Bagan Temples

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Over Christmas and New Year my husband and I went on a cruise with Voyages of Discovery. We started in Sri Lanka and travelled on to India, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. What attracted us to the cruise, apart from escaping from the awful weather in the UK, was the picture of the Temples at Bagan, stretching across the plane. OK so the photo was probably taken from an elevated place that only a few photographers have permission to get to but it would be different and maybe we would get to see a few ruins. Myanmar, or Burma as it used to be called, has only recently opened itself to tourists, so our expectations were not high with regards transport or accommodation whilst there. Voyager, the replacement for Discovery, is a small ship so we were able to dock in the centre of Yangon. We were expecting no end of hassles with immigration,particularly as we had been told we had to keep our passports with us at all times and the authorities were very rigid about this. We were greeted with dancers and musicians on the dock side and within ten minutes of immigration coming on board we were ready to disembark. We were met by our local guide San San and boarded the bus for our two day trip. Firstly we visited the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. The Pagoda itself is stunning. It is 2,500 years old and is covered in gold leaf. The top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds. It is not just the Pagoda which is amazing it is all the buildings surrounding it as well. Overall the site definitely has the wow factor. After lunch we travelled to the airport for our flight to Bagan. Our plane was a small turbo prop, which left on time and we were served with a snack and drinks during the flight. An air conditioned coach met us at Bagan airport for the drive to the temples. We needed to be in position to see the sun set over the temples and as the sun sets earlier in the winter months, the coach driver and ourselves needed to put on some speed to get there in time. We climbed up inside one of the few brick temples that you can climb and out onto the balcony area. We then stood in awe at what was before us. As far as the eye could see there were temples just as the photos showed. Not as we thought one or two ruins but hundreds of completed temples rising out of the vegetation and then the sun began to set.. A little misty but still an incredible sight. We then got back on the bus to be taken to our hotel, Tharabar Gate in Old Bagan. We saw as we walked in that it was rated as 3 star but it was the equivalent of 4 or 5 in the western world. Our room was large with lots of wood and all modern conveniences. There was a lovely swimming pool surrounded by stone elephants and a blow up snow man, and several real Christmas trees. That night we were treated to a buffet meal in the gardens with entertainment of traditional dancing and puppets. The next morning was an early start after an excellent meal of freshly made waffles. First stop was the morning market held in Nyaung Oo. This is where the Myanmar people come to do their daily shop for fish, vegetables and cooking oil, as well as other goods. There were very few meat stalls as cows and oxen are bred to be used in the fields for work and not to be eaten. We travelled to Shwezigon Pagoda, which is very like the one in Yangon. It too is covered in gold leaf and has lots of little temples around the site. The next site was Anada Temple, which is different in that it is not covered in gold leaf but does have large golden statues of Buddha. To get to the hotel for lunch we had different transport, that of horse and covered buggies. Each buggy had a driver and two passengers and this way we travelled through the temples. The drivers were brilliant and every time we raised our cameras they stopped so that we could take pictures. We were travelling down small tracks in between the temples and everywhere you looked there were large and small temples, some very ornate and others very plain. The majority of them were in excellent condition. Lunch was at the Bagan Thiripyitsayar Skatura Hotel, which is on the banks of a large lake. After an excellent lunch we were taken to a lacquer factory. Normally my husband and I hate these stops, as it an excuse to get tourists to buy very expensive goods which have been imported anyway. Here we were shown how the lacquer pots were made and then had an opportunity to buy some very reasonably priced items. As we were getting back on the bus we were greeted by some very enterprising young boys. It was the school holidays and they were taking the opportunity to make some money by selling hand drawn postcards. We had been approached many times by the adults trying to sell us postcards for $1, but these young boys had taken this idea but hand drawn pictures on postcard size paper, also for $1. Several of us could not resist their entrepreneurial spirit. We then drove to a typical Myanmar village, complete with oxen, chickens, motorbike and satellite dishes. We were all fascinated with the small solar panels also dotted around the village. Our guide explained that the hydro electric power is unpredictable particularly in the dry season so many villages have solar panels to power their TVs so they can watch the big sport of Football. Our last visit was to the Damayangyi temple, which is shaped like a pyramid, but was never finished. This is a brick temple but there is no gap between the bricks, the requirement from the ruler was that he could not get a needle between the bricks. If he could do so then the bricklayer was executed. We travelled from this site to the airport to catch our flight back to Yangon. We had the same trouble free flight and drive through town back to the ship. Throughout the two day trip we had been looked after by our local guide San San. She was a tiny lady but very commanding. She knew everyone that we came in contact with, she got us from site to site on time but without us feeling as though we were being rushed. She was always there to answer any questions and sort out any queries. Her English was excellent and she gave us lots of information about all the places we were visiting. As far as we were concerned she made the two day trip for us. We had come to Myanmar in the hope of seeing a few of the temples in the photos. We were shown exactly what appears in the photos and much more. Myanmar was a real eye opener for us and definitely a highlight on our cruise. The people are friendly, the hotels are up to western standards and the trip organised by Myanmar Voyages was excellent. However if you are thinking of travelling to the country I would go within the next couple of years – the reason is before they discover the tricks that some of the more established tourist destinations now employ!!

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