April 19, 2013

Beautiful Bagan, Burma

Note: This is the first batch of photos we've edited with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. We hope you like them! (The shots were taken on our old camera, the Canon G10, and, occasionally, our Lumix TS-20 Tough.)

Bagan, an ancient city located on the Irrawaddy River, is the "must see" place in Burma for a very good reason. It's red sandstone landscape is dotted with thousands of stupas built in the 9th to 13th centuries. These stupas were built by generations of Burmese kings. If ever in Burma, you have to go there, but be aware there will probably be lots of tourists in the town and you may have to plan ahead to find good lodging at a decent price. We had a really hard time finding a place to stay and were a bit dismayed when we showed up at 8pm (after the bumpiest 6 hour bus ride ever) and were told that our hotel had lost our reservation. We tracked down an available room (a family room with 3 beds) at Eden Motel in Nyaung U (one of the 3 towns you can stay in around Bagan), but after 2 separate 6 hour bus journeys we overpaid willingly. The next few days were spent biking around the stupas, taking long lunches to avoid the blazing sun, and meeting up with Dave and Kate for dinner. While parts of the town felt crowded with tourists, the surrounding area of Bagan is so large that when you are touring the stupas for the day it can feel very quiet, and most places you can have to yourself. Steph was really excited to go to Bagan (after hearing me talk about it for 10 years) and she thinks it's just as impressive as Angkor Wat. 

One thing I realized in Burma - I have a very hard time saying no to smiling Burmese people. When we bought some lacquerware bowls from a man outside a stupa he was so kind and smiley that when the back-and-forth haggling commenced, I folded pretty quickly. In India, I had gotten pretty good at haggling, but in Burma I realized I am quick to succumb to a smile. I also overpaid for a t-shirt outside another stupa because a beautiful young Burmese girl was selling them (see below). 

My new lacquerware friends

I didn't stand a chance at haggling with this woman.

One downside of our time in Bagan happened while biking around the stupas. A tourist on the back of horse-buggy (another way to see the sights) dropped his cane. Steph, trying to help him, tripped over her bike and fell, dropping the camera onto the road and busting the screen. She handed the man the cane and he took off without even a word. I guess being a good samaritan doesn't pay off sometimes. He got his cane back and we ended up with a busted camera (more about that here).

It was great to spend the end of every day having dinner with our friends, Dave and Kate, from San Francisco and recap our days and get much needed book recommendations from them. One of my highlights of our time in Bagan was our nightly bike rides back to our guesthouse (after saying goodnight to Kate and Dave). It would be a perfect temperature and we would peddle through the quiet streets of Bagan watching people close-up their shops, boys singing together on the street and men drinking at beer halls. The strangest part of this trip is that when we stay in a place for 5 nights or more we start to feel like we live there. This especially happens in smaller places like Bagan where you start to get familiar with the roads, get to know some of the local people and know the good restaurants. It is a strange but wonderful thing to feel like a "local" in a short period of time.

Burmese Stroller

Bagan is a truly magnificent place (it's also one of the 100 Wonders from our book) and we really loved exploring the mystical stupas. There really is very little in life that's better than cruising around a beautiful place on a bicycle.

Check out all of our (unedited) pics from Burma here. A few more of our favorites are below:

Some of the stairwells were a tight squeeze!

Chopping wheat

Look at all those stupas! Just a small portion of Bagan.

Check out all of our (unedited) pics from Burma here.

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