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I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Bagan and Nyaung U, Myanmar or Burma

Travel Date 20th November 2012.
Click on any picture to see a larger version.   

After the hustle and bustle of Mandalay, Nyaung U was a calm, quiet village. 

Well, it was for most of the time. Occasionally the peace would be shattered by speakers at full distortion level mounted on pick-up trucks decorated with religious symbols and bank-notes. Sometimes they were preceded by young dancers; always they were followed by a long queue. I saw processions like this in every city and town, but I never received a clear explanation of their purpose when I asked the reasons for the noise and decorations.

I booked via Agoda for three nights at the Aung Mingalar Hotel; the link will take you to my Agoda review. In hindsight, compared to some of my other accommodations in Myanmar, I would probably be a little kinder if writing it now.

Opposite the hotel was a market and the local equivalent of a general store. The traffic, after Mandalay, was almost non-existent. It got a little busier in the mornings, when pickups and buses were moving workers around, but this was a typical mid-afternoon scene.

I took it very easy in Nyaung U. On the first night I had dinner with a cyber-friend. While gathering information on reddit's r/travel I encountered a man whose goal appears to be to visit every country in the world; he has already visited well over 100. He mentioned he would be in Myanmar in November; then we discovered that he and I would be staying in the same hotel in Nyaung U that night, so we made tentative arrangements to meet. We had a very pleasant meal and interesting conversation in an Indian restaurant.

Nyaung U, much more than Mandalay or Yangon, is a tourist town. As a result there was a wide range of restaurants within easy walking distance of the hotel and always a horse cart nearby if I didn't feel like walking. Most of the restaurants have free wi-fi, but the speed is such that it isn't usually much good for more than checking emails.  

I spent the second day wandering around the town on foot and in horse carts, taking it easy and watching the locals and their activities. Each time I used a horse cart I chatted to the driver to find out whether they understood English and noted the way the driver treated his horse. Most were fairly good with their animals, but some horses looked quite poorly or their drivers were too heavy with the whip. If I was happy with the driver I checked the cost for a tour of Old Bagan the next day. Most wanted 20,000 kyats ($24) for a day or 10,000 for a half-day. 

When it came to a decision the next day I decided I had seen a lot of pagodas already, so I opted for the half-day tour. I saw this sign outside almost every major Buddhist site in Myanmar; there can be no excuses if you forget to take your shoes off. 

I learned early to wear simple sandals, easy to take off, on a temple visiting day.

After a half-hour of relaxed progress we arrived at this temple. I can't recall it's name; it's primary advantage was the view from its parapets after climbing the incredibly steep and narrow internal stairs to its upper levels.

Old Bagan was originally called Pagan and was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan which existed from the 9th to the 13th century when it faded after Mongol invasions. It was the first kingdom to rule over most of upper Burma and at its height was a wealthy culture dominated by religion, attracting many pilgrims from the surrounding countries. There were several variants of Buddhism as well as other Hindu and animist religions allowed. 

In a Buddhist society, with wealth came a desire to build stupas, temples and monasteries. Many thousands were built. Over 2000 remain today, in varying stages of preservation. The city decayed rapidly after the Mongol invasions destroyed the kingdom, even though they never sacked the city. From a peak population estimated between 50,000 and 200,000 in the 13th century Bagan quickly became just a small village. Nyaung U and Bagan are small towns today, surrounding the historical site of Old Bagan. They are slowly increasing in size as tourism revives the economy.

Apart from the normal ravages of time the stupas, temples and monasteries of Bagan have suffered from earthquakes. The area had over 400 earthquakes in the 20th century, some of severe magnitude. 

Unfortunately, inappropriate attempts to renovate some of the buildings by several governments over the past couple of centuries appear to have caused more damage. Despite that, there are still many hundreds of untouched buildings slowly decaying in the sun. Those were the ones I enjoyed seeing most, but they weren't terribly photogenic so most of my pictures are from the larger sites

The gilding is real.

Each of these alcoves has a small Buddha statue in it; this was one of several similar walls in one monastery.

Old Bagan is on the east bank of the mighty Irrawaddy.

After a long, hot, dusty but interesting morning, I was back in time for lunch.

Cheers, Alan


  1. I am really appreciating - and enjoying - your insights, as we prepare for a few weeks in Burma early next year. Thank you:

    1. Thanks Lynn. Glad to help. I hope you have a wonderful trip.