Pagodas of Old Bagan

One room in the Prince of Wales suite
We are sleeping in a historic room.

Our hotel is amazing once more. The place is enormous and also dated in a delightful way, such as the chairs upholstered in purple velvet. We are on the shores of the Irrawaddy River, that flows south past the dining patio.

Margaret and I had a nice easy 9 am start this morning, but there was a problem. Margaret’s supper last night included an amazingly spicy salad and it did a number on her in the night. Despite feeling off, we met our driver for the day. Ansel (I’m sure I’m spelling that wrong) met us at the airport last night and took us to our hotel. He offered to be our driver for today. At $35 for the whole day, split between the two of us, we quickly agreed to give up our motorbike rental idea for someone who knows the area and the traffic.

Shwezigon Pagoda – major bling

The first pagoda stop was very touristy with lots of bling! By bling I mean plenty of gold, many colors, vendors set up everywhere, gaudy in every direction. M was still feeling poorly and stayed in the car. I made a quick trip through and headed back to the car with a plan to give instructions: no more bling, less people. I wanted to see all the gorgeous pagodas we had been passing to get to this one. Luckily, that was Ansel’s plan all along. He got what he said was the most famous pagoda out of the way first, and all the rest were much better.

There are 2600 pagodas in Bagan. At the most, there were 4000 of them, but many were destroyed in the 1975 earthquake. Unfortunately, in 2016 another big one hit north of Mandalay, which isn’t too far from here. It was 6.9 on the Richter scale, and damaged 400 of the local pagodas. Ansel said that until that time, tourists were allowed to climb the stairs inside many of the pagodas, and thus get on top for a great view. But now, for safety reasons, there is only one pagoda safe enough to climb. (I climbed it!) They were all built from the 11th through the 13th centuries. As we drove through the region, the renovation work could easily be seen on many of the larger pagodas.

At the next pagoda, M tried walking around a little and that only made her feel worse, so we dropped her off back at the hotel and she had a down day. Then Ansel and I continued our pagoda tour.

I’ll apologize right up front. I did not keep track of the names of all of the pagodas. I’m simply going to post the photos.
Inside most of the bigger pagodas are statues of Buddha.
One pagoda is still safe enough to climb and get a view of the incredible landscape.
Pagodas through an arch.
In this case, we climbed a monastery beside the pagoda, and then got a good shot of the pagoda. Note the bamboo scaffolding while repairs are made to the tower.
View from the top of the monastery.
The bougainvillea helps add interest to yet another pagoda.
Sometimes they were in clusters like this, and sometimes a lone pagoda beside the road.
Look at this exceptional architecture.
It’s just before the hot season here. I don’t know if these flowers bloom year round, but it was nice to see so much colour.
I loved scenes like this. Looking out across the land where so many beautiful towers rise up.

It’s hard to convey just how incredible it is to have pagodas in every direction. Our driver said to close our eyes and point, and we would be pointing at a pagoda. I often walked past several smaller ones to get to the one Ansel wanted me to see. They are in unexpectedly good shape for their age and being in an earthquake zone. They are gorgeous: that orange red brick, particularly in the morning and evening light against a blue sky.

I am most struck by the outer architecture of the pagodas, but several caught my interest for other qualities. In particular, I loved the murals painted inside many of them. Once Ansel found out I loved the murals, he took me to a few more very good ones with exceptional paintings inside.

The Old Gate to Old Bagan city.
Before entering any pagoda or temple, you remove your shoes.
These lovely ladies agreed to have their photo taken.
I love the attitude on this face!
Impressive large Buddha
Some were enormous inside
I couldn’t get enough of the murals.
A few pagodas had murals of great detail.
Some images, like this one, were repeated often. There was still quite a variety, owing to the different artists, maybe?
Inside this pagoda, this huge mural is covered from floor to ceiling in activity. People of all sorts are acting out some legend(s) possibly. I stood and gaped a long time.
This boat scene made me think immediately of the murals on the tombs in Egypt that also depict boats.
Here’s a nice simple elephant that I particularly like.
One pagoda had carvings instead of murals. There was damage in this one and I talked with a crew of people doing some work on a crack inside.
This is Payn Payn, one of the three resident kitties where I stopped for a beer.

At lunchtime my driver took me to a lovely little café with delicious and affordable food. (Who am I kidding? Everything is affordable here.) Later in the day, after several pagodas in the hot sun, he found me a super tiny café so I could chill with a Myanmar beer. While I drank the beer I played with one of the cats lounging around. An older woman came out from the back and brought me some fried bread after I had been sitting there awhile, complimentary.

There are hopeful vendors at every big pagoda, hoping to catch your eye. The people selling handmade goods in Myanmar have been the most laid back I have ever known in a country I am visiting. Until Bagan, they barely called out to us. Here they may be the most aggressive in the country, because they will actually call out to you, and some will follow you. Compared to other countries, it’s still very manageable and they give up quickly and leave you alone.

The street scenes in between pagodas are often this beautiful.
Visitors are allowed to ring the bells found at some sites.
I had my new friend P step in to add a little perspective for this ginormous reclining Buddha.
I thought this sign was a total crack up. Signs in English are rare, but appreciated. I read this one twice and I’m still pretty sure I don’t know what’s going on. {click the image to get a larger version}
Something about that magical morning and evening sunshine makes these places even more spectacular.

At one pagoda, I stopped to watch a man work on his sand painting. He began explaining what he was doing, and how he made the sand paintings. It’s pretty cool: he glues river sand to cotton fabric, then paints over the top. It’s a neat look. He began explaining a few of his paintings, spending the most time explaining the days of the week calendar (includes Morning Wednesday – elephant with tusk, and Evening Wednesday – elephant without tusk). I decided I wanted to buy the week calendar. Unfortunately, I did not have enough money on me. He let me take the painting with me and pay only a part of the cost, and I came back a few hours later with the rest.

The artist had assured me that the sand painting can only be found in Bagan. When I got back to the car I asked my driver if that was true. He said it was. He said there are two crafts unique to Bagan. The other is lacquered bamboo. Ansel took me to a workshop where women were busy scratching designs into black lacquered bowls. A man explained what they were doing, and also how the lacquered crafts are made. They begin with bamboo. Then they are covered in layers of thick black sap from a tree I can’t remember the name of. If I remember correctly, the sap is baked on in layers. Then the patterns are either painted or etched onto the final layer. I really enjoyed the stop and when he ushered me into the showroom as I was expecting, I was happy to go look for what I wanted: a ramen bowl. I found one that looked the most like what the women had been working on. I also found a square box I liked and negotiated them down almost 30% on the price, since the original price was way over my budget.

Women etch designs into lacquered bamboo bowls.
Seven stages from bamboo to finished lacquered product.

Finally it was 40 minutes to sunset and Ansel took me to a mound of some sort to watch the sun go down. To my chagrin it was packed with people and more poured in after I arrived. *sigh* But the tourists were picking up the “love” vibe from the locals, and it was actually very pleasant with much chatter back and forth between people who didn’t know each other but were sharing a moment.

The sunset over the pagodas was spectacular.

Lake behind the mound where we watched the sunset.
The Londoner standing behind me said this scene was worth his whole trip to Myanmar.

9 thoughts on “Pagodas of Old Bagan

    1. You are right: nothing worse than getting sick while on holiday. Last winter I got sick and Margaret took me back to sleep. This winter she got sick and I took her back to sleep. Maybe it’s just the flow of things. She recovered quickly and by the next day was able to head out and be a tourist again!

      Thanks for the compliment on the last shot. I feel like the camera couldn’t reflect the magic of the moment, but you get the idea.

    1. Yes! My friend was well enough to hit the streets with me again the next day! It is wonderful that she recovered so quickly.

      I was surprised about the sand artist, that he would just hand over the painting. I had jewelers in Istanbul do the same thing for me. They told me to bring the rest of the money when I had the chance. Something about that much trust makes me try especially hard to get the balance to them as soon as I can.

      Thank you for your comment on the composition. I’m really not as good of a photographer as some of my blogger friends, but I do try. I appreciate that you always notice.

  1. Pagodas, cat, beautiful sunset, and interesting crafts. Doesn’t get much better, Crystal. And it seems that you have been really lucky with your guides. Really liked the color added by the bougainvillea. –Curt

    1. You are right, Curt! Exceptionally lucky with guides, particularly since we haven’t yet asked for a guide, but merely a taxi. We have twice been paired with a taxi driver who knows substantial English and wants to talk about their country. It’s a win win.

      Today was an exceptional day except for M getting so sick. Ugh. That is just rotten luck. But she recovered quickly and off we go again! This time to Mandalay.

  2. Some great photos there and how wonderful that you found a tour guide and taxi driver rolled into one. It’s hard to find food that agrees when traveling. Sorry M had to get sick on the trip. At least she had a place to go lay and rest until she felt better. Love all the pagodas.

    1. Yes, we have been lucky and the taxi drivers have all been helpful to one degree or another: pointing out sights and explaining things. Some, as you noticed, are full-on tour guides. 🙂 Yes, it is fortunate that we already had a place for Margaret to rest in the cool.

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