Setting Foot in Burma: Entering Ancient Bagan on Hourse Cart

Like a King. Well, almost.

Upon arriving at the Bagan (also Pagan) bus station, I was immediately approached by a swarm of horse cart operators offering to take me to my guesthouse. Trying out new things is my nature. Since I had never before ridden on a horse cart, I was thrilled at the idea.

Of course, I had said yes.

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The ride cost me quite a bomb (I think it was about RM50). But considering the long distance between the bus station and my guesthouse – they were about 45 minutes apart by horse cart, I was nevertheless still pretty much satisfied with my choice.

The bus station was situated in Nyaung-U (a neighbouring district under the Mandalay region), whereas my guesthouse was in the new town of the Bagan city. In my vague memory, we rode past the famous ancient Bagan, where some 2000 famous pagodas and stupas can be found, to get to my guesthouse in the new town.

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Hardly did I get a quality sleep that night despite staying in a super cosy guesthouse. When I arrived there, it was already close to midnight, and my schedule would start at 7.30am the next morning.

Early next morning I had breakfast with my tour guide Tal and driver Wai Phyo before going for sight-seeing. I kept telling my guide, “Please bring me to eat street food only, I don’t mind squatting by the roadside to eat!”

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Well, roadside food never happened in Bagan after all, but I was content enough to have our meals at where the locals would frequent.

From across where we we having our breakfast, I noticed this scene:

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It reminded me a lot of what our society is lacking today – giving. Often we like to take but are not willing to give. And that is turning a lot of us into selfish and intolerant creatures.

After breakfast I was brought to roam around a local morning market, where I got to buy a few shirts and a paso (sarong for man). To my left in the picture below was the “mama” I bought my paso from:

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She was so talkative and cute that I had to take a picture with her and her daughter, who was helping her out. After a picture, this apparently unsatisfied mama demanded for a second take, saying, “One more time, One more time… your hand, here (pointing to her shoulder) – on mama and mama daughta.”

She wanted me to put my arms around her and her daughter’s shoulders. Trying to hook me up with her daughter? Haha! Her words and gestures were so exaggerated and hilarious that she cracked everyone up.

Spotted this super adorable boy at one of the stalls – he had taneka applied on  his cheeks. He was very “posey” and did not retaliate a bit when I took this picture of him. Some kids, on the other hand, are so active and naughty that taking even a shot of them is almost impossible!

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Two photos below were taken at the Shwezigon Pagoda, which I later realised wasn’t too far from the Nyaung-U bus station:

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Very elaborate wood carving on one of the poles of a “hut” that houses statues depicting how Buddha discovered the stark realities of old age, disease, and death:

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Attempted to fly at one of the pagodas (I have forgotten the name):

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Except it was unsuccessful because I had no Nelly Futardo music. KUA KUA KUA.

Photos below show the famous Ananda Pagoda, build around the years from 1084 to 1113; the pagoda was so huge that it was nothing short of magnificent! In my impression it was like the “King” of all pagodas.

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Mural painting of Buddha dated back to almost a thousand years ago. The feeling when you try relating ourselves to the year it was drawn, is just indescribable. For 1000 years, about 50 generations would have passed!

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At the center of the Ananda Pagoda were four gigantic statues of standing Buddha, each facing the cardinal direction of East, North, West, and South. These stand for the four past Buddhas who had attained Nibbana (enlightenment).

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If you are a fan of wood carvings and sculptures, you can get pretty nice products in Mandalay and Bagan. Here is one of the many, many stalls selling wood carvings and sculptures on the compound of the Ananda Pagoda:

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Photo below from inside one of the pagodas (not sure if it was Ananda Pagoda). Having travelled to a few countries now, I have seen a few statues of reclining Buddha. But this isn’t the most impressive one I have seen.

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I read that there is an even bigger statue of reclining Buddha in Yangon but I did not have the chance to visit the site while I was there. Next time, hopefully!

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A lot of what my friend called this the “Lion King scene”:

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Totally missing those scenes and Bagan! But then again there are so many other places that I really miss too. Sometimes I just wonder if I will ever get to visit each of the places I like, again.

Anyway, if I ever get to return to this place again the first thing I would do is renting a bike and going around to explore every corner of the ancient town.

Below is a random photo of Tal and I relaxing on a swing on the compound of a pagoda:

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I know, I know, I was very sunburnt thank you very much!

Being able to sit at top of some of the pagodas and enjoying the panoramic view of Bagan was such a bliss, so much so that I was feeling life just never got any better than that.

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To read the previous entries on my Burma trip, click on the respective links below:

Part 1 – Setting Foot in Burma: Just My 65-litre Backpack and I

Part 2 – Setting Foot in Burma: Living like a King in Heho (Inle Lake)

Part 3 – Setting Foot in Burma: Wearing a Peso (Sarong) for the First Time