A Travellerspoint blog


Bagan - The City that Tramples on Enemies.



New Year's Eve Entertainment.

On arrival at Bagan Airport we had to pay a US dollar fee to enter Bagan itself as a tourist. Then, when we went to get our luggage, we found a person attached to it. That is he was holding it and would not let go unless we paid him. I do realise that he was poor, but how is this any different from mugging people? I was really angry. I tried forcibly removing him, shouting at him. In the end we had to pay him. It was not a good start.

We arrived in Bagan on New Year's Eve. Our hotel was doing a buffet with traditional entertainment. We decided to go, but this proved to be a big, big mistake. My own fault, I ate too much and consumed too many rum sours - a drink I would not normally touch. As a result I was up all night being sick and set out to look at Bagan the next day like a member of the living dead. Oh my head! I have never been so ill in my life.

We only had one full day to see Bagan, so despite feeling ill ­ (did I say ill? Dying more like) I had to get up and wander around. Unlike Mandalay and Yangon where you pay an entrance fee for everything, in Bagan you must pay an entrance fee when you land at the airport. After that you are free to wander around all the pagodas you want to see. I suppose this is better.

From the 9th to 13th centuries Bagan was a capital city. During the golden age of Bagan between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed here. Around 2200 of these still remain today. Wandering around the pagodas is a joy. There are so many, each one slightly different. Being here is amazing. This is a unique and stunning place, but keep off the rum sours.

The Irrawaddy River in Bagan is not as busy as in Mandalay but it is pretty here and well worth a short stroll. It is especially beautiful at sunset.The Irrawaddy River begins among the glaciers of the Himalayas and flows for 1,348 miles across a wide alluvial plain before merging with the Indian Ocean.

The Irrawaddy River.

There are hundreds of pagodas in Bagan. You can either select a few that appeal to you or do as we did - just set off rather aimlessly and visit what you can. Either way, it is a unique and fascinating place. My photos are not great, but then I was enduring the hang over from hell on this visit. I don't think I could hold the camera straight. In addition to the temples we came across a big wheel. This was worked by people climbing up it and jumping from gondola to gondola to make it move. I kid you not. It was one of the most dangerous things I have ever seen.

The Pagodas.

The Pagodas.

The Pagodas.

The Pagodas.

Bagan like the other parts of Burma we visited was fascinating just to wander around watching people getting on with their daily life. The way people dress and the way people travel from place to place is extremely picturesque here.

Wandering around.

Wandering around.

Wandering around.

When we left Bagan and flew back to Yangon, I wanted to avoid having to physically remove anyone from my luggage, so I watched what the locals did. They walked out onto the air field and took their own bags out of the hold of the plane, so I did the same. Some locals laughed at me, others clapped. I did not care; there is only so much of having an illuminated dollar sign above your head you can take.

Similarly, when we left Yangon, we took a taxi to the airport as we were getting ready to park, people ran at the back of our car to pull our cases out and insist on carrying them for a fee, but we were already savvy enough to know this would happen and got there first. We pulled our cases into the back of the car where we were sitting. At no point were we prepared to let them go until we had them safely checked in. Our taxi driver looked at us with admiration and we pointed out that we had been ripped off continuously since we arrived. This is the downside of Burma; people just see you as a source of money. I have been to other poor countries where this is the case, but this was the worst for me. It was constant. This was in 2007; maybe things have changed. I hope so.

Burmese Street Scene.

Burmese Street Scene.

Posted by irenevt 00:39 Archived in Myanmar Comments (2)

The Road to Mandalay.



Overlooking the Irrawaddy River.

Getting to Mandalay

Leaving Yangon Airport for Mandalay was a bit of a nightmare. First we handed over our passports and tickets to an important looking guy, complete with badge, at the main door of the airport. I expected him to check them then let us in. Oh no, not a bit of it! Instead he queue jumped us, then demanded to be paid for it. He did not work for the airport at all. Knowing we had been suckered, we just paid up quietly without making a scene. Then in the departure lounge a young man approached us. His English was terrible. At first all we could understand was inside and outside. Eventually we worked out that his job was to take passengers' bags from inside the airport to outside onto the plane. He wanted money off us for this or he was threatening to leave our bags behind. We were so disgusted we refused to pay. All the way on the plane we thought of the things we would have to buy to replace essential pieces of luggage, but it was the principal of the thing. You can't just let everyone everywhere rip you off. On arrival in Mandalay to our surprise the bags were there waiting for us, so it had all been an idle threat.

We flew to Mandalay from Yangon. Our flight went via Bagan. As we were sitting on the plane minding our own business, discussing our luggage problems, before take ­off, there was a sudden commotion. People rushing around madly. Then some very important looking people and some guards got on. We had no idea what was going on. Being nosy I stopped a passing attendant and asked who that important looking woman that had just passed by was. He told me she was the queen of Bhutan! She and her family flew to Bagan.

Arrival in Mandalay

Mandalay Airport is modern, high tech and new but it is in the middle of nowhere. We bargained for a minibus ride to Mandalay. We got on board with lots of other people. Some Thai people on board got angry because they said they had bargained for the price of four people. Since more people were on, it should be cheaper they said. A huge argument ensued culminating in our driver losing it, driving like a madman, screaming, shouting, banging the steering wheel. We were in the middle of nowhere, it was pitch black, we were being driven by a maniac, everyone was petrified and absolutely silent. The atmosphere was so tense. It came as a great relief some time later when we reached Mandalay and realised we were being taken where we wanted to go rather than taken off and killed somewhere.


Prior to going to Mandalay a friend who had visited Burma told us just to go to Yangon and Bagan. She said Mandalay was just a hot, boring, dusty city. I am glad I did not listen to her because of the three places in Burma we visited, Mandalay was my favourite. I loved the street life and the different types of transport. I loved the colourful, chaotic market. It was the second most photogenic market I have ever been to. The most photogenic was Suva, Fiji and I lost all my photos of that. I also loved going to a view point overlooking the river and watching all the activity below. Mandalay was truly fascinating.

In Mandalay we stayed in a great hotel and guess what? Just as we were leaving the Queen of Buhtan turned up there, too. The funny thing about our hotel was it had a wonderful swimming pool but on our last day they closed it to prepare for a special dinner around it. We went to the manager and complained. He said he was really sorry but he could not let anyone use it. When the Queen of Buhtan arrived one of her sons asked the manager about the pool and was told: 'Sorry, it is shut. I can't let you use it.' We felt a bit less angry then knowing we had been treated just the same as the Buhtani royal family.

Our hotel was near the foot of Mandalay Hill so we began our sightseeing by climbing up this 240 metre high hill. A small Burmese girl attached herself to us, and though we did not want a guide, she was actually so cute we did not have the heart to get rid of her. The climb up involved lots of stairs. It was hot and tiring, but there were lots of shrines and stalls to look at on route. The top of the hill should have provided great views but it was very hazy when we got there. Oh well, never mind.

Mandalay Hill.

View from the top of Mandalay Hill.

Mandalay Hill.

We also visited the Glass Palace. I really wanted to visit this huge complex in the centre of Mandalay because I had just finished reading a book called 'The Glass Palace' by Amitav Ghosh. The book begins with British soldiers storming, looting and burning this palace, forcing the Burmese King and Queen into exile in India. The palace was built between 1857 and 1859 by King Mindon. It is located on an island surrounded by a moat. There are 5 bridges to it. Nowadays much of this area is private and tourists can only go to the palace itself.

The palace was first home to King Mindon, then later King Thibaw, the last two kings of Burma. The palace stopped being a royal residence and seat of government on the 28th of November 1885 when British troops entered it and captured the royal family. The British sent the royals into exile and turned the palace into Fort Dufferin. The palace was bombed heavily in World War 11. The complex was rebuilt in the 1990s and I must say does look disappointingly new.

Mandalay's Glass Palace.

Hubbie at the Glass Palace.

After the Glass Palace we visited the Central Zeiygo Market. We took local transport to this market. We had agreed on a price in advance. Of course, when we arrived the driver insisted he had meant that was the price each. We did not give him it. You can get sick of being constantly ripped off. The market mainly sold fruit and veg. It was very photogenic.Traffic, bicycles and delivery men travelled between stalls. Stall holders in traditional Burmese clothes, wearing traditional thannaka on their faces, as protection against the sun, sat on the roads. Everywhere was crowded, chaotic and colourful.

Friendly locals, Mandalay.

Central Zeiygo Market.

Central Zeiygo Market.

Central Zeiygo Market.

Our map showed two viewing points over the Irrawaddy River. We visited one of these on a Burmese style taxi. There was a little cafe at the top. On the river there were huts, wooden platforms, boats, horses and endless bustling activity. It was fascinating and great for photos.

Overlooking the Irrawaddy River.

Overlooking the Irrawaddy River.

Overlooking the Irrawaddy River.

Overlooking the Irrawaddy River.

Mandalay also had lots of interesting local transport. Plus just wandering around watching people get on with their everyday life there was fascinating. This is a city that lends itself to an aimless wander.

Street scene, Mandalay.

Street scene, Mandalay.

Posted by irenevt 00:01 Archived in Myanmar Comments (2)

Yangon, Myanmar.

First time in Myanmar, 2007.


The Shwedagon Pagoda.

We flew to Yangon via Singapore. We spent just one night in Yangon, then flew to Mandalay. From Mandalay we flew to Bagan. Then from Bagan we flew back to Yangon for two nights.

On our first night we walked to the Schwedagon Pagoda which was near our hotel. We did not go in on this occasion as we preferred to visit in the light. But it did look spectacular all lit up and shining through the darkness. We visited it next morning before our flight.

On our return to Yangon we took a half day car with driver and visited several pagodas, the Strand Hotel, the market and two parks. We intended to spend the afternoon taking the local train on a loop round the outskirts of the city, but my husband was struck down with a violent tummy bug so we did not manage this.

We liked Yangon, finding the crumbling colonial architecture, pagodas and street life interesting. The only down side was that for foreigners there was an entry fee to everywhere, every temple, every park, no matter how small and insignificant and always priced in US dollars. Add to that a charge per camera, extra for videos. It got a bit wearing after a while.

The best thing about Yangon was that it is unique because it is stuck in a time warp. The worst thing was there is a charge for everything

The Shwedagon Pagoda is deservedly the most famous sight in Yangon. This huge gold stupa towers over Yangon. It is Yangon's most sacred sight. Archaeologists estimate that the pagoda was first built by the Mon some time between the 6th and 10th centuries. The Pagoda stands on a platform covering over 5 hectares on a hill 58 metres above sea level. Legend states that it was founded by two merchants who met the Buddah and were given eight hairs from his head. They brought these relics to a hill where other Buddah relics had already been enshrined.

Queen Shinsawbu began the practice of gilding the temple with gold when she offered her own weight in gold for this purpose. Over time the shrine has become covered in gold and diamonds. It glistens in the sun. There are four separate entrances to the pagoda. Their gates are guarded by dragons and other mythical creatures. There are many different shrines inside. The pagoda has survived earthquakes, fires and occupation by the British army.

The Shwedagon Pagoda.

The Shwedagon Pagoda.

The Shwedagon Pagoda.

Wandering around the streets of Yangon is fascinating as it is still filled with old colonial style architecture. Yangon has not developed the way many Asian cities have for political reasons, so large areas have been left unchanged. This makes it interesting for the tourist as you can see how things would have looked in the past though in a more run down sort of way. I loved the old crumbling colonial architecture.

Old colonial style architecture.

Old colonial style architecture.

One of the famous old colonial buildings in Yangon is the Strand Hotel. I wanted to visit this hotel as it was built by the Sarkie brothers who created so many wonderful old Asian hotels such as the Raffles, Singapore, the Majapahit, Surabaya and the E&O Penang. We came here for a drink, reclined in our rattan chairs, listened to the whirl of the ceiling fans and thought about the distant past. This hotel is very atmospheric.

The Strand Hotel.

The Shwedagon Pagoda may be the most famous pagoda in Yangon, but there are many more. We also visited the Sule Pagoda. This is also an old and famous religious site. We got a bit annoyed here as we paid our entrance fee, then were asked to pay again. We explained that we had already paid and continued, then were asked to pay again, of course, we just explained all over again, but it did not make for a very relaxing visit.

The Sule pagoda is located in the centre of a busy commercial district, on a thoroughfare between two major roads. This temple is believed to be more than 2,500 years old. It contains a single hair of the Buddha ­ its most famous relic.

The Sule pagoda.

The Sule pagoda.

We also visited Kandawagi Lake. There is a pleasant park surrounding this 150 acre lake. It is a lovely place for a stroll once you have paid your entry fee, camera fee, video fee etc. There are a lot of fees. The most scenic and photogenic part of the park is Karaweik Hall located on the lake.

Kandawagi Lake.

We visited People's Park very easily from our hotel as it was just across the road. It is located near the western stairways of Shwedagon Pagoda. It is around 135. acres in size and was first opened in 1990. The Park is well known for its white elephant fountain. There were also various tanks and things around.

People's Park.

People's Park.

People's Park.

We had a wander around the Bogyoke Aung San Market. We really, really enjoyed visiting this as it had great souvenirs and they were all very cheap. We ended up buying loads of things, such as little elephants, incense burners.

Bogyoke Aung San Market.

I read there was a Chinese temple in Yangon so set off to find it. It was worth a look. I like to visit Chinese temples as I live in a Chinese part of the world. Chinese temples are also easy places to visit as there are no requirements to remove your shoes, or cover your head or anything.

Chinese Temple.

Chinese Temple.

Posted by irenevt 23:22 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

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