Things happen where you might be tempted to panic but doing so isn’t going to help. I had decided on a private taxi tour of Bagan as the best way to see the most Buddhist structures in one day as they are spread over 67 sq kms and there are more than 2000.
But the best laid plans… and so I found myself at the arrival gate in Bagan searching fruitlessly for the handheld sign that would bear my name. Not to be, I was nevertheless hustled out the door and into an awaiting taxi who wanted 35usd for a days tour. A fair price given they last from early morning arrival until sunset. However I had already paid in Yangon and a few kms into the journey I realized that, contrary to what I had been led to believe, this was not my car or my driver and I instructed him to turn around and go back to the airport.
Back inside the arrivals area I found a lovely helpful English speaking guide who called the number on my voucher and after a furious relay of other calls he assured me that although there had been a communication gap between Bagan and Yangon I would be picked up shortly. All in, I had 2 hours of waiting and my 8am tour started at 10am.
While I was getting in the right taxi the first taxi driver approached my pre-paid driver and demanded payment for the five minutes I was with him. My driver paid him and explained that he was paying him for taking me to the market, which he did not. No es mi pedo as my Mexican friends say.
Bagan Temples is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with good reason. Located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in central Myanmar, and sprouting from the flat plains along the river is the largest collection of Buddhist temples, stupas and monasteries in the world. Time worn, reduced to rubble in some cases are stupas that show the bricks and mortar used to build them.Others are survivors, resplendently preserved and revered, covered in gold plate and gemstones they point the way to the heavens.
There are three settlements on the Bagan Temple plains; Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyuang U Town. My tour started at the Nyuang market bustling with women sellers of fruits, vegetables, fabrics, jewellery, puppets, clothing, toys and many other goodies. Markets offer great photo opportunities, every stall is piled high with something of beauty, be it a food or a piece of clothing proudly displayed, I was told many times “made here, not China”. I bought several items including my own “longyi” for temple visits and a long legged skort as a further nod to modesty.
The temples and pagoda jut out of the plain in seemingly random patterns. Some are huddled close together and others are some distance apart. Each one is notable for different reasons, the gold, the Buddhas, the cool dark passageways, frescos, etc. In no way can one visit all 2000 in one day but I managed to pack in a few which to be honest became somewhat of a blur.
My driver spoke enough English to get me from A to B but not enough to fill in the mysteries of these ancient reminders of the 9th & 10th centuries. There is something haunting about the plains and what is poignantly missing is the human presence of the people that built them. To quote Borges, some places, “try to tell us something, or have said something we should not have missed, or are about to say something.”
The day ended with a short climb up a rare rise in the flat landscape to watch as the sun set behind the Temples of Bagan.
After a long day, especially considering my early start in Yangon, I was at last taken to the Bagan Wynn Hotel, one of the best hotels yet. Beautiful grounds and five star treatment at a very reasonable price through Hotels.com. My second day in Bagan was spent enjoying the pool and gardens of Bagan Wynn, catching my breath, working on my blog, answering friends emails and doing a little sink laundry. Tomorrow very early I am off to Mandalay, not by plane but by boat on the Irrawaddy River. Alarm set for 4:00 AM!