Bagan in Burma/Myanmar has to be one of the most evocative sites you can visit in South East Asia. A vast, atmospheric dusty plain, dotted with over 3,000 temples and stupas - all that remains of a once-great medieval city of over 100,000 people. This is my second visit here, so I'm not going to go into too much detail about the temples themselves (see my blog entries for March 5th http://blog.jonfleming.co.uk/2013/03/march-5th-stupa-fied-by-bagan.html and March 6th 2013 http://blog.jonfleming.co.uk/2013/03/march-6th-bagan-village-life.html).
Of course, the sublime temples and the spectacular views haven't changed since my last visit – how could they, when these are some of the most timeless views you can imagine? But, what has changed in the last 3 years, are the attitudes of the people (much more open since democracy has returned, or seems to be returning), and the numbers of tourists (Burma is no longer off-the-beaten track any more). That means that on our visit to a market just outside of Bagan, we were deluged by salespeople, who followed us around, almost demanding that we bought their wares. But, in spite of their persistence, there was an underlying friendliness and sense of humour that reassured me that the people weren't losing their traditional warm Burmese character.
We had travelled to Bagan escorting a group of 47 passengers from our berth in Rangoon. Thick fog had delayed our early morning departure from the port by almost an hour, which left us with a heart-stopping ride along the city's bumpy and chaotic roads to the airport, eventually getting us to the airport at 7.50 – our scheduled flight was at 8.00am! But, this is a country where rules can be bent, so somehow, we managed to check in, go through security and still pick up the flight on time. I still don't know how it happened!
This hurdle accomplished, it was all about getting in amongst those enigmatic temples. The thought when you're there, surrounded by these amazing pieces of ghostly architecture, is what an obscene amount of effort, time and money must have gone into producing such an enormous array of temples, temples that no-one would worship at for the next 700 years. In a country where the levels of poverty are still worryingly high, this historic waste of money seemed absolutely ludicrous.
But, what can't be denied is the temple's mysterious beauty – we saw them in the daytime, at sunset, and at sunrise, and they never failed to impress.
With 2 starts at or before 5am, this was an exhausting trip, but the wonderful sights were enough to keep us going. We stayed in an absolutely gorgeous hotel (of course, in amongst the temples), so Tracy had one of her most memorable birthdays on our second day.
If you haven't been to Burma before, come soon, before it gets deluged in tourists.