Jane and Lana were up early and did a hot air balloon ride over Bagan this morning and said it was fantastic. Seeing the thousands of temples from the air would have been magical. I had just done one in Laos last year so opted out. We met for breakfast afterwards at 9AM and they were still flying with the excitement of it all.
The horse cart driver that I had originally booked came at 9:30AM. We had a communication problem about yesterday which is such a shame as he was incredible. He spent the day taking us to various temples but came inside with us and explained everything in detail and gave us so much information about the people the history and the temples. He is such a gentle and kind young man of around 25 years old. He graduated with a BA in Economics but can’t find a job here for his training. His knowledge of Bagan and the temples was incredible though. It makes such a difference to be with a guide who can explain what you are looking at and how to put it all into perspective. 80 percent of the temples were destroyed in the 1975 earthquake and UNESCO came in to try to restore a lot of them but after a short time they were told to leave by the Myanmar Government. It is amazing that this is not a world heritage site, but the government will not co operate with UNESCO in any way. Our guide, Min Thu, showed us the temples that did get restored and the old and new parts of them. There were photos of what they looked like before the restoration to compare. It was fascinating. He took us to a number of temples where we were the only ones there, off the beaten track.
There is a full moon tomorrow and a festival at one of the larger temples. Thousands of people have come into Bagan for the weekend for this festival. They came mostly by oxen and cart and have set up tent cities all over the town. Bus loads of kids are pulling in and having a great time already. These buses have the inside full to the brim with passengers and then 20 or more young men sitting on the roof singing and dancing. We see large dump trucks full of people too. The monastaries and temples are full of these campers and it is such a treat for us to be here during this time. Large pots of rice and vegetables are cooking over open fires in the midst of 50 to 100 per group. The amazing thing is that they are all looking at us. They most likely come from villages that don’t get tourists. We went into one old monastery and there must have been over 100 people from a village camped out there. There was a woman about my age smoking a cheroot which looks like a cigar, and I asked if I could see it which she obliged. I then asked if I could take her picture which is fine as well, then another woman who was 82 came out and we exchanged smiles and she said I could take her picture as well. I showed them the pictures on the camera which they thought was very funny and then I went off into the monastery so that Min Thu could explain things to us about the architecture. When we came out the older woman came up and wanted to give me a bowl of peanuts. I said that one or two would be fine but she insisted I take the entire bowl. It was so sweet. We were like the pied piper, all of the people came out and were looking at us and smiling and curious. One boy came over and found a snake related to a viper but non poisionous that was about 6 feet long wrapped around his shoulders to show us. We had interactions with these villagers all afternoon as they were set up all over Old Bagan. It was wonderful.
Bagan is divided into three parts. Most of the temples are in Old Bagan. The government kicked all the people out of Old Bagan and made them pack up and move to New Bagan in the 90s so as to put hotels in the Old Bagan area for tourists. There is also another little town as part of the three which is Nyaung U.
We broke for lunch at ‘Moon’ Vegetarian restaurant which was also written up in Lonely planet. The food was amazing. We each got a dish to share, the best meal yet. The kitchen was a little dirt hovel, best not to look inside, but the food was so delicious. We sat at an outdoor table with a trellis of bougainvillea over our heads. The owner came over and sat with us for a bit and told us about his business and how the tourism has gone up and down over the last few years because of the government and tourists not coming because of them and then the cyclone of 2008 didn’t help tourism. Last year after Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and the new leader of government was elected the tourism has gone way up. He is hoping that tourism will continue to rise. We have heard that Myanmar is the number one place to go for 2012.
We complimented him on his wonderful food and I told him I had been a vegetarian for 32 years and trying to convert Lana and Jane. Fat chance. Jane will eat anything!
He came back to our table later and gave me a ‘Moon Restaurant ‘ t shirt and Jane and Lana a cool wooden bottle opener. What a wonderful surprise.
Min Thu was coming back at 2:30 so we had a few minutes to wander around and explore. This was a hopping area as it is right beside the Ananda Temple where the festival is taking place. It is also an area where they are selling large pots and planters and there were hundreds of them all lined up in rows.
I wandered off to see the camping villagers and take some pictures and came upon an older and younger monk crouching down behind some large pots sneaking a smoke.
We toured more temples in the afternoon a little different as these had paintings inside from the 11th century. It is just incredible that these paintings are still here after all these years. Some have been restored but many are the original and in colors of red blue green and yellow.
Our last stop was a money changer in the black market. The further you get from Yangon the lower the exchange rate apparently. There was a woman inside a laquerware shop and we sat down on wooden couches to do our transaction. It is all in the open , we hand over 3 brand new 100 US Dollar bills and she goes to the back of the shop and unlocks a door. She returns with a large package of money and counts out three bundles of 78,000 Kyat in 1000 bills. We all recount the money and Lana was short 8,000 so asked the woman if she would please count it again. She did and realized her mistake so gave Lana another 8,000. I am convinced it was an honest mistake, I don’t know how she counted the money anyhow as she had two people talking to her and asking her questions the entire time she was counting. We leave with our huge wad of bills and head home. People wander around here with wads of money in their hands all the time and no one worries about being robbed or any problems because of it. Someone once told me that you could walk around Myanmar with money taped to your clothes and no one would try to take any of it and I believe that would be true.
We are in front of our hotel at 7:30AM to hail a cab or horse cart to get to the Ananda Temple by 8AM. There is a steady procession of people on foot, motorcycle and large busses heading that way as well. There are thousands of them, it looks like a pilgrimage. We are finally able to get a taxi and reach the temple just before 8. We heard that there was going to be Alms given to the monks today. I had thought that it would be like it was in Laos where people lined up and put food in the Monks bowls. This was quite different and on a much grander scale. There was an L shaped platform about 5 feet high and probably 50 feet in one part and 100 feet long on the other. They were filled with offerings from local people. Bowls of peanuts, bananas, rice,and different foods as well as money. There were thousands of people there and it was so interesting to see the different villagers. They were all smiling at us and saying hello and giggling. Out of the crowd comes this old woman towards us laughing out loud, cackling really, and looking at us and just laughing and laughing. We thought,’ is she the town crazy woman?’ Then we recognized her as the woman who gave us the peanuts yesterday and she was just so happy to see us. What a great moment.
A monk is chanting over the loudspeaker for the next hour or so and Lana figured out that monks from each village would line up all together and the monk would be chanting the name of their village or monastery . Each monk would get some food and an envelope. When they were finished they would go to another area and all sit together and compare and sort out their loot. It was like Christmas. We watched this older monk on his own open his envelope and there we some bills inside, I am not sure how many Kyat there was but he had this huge smile on his face.
We watched this well dressed man handing out crisp new bills to each of the monks as they passed by. I nodded to him and gestured how wonderful that was. The woman with him called me over and handed me a big stack of bills and told me to give two to each monk that passed by. A very special moment for me for sure. The couple was from Mandalay and probably done well for themselves so giving back. It was so generous of them to share their moment with me too.
A number of young monks came up to us with US dollars and asked if we would change them for them. We gladly exchanged US for Kyat. They would not be able to exchange them most likely.
We toured the temple a bit and then headed towards a spot to have some tea. It was so crowded, crazy really. It was like a Harley Davidson convention with all the motorcycles except that they weren’t Harley Davidson bikes, they were small 100 cc or there abouts. Lots of young men on motorcycles and being very wreckless and we felt things were really heating up. We had planned on coming back tonight to see the dancing and full moon festivities but had second thoughts as there will be a lot of these young men drinking too much and the crowds were just too unpleasant.
We decided to go back to our hotel and had a wonderfully relaxing afternoon swimming, sunning reading and playing cards. I even fell asleep for a bit of a nap. I went for a pedicure and it is great to have clean feet, for a few minutes anyhow.
For dinner we tried a resteraunt in the other direction from our hotel and were pleasantly surprised to be entertained by some local music and some marionettes. The five men working the puppets were so talented and the evening was a wonderful surprise. I ordered a mystery vegetable dish and ate something that was super hot, some kind of jalapeno or something. My throat and mouth was on fire and it was so painful. I couldn’t believe it! Lana went and got me a little package of sugar and I put it in my mouth to melt. Amazing, the fire was gone. I had never heard of that before.
Another early night again.