : a father, brother, and his queen. Story goes that this same tyrant required the temple brickwork to be so perfectly tight that no knife or pin could pass between any 2 bricks. Failing that, the slaves who worked on the imperfect brickwork were put to death. Legend further goes that all these tragedies and cruelties haunt the temple to this day.

 

 

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Also in the horizon are the Sulamani and Kubyaukkyi Temples. The others would have to remain unnamed for now as my memory aids are limited to the postcards I bought 😄. Amazing that these temples survive to this day in all its grandeur!

 

 

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And I saved the best for last. Thilominlo Temple and Ananda Phaya Temple. It is unfortunate that the Thilominlo Temple is crowded with too many stalls selling anything from shirts to bead necklaces to woodworks to paintings. The cluster of stalls out front was quite a nuisance and somehow impairs the holiness of the place. I walked around the temple courtyard twice, very much impressed with the ornate doors, reliefs and carvings. On the other hand, Ananda Temple is one of the best-preserved temples and one of the most beautiful and revered . Once inside, the 4 standing Buddhas, one for each cardinal direction, hold your attention. Made entirely of solid teak, I was fascinated seeing a Buddha in a pensive mood up close, then a smiling Buddha as you walk farther. The farther you go, the wider the grin. And I’m talking about the same Buddha statue! This temple truly lives up to the hype.

 

 

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Enough temples for now? I think I’ve reached my quota of stupas and temples by this time. And of Buddhas too 😄. Mingalaba!

 

 

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Rather unsettling seeing this raw, dusty landscape dotted with innumerable 11th to 13th-century stupas and pagodas of various heights, sizes and designs. Buddhism truly thrived and flourished in this former province of British India. The moment we spotted a cluster of about 3 or 4 ancient stupas, we wanted to jump out of the bus and snap away with our cams. My, we felt like some time machine transported us to this vast Bagan Plain where some 13,000 religious monuments once stood. Of the remaining 2,200 monuments in this 42 sq. km. earthquake zone, we can only surmise that only a few prominent ones are visited and upkept. The smaller ones seem to be cared for by local families enterprising enough to sell trinkets and artworks beside the monuments. Stupas, Temples, Pagodas, Buddhas — too many to count! Time stood still here, indeed.

 

 

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We braved and climbed the bigger 11th-century Shwe San Daw Pagoda where we waited for sunset. The Pagoda has 4 stairways on each side and we slowly and carefully scaled the steps towards each of the 4 (out of 5) terraces till we claimed a spot among some tripod-bearing photo enthusiasts. Now, I’ve waited for many sunset opps but for the life of me, I sensed that the sun took its time setting in this Burmese Plain. As we waited, a couple lit up their cigarettes and were gently reminded that they are on holy grounds. Some resistance there from the obnoxious pair, but seeing how many others were giving them killer stares, they relented. Back to the setting sun, I waited and snapped like the rest. Then, I happily stored my cam and simply watched the beautiful spectacle. When all’s over, I sneaked a peek into one of the serious photographers’ shots and felt how inferior and amateurish my photos were. But who cares? Sunset in Bagan is deeply etched in my memory, along with the sentimentality of a first-time visitor of this awesome landscape.

 

 

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Shwe San Daw Pagoda may not be the best monument for a sunset view, but judging by the number of pilgrims, tourists and shutterbugs littering the place, it must be among the best viewpoints. Lost in the frenzy of taking the best sunset shot is how this pagoda supposedly enshrines a Buddha hair relic. In fact, Shwe means “gold” and San Daw means hair. Just as lost are the terracotta plaques which once adorned the terraces of this magnificent pagoda. Like some other temples we’ve passed or visited, heavy-handed “restoration” nearly obliterated what used to be ancient architecture. A pity. But it happens everywhere in Third World countries with hardly any resources to preserve their links and expressions of ancient art and history.

 

 

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The early morning hot air balloon ride over this Plain must be a thrilling experience especially for first-time balloon riders. I borrowed and posted a photo here from someone (Thanks, Fe) who used a simple phone cam to capture the foggy scene. At ground level, there’s a choice between the horse cart and the oxcart. Either way, eat the dust, baby! I knew it even before I took the ride. As soon as I was handed a “surgeon’s mask” I prepped myself for a dusty hour. I would have wanted to ask someone to put some local sunscreen on my cheeks (called “thanaka”) but there was no chance. Thanaka is what you find on locals’s faces — you know, those whitish blotches on their faces which serve as sunscreen and cooling lotion.

 

 

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I had high expectations before coming here. Have not read much of its history, but viewed enough documentaries and NatGeo photos. Still, Bagan did not disappoint. I do not know of any other place like it. I can only imagine how prosperous Bagan was in the middle century to spark this frenzy of building imposing structures. As I mentioned, too many to count. Too many to care for. I won’t be surprised if some backpackers try to camp out in any one of the unguarded monuments on a humid summer night. Oh Bagan. You’re a dream. Lara Croft should get here and do a movie sequel!

 

 

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