After leaving Chiang Mai, I flew to Bangkok and then to Yangon, which is the largest city and former capital of the country. I spent a couple of days exploring the city before taking a train up to Bagan, the ancient capital of the Pagan Kingdom. Myanmar is a very interesting place to visit because, unlike its neighbours in Southeast Asia, Myanmar has not always been very receptive to western tourists, which means that things have not been tailored to westerners. That makes travelling in the country difficult at times, but the experience feels more legitimate. In my experience of Myanmar, it feels like a place that exists for its own sake, as opposed to many of the places I had been prior, which seemed to be there just to be enjoyed by tourists. Myanmar is also very ethnically diverse, with 135 distinct ethnic groups recognised by the government, and the people of the country are what really made it special to me. I was treated so well by the people I met, and they were all so gracious and happy to have me as a visitor. Unfortunately, I don’t have a way of sharing most of my interpersonal experience in Myanmar, but the people I met here were among the nicest I have interacted with in my whole life. I hope you enjoy this batch of photos and stay tuned for the next round!
Things were looking space-agey at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport for my layover
Out on the tarmac
A crowd of pigeons outside of a food stall in the streets of Yangon
Yangon (formerly Rangoon under the British regime) is very crowded, but in an often beautiful way.
The traffic in Yangon is some of the worst I have ever seen, but it was very fun to navigate as a pedestrian, and it felt weird to be in streets without any scooters, as they ruled the streets of Thailand and Cambodia.
A lion outside of the Independence Monument in a park adjacent to the Sule Pagoda, which is one of the three largest pagodas in Yangon
Some kids at play in the park with Thanaka applied to their faces. Thanaka is a paste that some Myanmar people, (mostly women and children, but I saw it on men as well) that is a natural sunscreen and makeup that Myanmar people have used for thousands of years. You can see it applied in all sorts of patterns and textures, and it was very cool to see the range of facial decorations while walking around the streets.
It was really fascinating to see western modernity pushing up against the traditional cultures of Myanmar, and Yangon is the hub of that change.
A box of puppies on the street was just too cute
A ride on the city circle train was a very cool way to see greater Yangon, and it only cost 15 cents for a whole day’s ride on the train. It was super unreliable, but it was an adventure when it dropped me in a random northern suburb. I walked around waiting for the next train to come, and I met a group of old men outside of a shop drinking tea and eating chili salad, and despite them speaking very little english, they welcomed me in and were so kind.
The view of the Shwedagon Pagoda from the People’s Park, which is analogous to the national mall in D.C. in that it is a gathering place for the people of Myanmar to express political dissent through the years.
And it has some cool fountains too! For more pictures of the Shwedagon Pagoda stay tuned for the part 2 of my time in Myanmar
I next took the train up to Bagan, which is the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, which would later go on to become Myanmar. During the train journey north we passed lots of fires raging that I still don’t know the reason behind, but they were probably agricultural.
Train sunrises are quite nice
While there was no food onboard for the 19 hour journey, there would be women at each station with various foods for sale on a platter that they would balance on their head. In this case, this woman was selling hard boiled Quail eggs.
The last few hours of the ride were pretty rough, as I only got an hour or so of sleep through the night, but the scenery was wonderful
And just like that we were in Bagan!
The golden extravagance of the Shwezigon Pagoda
The view out of a crack of the tower where I watched the sunset on my first day.
Watching the sunset over the temple spires of Bagan was one of the few moments in my life that legitimately took my breath away. I cannot capture the feeling of standing out over all of these spires as the sun retires, and when I was experiencing it I was at a complete loss for words.
My spot for the sunrise the next morning was a temple called Law Ka Ou Shaung, which was a long bike ride in the dark from my accommodation, but it was so worth it as the daylight slowly revealed the magnificence of my surroundings.
Another special thing about sunrise at Bagan is that they fly hot air balloons every morning over the temples, which is something I would like to experience at one point, but I was very content to just admire their beauty from afar.
The central tower of Law Ka Ou Shang
The balloons are a cool but extravagant way to see Bagan at sunrise, as they cost over US$350 for a 10 or 15 minute ride.
The bird likes the view
And I do too
Seeing the sunlight streak through the morning fog was beautiful, but it was something I wasn’t able to completely capture in a photo. This picture does it some justice
The Buddha figures in Myanmar were very different than the ones I had experienced prior to this. Lots of them were female or just effeminate (this one isn’t), and they had very large ear lobes for some reason
Here’s a big lady Buddha
And I thought this Buddha looked like he just sneaked out a toot
The white facade of Gawdaw Palin made it stand out starkly from the surrounding trees and red brick temples
This gilded stupa is part of the Bu Paya temple, which is right on the Ayeyarwady River, and there was some sort of festival when we visited it and it was incredibly crowded with people and street vendors, although this picture doesn’t reflect that at all.
I climbed lots of staircases in my time in Bagan, which consisted primarily of barefoot temple exploration.
The view from the Mahazedi Pagoda (whose staircase was the last picture) of That Bin Nyu, which is the tallest of the 2,200+ temples that remain of Bagan.
An old tower near the Mahazedi Pagoda that had no entrances or clear purpose, but it was pretty sweet nonetheless.
For sunset round 2, we (I spend my first two days in Bagan with two guys from Vancouver and west Germany) went to the Pyathetgyi Pagoda, which was larger and more popular than the small building we viewed it from the day prior, as reflected in the array of footwear by the temple’s entrance.
Flowers matching the sunset
The spot for the next morning’s sunrise was the Winido temple complex.
I was much closer to the balloons this go round, and they were illuminated by the sun instead of being profiled by it, which made the experience very different. The building there is a restaurant and a popular place for a meal at sunset.
Me and the bloons
Sunrise tower pt. 2
A beautifully preserved statue in an alcove
The view out of the rubble of a small temple in the southeast part of the Bagan archaeological zone. The region was rocked with an magnitude 6.8 earthquake in August of 2016, and although things were cleaned up by the time of my arrival, there were still lots of temples that were unstable and ruined, which is a real shame
A reservoir for the village of Minnanthu, which is a village of a couple hundred people in the Southeast of the zone
Some water bottle art in the village
A typical abode of one of the residents was definitely very different than what I am used to back home
There was a relay race happening at the village’s school, and almost everyone in the village was there to see it (The team of the girl with the Hello Kitty pants won)
Some more games waiting to be played in the schoolyard
A staircase rising to the top of a temple. It was always fun to try and find the access up to the tops of temples. Some were pretty obvious and clear, such as this one, but others took some serious exploration and squeezing to climb
The view out over the pagodas all over the plain was just spectacular, especially once you found yourself on top of one of the taller temples
The brickwork of these massive structures was so impressive, especially considering it has held up this well for over a millennia in certain cases
Two women approach the Dhammayazaka Pagoda, which is very distinctive because of its golden tower as well as the fact that its has five fold radial symmetry, which I didn’t see at any other temple
The immense bamboo constructions that scaffold many of the temple peaks are amazing in their own right, and they were erected after the earthquake to support unstable pagodas.
It would have been nice to have all of the temples be in good shape, but at least their preservation methods were beautiful as well
For my third day I rented an e-bike, which is a scooter that runs on a battery instead of petrol, and it allowed me to cover a lot more ground than on a bike, but it twice ran out of battery and I had to push it over a mile and a half in total
A giant buddha figure in the Manuha Temple with a resident pigeon for scale
It was hard to believe that there were lots of people who lived among these temples, and I was surprised to find a herd of cattle crossing the path as I was exploring around
There was a wide range of temple architecture, from pyramid shaped four face style structures
To beautifully adorned one face style structures
Looking out of a beautiful but off kilter door
The beautifully restored white facade of the Ananda temple. While I was there, they were having a full moon festival complete with all sorts of food, a market with clothes and tools for sale, and carnival style games and rides
The beautiful gold of the Alodawpyi Pagoda just after sunset
The paintings within the Alodawpyi Temple were the best preserved of all of the temples I had been to in Bagan.
While my time in Yangon and Bagan was amazing, it was only one part of the time I spent in Myanmar as a whole, so stay tuned for my next installment, when I cover the remainder of my time in the country, going to Hpa-an and back to Yangon.