Pagan (Bagan),

Myanmar (Burma)

First Day in Bagan, Jan 15, 2010

Copyright 2011, all rights reserved, by Bob Frazee

Index for January 15, 2010:

[Tools for the well heeled traveler.]
[Yayok Pyl Paya Stupa]
[Nanda Pyin Na Stupa and Monestary]
[Thanaka Cosmetics]
[The Open Market]
[Shwezigon (Golden) Pagoda]
[Ananda Temple]
[Eclipse of the sun]
[Lacquarware Factory]
[Sulamani Pagoda & Sundown]


Map of Myanmar (Burma) showing location
of Yangon and Pagan (Bagan)

Aung San Suu Kyi was the leader of the
democracy movement who was released in
August 2010 after spending 30 years in
house arrest in Yangon.

Pagan (original name) lies on the Ayeyarwaddy River, which is referred to as "The Road to Mandalay". Pagan is called the "City of a Million Pagodas." The Pagodas, Stupas, and/or Temples date back more than 1500 years. The majority of them built in the 11th to 13th century at which time Bagan was the capital of the Myanmar dynasty.

Tools of a well heeled Traveler

I learned a long time ago that when traveling in foreign countries, especially those that don't use the Roman alphabet there are some tool you need in addition to a camera.

1. First of all I carry small Marble Memo tablet (4 1/2 x 3 1/4 inches) that fits handy into a shirt pocket. Keeping it up to date and asking the guide to spell everything twice may be annoying to other travelers but a year later I know where I was and can look it up on the second most important traveling item:

2. Maps. Country maps that show the geography, topography, cities and rivers. In each town I get maps of the city we are visiting. Gives me a better sense of direction. Usually they are free everywhere in the hotels and I grab two of everything. One to keep for good and scanning when I get home and a second one to write notes on. Thus, when I want to talk about Bagan I can show you.....

Map of Bagan

With this map, my notes, and a mind like a steel trap I can remember most of everything.

3. A travel book on the country we are visiting is also handy. I make notes on the pages as we move through the country on the bus. It also gives me a heads up on what to look for and sometimes an idea for a good photograph. I like the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides because it has lots of maps and dissects buildings so you can see through the roof into individual rooms. It is a bit heavy to carry around but well worth the effort. Unfortunately there are no travel books on Burma so I had to rely upon some short, and outdated, pieces on the internet.

As we waited in the Bangkok airport for our flight to Rangon we were, as you can expect, excited about traveling to this land that time has almost forgot. I met a German/Swiss businessman who lives in Rangon and as we talked he told me what it was like to live in Burma under the military rule. He was trying to establish a business in the oil industry and he was not impressed with the political or cultural situation. Too many unknown and restrictions. This is what I wrote down in my diary.

"Very underdeveloped. Very poor. No tourist facilities. Nothing at night. No reliable electricity. No restaurants, very rich and very poor. Chinese have preferential treatment on all business matters. He can't own real estate so he bought an apartment but had to put it in his girlfriend's name. It is illegal for him to live there if they are not married. Pay the police to turn their head when he goes in. Don't know what you are going to do for 5 days in Burma. Nothing to see. I will not marry my girlfriend because if you get married you inherit her relatives -- grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, and I have to support them all. Burma is a rich country in oil and natural gas (that's why the Japanese wanted it so badly in WWII), lots of gems and farmland to feed the people but it is all so chaotic and undeveloped. Impossible to develop a business because there is so much graft that you never know where you stand or who you have to pay."

Obviously he was not a happy camper but has lived there about 10 years and I suspect anticipates things will get better and his business will improve.

In spite of his pessimistic report I still looked forward to the trip and I was not disappointed. When we arrived in Bagan our first stop was at the Yayok Pyl Paya stupa. (I could never have remembered that name If I couldn't refer to the map above -- I later wrote the name in my tavel log) As we approached the gate to the brick wall surrounding the property it looked so different from anything we had ever seen.


Jan 15, 2010

Yayok Pyl Paya Stupa

We left Yangon before sunrise and arrived in Bagan
just as the sun was coming up. This is going to be
a long but very exciting day. Stay with me while we
explore a million pagodas.

01. We drove wide eyed past many Stupas
as we left the airport
When we arrived in Bagan our first stop was at the Yayok Pyl Paya stupa. As we approached the gate to the brick wall surrounding the property it looked so different from anything we had ever seen.

02. Tayok Pyi Paya Stupa.

We were about to enter a whole new world of religious thought. Buddhism and Hinduism were both imported from India and exist side by side, carving next to carving and wall painting next to wall painting. To the people of southeast Asia there is nothing inconsistent with state of affairs.

03. Gate to enter Stupa -
But first, we must take off our shoes

04. Note the figures in middle column of carvings
Top to bottom:
Bodi Satta (a Buddha to be)
Oger - big teeth, eats meat (men)

05. But first we walk past many booths filled with
treasures to adorn our homes upon our return.

06. So much to entice us, but we are only in the second day
of our journey to Burma

07. Reliefs of Buddha everywhere

08. The Stupa is a solid construction to hold
relics and remains but alcoves all
around the structure have statues of Buddha

09. Every statue of Buddha has a meaning.

10. The way Buddha holds his hands tells
the faithful what he is preaching.
"Reasoning and Instruction"
Our guide explains each one.

11. Walking through the corridors that surround the
Stupa we see many painting of Buddha - here teaching.

12. We climb a very narrow and steep staircase,
obviously made for shorter people, to
get to the viewing area on the roof

13. The view from the roof allows us to marvel
at how extensive Stupas cover the landscape

14. This is the dry season and the shepherds graze
their sheep in the fields which are covered by gain
during the wet season.

15. Stupas are seen in the
horizon in all directions.

Making Merit

The question arises as to why there are so many Stupas. In the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries Bagan was the center of the Myanmar kingdom and Buddhism was its cornerstone. In 1284 Kublai Kahn conquored the area and the kingdom came to an end.

In Buddhism the concept of
Making Merit is very important. Merit accumulates as a result of good deeds, acts or thoughts and that carries over to later in life or to a person's next life. Such merit contributes to a person's growth towards liberation and thus building a Stupa to venerate Buddha would be one good deed and a way to earn merit.

From the balcony there were at least thousands, if not a million, Stupas in sight. Many of them were damaged and some had been repaired. Like the Egyptian monuments there were a vestige of days gone by. I understand that the UNESCO has denied Bagan the designation of a World Heritage Site because too many of the repairs were done in a haphazard fashion. That too bad - I think the UN got it wrong again.





20. Two bodied Lions often served to decorate corners.

21. The Burmese had never seen a lion so they
carved it from literary descriptions

22. Man eating Ogres are a favorate subject.


24. Buddhist art - colored sand glued on cloth.
Each one done by hand; no two alike.

25. These are easy to carry because they can be
rolled up tight and packed in a suitcase.

26. Woman hunting for wood balances
the weight with child.

27. It doesn't take long to gather a crowd.

28. Ornate doorway.

29. We can't resist, Dancing Lord Shiva
(Hindu god) now adorns our sun room.

After we visited the Tayok Pyi Papa Stupa we rode a short distance to our second wonder, Nanda Pyin Na Stupa.

Here we saw the old world and new world combined. Travel by horse and buggy, a favorite for the Amish in Iowa, was a common method of transportation in Myanmar. Our modern air conditioned bus , parked in front of the stupa, stands in stark contrast to the horse cart of the farmer selecting stones for a building project of some kind.

bus & horse cart


At this location it was not the stupa but rather the Kyat Kan Umin (cave) a monetary cave dug into the ground. A large area of stone was dug out in the shape of a rectangle with buildings in the middle and then caves for the monks dug into the perimeter walls. The area was very tightly built so photographs didn't show much. We were not allowed to enter into the facility so my pictures are limited. I regret not spending more time trying to get better perspectives.

looking into monestary

33. Entrances to the caves.

As we left the site we drove past this more traditional golden pagoda. As I may have mentioned before, the stupas dot the countryside and the farmers grow their cops around the temples which appear to be haphazardly constructed without any central zoning ordinances. At one time large mansions may have stood along the wide boulevards which are now used to transport crops to market.

old pagoda
34. A standard looking pagoda

stupas across field
35.Large stupas dot the countryside

Because we are traveling during the "dry" the crops have been picked the the fields prepared for next year's crops. Our day was just beginning -- we had taken a 6 a.m. flight from Yangon to Bagan (a 30 minute flight) and the stupas we visited weren't 15 minutes from the airport. It was only about 9:30 a.m. when we left this area and headed for the old city of Bagan.


On our way to Old Bagan Open Market

Street sign
36.Burmese have the most beautiful alphabet.

37. Trucks look like they are left over from WWII

38. Motorbikes are the most common form
of family transportion.
horse cart
39.Horse carts are common as well


Thanakha Cosmetics

One thing we noticed when we arrived in Myanmar is that the women, and sometimes children, had their cheeks, and sometimes other parts of their faces, painted. This was not occasional, but everywhere throughout the country. It is worn by babies, children, little girls, teenage girls, and women but not men.

Child painted with Thanakha
40 Child painted with Thanakha
to protect against the sun.
Teenage girl painted with Thanakha
41. Teenage girl. It is also
suppose to keep the skin soft.

Mother, baby & child in market
42. Mother with her baby and child.

young girl with Thanakha
43. Young girl

Thanakha appears to be used most as a form of cosmetic. Lennie, our OAT guide, told us it was used to protect the face from the sun. Although this may be true for small children I am convinced that eventually it becomes a form of rouge and perfume used by women to decorate their cheeks. Look at my pictures you can draw your own conclusions.


The Open Market

Woman in Bagan market
44. Woman in market.

Woman selling Thanakha logs
45. Woman selling Thanakha logs.

You will see Thanakha worn everywhere on women. It is not something sold by Avon, Estee Lauder, Elizabeth Arden, Gucci, or Johnson and Johnson. It is a home-made cosmetic made by rubbing the bark of a Thanakha log on a circular stone slab (kyauk pyin) upon which has been placed a small amount of water.

At the market you will find women selling small logs with bark from the tree. Thanakha cream has been used by Burmese women for over 2000 years and has a fragrant scent somewhat similar to sandalwood. The paste can be applied to the face in attractive designs, the most common form being a circular patch on each cheek or sometimes patterned in the shape of a leaf. It often is used to highlighting the bridge of the nose.

You can read more about it at Wikipedia

The Local Farmer's Market

Local farmer's markets are my favorite locations. So much going on - while people are selling their crops they are visiting and showing off their children. Here is where you see people in their natural setting. Color is everywhere and we get to see people doing an everyday activity of life. I find that I get better pictures using a long telephoto lens than by sticking a camera in their face.

Open Market in Bagan
46. Fresh vegetables brought in daily

47. Look at the size of those vegetables



50. Carrying baskets of food on your
head seems so practical

51. Anything can be carried this way.


53. You can see our group file through the
narrow aisles between the rows of vegetables.
I always "hang back" because it gave the people
a chance to resume their normal activities after
the tourists had gone through.


Travel books on Myanmar are difficult to
find but this one I got at the Museum in
Yangon. I liked it because it was mostly
pictures which shows what we have seen and some-
times, but not often, I need to use its
pictures to show something we had seen.

The book had this picture in the section on Bagan and described
her as a "country" woman smoking a cigar made of a "few cornhusks and
chopped tobacco mixed with fragrant leaves and a bit of palm
sugar". Sometimes I have to use these pictures to better describe
what we have seen.

57. I found tis old woman in the market
smoking such a cigar as described above.
She insisted I take her picture and made a point
of blowing smoke into my camera. Unfortunately
I couldn't get her to give me a profile view.

56. Note the scales used to weigh the vegetables.

The woman smoking the cigar saw me taking pictures and followed me around to get her's taken. I couldn't get her to turn for a profile photo. I am sure she thought it was a better picture with her blowing smoke in my face. I now feel guilty in not offering her some coins for allowing me to take her picture. This is often the dilemma of taking pictures of local people. Some ask for nothing, other clearly are looking to be paid. Our guide says don't offer any money because you just encourage begging. Depending upon the circumstances I followed his advice. Sometimes I followed his advice because I didn't have any small change available. What would you do?





62. Donuts anyone?

63. Teenagers doing what teenagers
do anywhere in the world - improving their
social skills.



(The Golden Pagoda)

The Shwezigon Pagoda is one of the most famous in Myanmar. It as built as the merit of King Anawrahta in the 11th century. (Remember,in Buddhism doing good deeds earns you "merit" for the next life. Building a pagoda or stupa dedicated to Buddha is one way to make merit.) This complex is very large with golden and bronze statues everywhere.

As is customary, before we enter the complex we remove our shoes. No socks allowed, you must be in bare feet. "When you go to church", Lennie our guide explains, "you take off your hat. In Burma, we take off our shoes. It is strange, if you greet the King or President you also remove your hat. In Burma we don't take off our shoes." Its all a form of showing respect.

64. The pagoda is a massive structure like a mountain
reaching for the sky.

65. Shwezigon Pagoda, a large pagoda is surrounded by
four pavilions, each containing a bronze Buddha statue
13 feet high

66. Each of the corners is guarded by the double-bodied
lion figure which is seen as a protector of the faith.




70. Paintings telling the life of Buddha
provide instructions to the illiterate masses.
Note the monks with their black alms bowls.


72. Monks are seen in many alcoves.

A novice monk with his alms bowl
of the kind seen in paintings above.
The design has not changed for centuries.

74. Large bells for the faithful to ring
to proclaim they have made merit.

75. Statue of Buddha instructing his followers.

There is nothing inconsistent for the designer of a Pagoda to integrate statues of other religious beliefs into the structure. Thus you will see statues of Hindu gods and Nats. Nats are personal spirits unique to Burma. They are interesting spirits and everyone has one which he recognizes within his/her family.

76. Nats guard the staircase

77. Nats stand guard on the corners

78. Lovely large statue of Buddha

79. Nats and Hindu gods decorate
the corners of the buildings.

80. You can buy strings of the fragrant jasmine flower.

81. Before we leave, we make merit by
offering our flowers to the Buddha.


The Ananda Temple

It has been called the "Westminster Abbey of Burma" and is named after Ananda a first cousin of the Buddha and his personal secretary, and is the area's largest and most significant. The temple was built by King Kyansittha of Pagan in 1105 A.D. Wow, now you would think that this is one way to earn merit; but, rumor control has it that it was designed by monks and the king was so impressed with their the design to make sure no one else would ever be able to build a duplicate he had the monks killed. I don't think King Kyansittha got any merit for this building.



84 A lion sits on each
corner of the building


One thing which is unique about this temple is that it was built in the shape of a cross with spires that have recently been coated with gold leaf. Each wing contains a gold leaf covered 31 foot statue of the Buddha facing one of the cardinal directions: N, E, S, and W. Each statue, carved from the trunk of a Teak tree, displays a different facial expression. As you may recall, the way in which the Buddha holds his hands signifies one of his lessons.

South Facing
86 South Facing
North Facing
87 North Facing

East Facing
88 East Facing
West Facing
89 West Facing

Facing South
90 From a distance the Buddha's eyes
are closed and he has a smile.

91 As you get closer his eyes open
and he takes on a more serious look.

92 The long corridors between the
wings contain plaques depicting the
Buddha's life

93 The Buddha is tempted by the Devil
who offers him maidens. Naturally, the
Buddha declines the offer.

94 Family pay homage to the Buddha

95 A woman is set up outside the temple
to serve lunch to hungry pilgrims.

See Ananda Temple for more information about this fascinating Temple.

The sun is high in the sky and we head for our
hotel were we will now have lunch and later spend the night.


We have earned merit, the gods are rewarding us!

At lunch we are told about an event this afternoon that is not on our schedule, won't cost a dime, and won't happen again for a 1000 years (more or less). An annular eclipse of the sun will take place at 3:30 p.m. The gods are with us! Even when on vacation decisions have to be made: should we retire to our air conditioned hotel room for a well deserved nap (we have been on the go since 6:00 a.m.), or do we sit in the pool and relax our worn out bodies, or do we watch the hot sun get covered by the moon?

96 Our hotel in Bagan

97 The swimming pool looks inviting.

98 The moon starts its
path across the sun

99 The sky darkens as the sun is covered

100 The hotel staff shares their
smoked glass so we can see the eclipse

101 An annular eclipse takes place when the
moon is not large enough to cover the whole
sun as it does during a total eclipse.



Making bowls, trays, coasters, and even furniture with lacquarware is a big industry in Myanmar and China. Basically the product is constructed of wood and then covered with an ash-based cement which is polished smooth. Then several coats of black lacquar are applied to give it a shiny surface. The final step is to cut designs into the lacquar. The finished product makes a lovely accent piece for any home.

102. Bamboo shoots can easily be cut into long
thin strips which can then be bent around any
frame to make a bowl or other shape.

103. Bamboo is the perfect product to
make almost anything. It grows abundantly
everywhere and is cheap, it is strong,
bends into almost any shape and holds
up against moisture.

104. Framing a bowl from bamboo

105. Bowls or cups or vases are covered with the
black cement and then sanded down so the shiny
black lacquar can be applied in several coats.

106. Everything is done by hand. Tops
for bowls are cut on a hand operated lathe.

107 Several coats of black lacquar are applied.

108 Using a stylus designs
are etched into the surface.

109 After the lacquar has dried then the real
artisans take over.

110 After the etching color is rubbed onto the surface
but it only adheres to the rough etched designs. If a
second color is desired then more etching takes place
and the color is applied.

111 Very lovely finished products boxes to hold jewelry,
coasters for your soft drinks, trays to display your
nail polish, or it can be hung on the wall as a piece of art.

112 Once we have toured the factory we are
shown the many lovely finished products
are for sale.

113 We are treated like royalty with
hot tea and spiced peanuts.

After we made our purchases we discovered that many of the same products are for sale on the street by young girls at a fraction of the cost (after a sufficient time spent haggling over the price of course). I wondered how the kids on the street were able to sell the product at such a reduced price. When we got back to our hotel - and sometimes back home - we discovered that the items we bought on the street had small flaws in the design or lacquar coating and would be considered "seconds" in a factory store. I speculate the factory makes these available to the young kids so they can earn some cash for the family. To my way of thinking this is not such a bad idea. So my "tip for today" is, if you are looking for something really nice, get it at the factory where you can inspect it in the light. When buying some small gift to give away when you get home the street product is a really great buy. You will have a beautiful item and the fun of bragging about how you got that 12 year old girl to come down from $50 to $3.00 for a set of 6 coasters. To be honest, at a $3.00 they would be a great buy at twice the price. Remember, you are traveling for the memories and every time you see the lacquarware in your home you will think about your trip to Myanmar. Indulge yourself, have fun and take home some memories.


Sulamani Pagoda and Sunset

After visiting the Lacquarware factory we headed for the Sulamani Temple. We are now appreciating why Bagan got its nickname as the "City of a Million Pagodas".


114 We travel by air conditioned bus.

115 Local travel is quite different.

116 Sometimes traffic is slowed by obsticals
on the road. Most roads are dusty dirt
paths through the fields.

117 Bicycles are a common form of travel.

118 The Sulamani Pagoda is famous for its
Jataka stories painted on the walls.
Check out the toenails
119 Remove your shoes and socks really
means going barefoot.

120 Vendors set up shops

121 A treasure for every taste:
Confucius, Buddha, and Hindu,
Everyone is welcome.

122 An ogre checks out every visitor
123 Gold covered Buddha

124 Like stained glass windows in a
Christian church, wall paintings, going
back to the 12th century, tell about
the life of Buddha. This is the reclining Buddha.


126 So many wonderful stories and
they are so foreign to us.

127 Is it any wonder that I wanted to
learn more when I returned home?

128 The corridors are three stories
high full of paintings

129 An ornate gate protects one entry.

More information on Sulamani Temple

Sunset at the Pyathatgyi Pagoda

129 We board a different form of transportation.

130 We are headed to the Pyathatgyi
pagoda to watch the sun set

131 The roads are very dusty as we race to our destination.

132 We must hurry, the sun is starting to set.

133 We arrive with little time to spare.

134 We have to move quickly
upstairs to the roof.

We didn't have time to explore the Pyathatgyi Pagoda. Our trip here is for a special purpose, to view the sunset from the roof.

We climb many steps to get to the roof.

The local farmers have seen it all before.
They are interested in getting their cattle home.

135 A beautiful red sunset is already in progress

136 Like watching the sunset on a beach,
everyone's attention is facing west.

137 Some find a comfortable roof ledge.

138 No matter where you are, the scene is stunning.
Click, click, click, click goes my camera shutter.
How many pictures do you need to see?


141 A picture I wish I had taken. I copied it
out of a book to show you how beautiful it is.
You can tell the picture was taken toward the
start of the rainy season because the farmer
is plowing the field with his ox.

142 It was dark as we decended the staircase.
Note the candles on the stairs to provide
some light. My camera flash makes it look
a lot lighter than it really was. Look at how
dark it is behind Fran. Our hands were on the
ceiling because it was so dark we would bump our
heads on the vault of the short ceiling.

143 The day is drawing to a close and
we go to the Green Elephant for dinner

144 We eat on the lawn and our dinner is
delivered on unique hand carts.

It has been a long exhausting day and tomorrow we have to get up early for our hot air balloon ride over Bagan. How can it get any better?

Just wait and see.


Return to Yangon

Lets go to Day 2 in Bagan (yet to be constructed )

Lets go to Madalay (yet to be constructed )

Back to The Table of Contents


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