Falling for Old Temples, Pagodas and Stupas.

Bagan, Myanmar

On the boat to Bagan

So on Sunday, I took what was supposed to be a 10 hour ferry ride from Mandalay to Bagan. We left at 7:15 a.m. and I expected we would arrive at 5:00ish. Wrong. The trip actually turned out to only be 8 hours long as we were following the current and it was running quite fast.

The initial half hour was really pretty as we passed by Sagaing with its lovely stupas and temples built all over the hillsiide (which I had visited two days prior). Once past Sagaing, though the scenery changed to mostly rural with the occasional farm thrown in.

Sagaing from the boat

The trip was actually very relaxing. I did a little reading, a little writing and ate some fruit I brought along. There was beer and soft drinks for sale and they served a couple small meals, which I passed on.

The real adventure was finding the bathroom. It took me 10 minutes wandering around the lower deck before I found someone who could point me in the direction of the bathroom, which turned out to be on the lower outside deck. Go figure.

First view of Bagan from the boat

About 3:15, a series of clearly old temples and stupas came into view and the staff announced we were pulling into Bagan. Well that’s pleasant surprise. Anyway, one of the many men lined up outside the boat helped me with my luggage and before I knew it I was meeting my guide Zaw and my driver Mr. Tin (shortened names and very easy to remember).

The boat had arrived in Nyaung U, which is north of New Bagan and Old Bagn. The archeological zone encompassing the Bagan area, including the three aforementioned towns, is 26 square kilometers and includes the ancient temples, pagodas and stupas I was coming to visit. Many of the sites date back to the 12th century. I love nothing more than exploring old stuff so I was beyond excited to visit Bagan.

Our boat on arrival into Bagan

The hotel I was staying at was in New Bagan. Old Bagan is the former site of the village that was relocated two miles south to New Bagan in 1990 because of concern that the village was damaging the archeological sites.

On the drive to the hotel, Zaw suggested we stop at Thitsarwadi Temple so we could get a view of the skyline of the temples, pagodas and stupas in the area. Why not. So we took a quick detour on the way to my hotel and before I knew I was standing on top of a temple staring out at the Bagan architectural zone skyline. Now some of you may know that Bagan suffered a 6.8 magnitude earthquake (the one felt in Mrauk U that topped the umbrella of one of the pagodas). The damage in Bagan was pretty severe as over 1,000 temples, stupas and pagodas suffered damage. As I looked out at the skyline, I could see bamboo scaffolding supporting the cracked or leaning stupas and umbrellas as well as shearing covering others. However, remarkably, there were hundreds and hundreds of others that did not suffer any damage.

View of some of the temples in Bagan from Thitsarwadi Temple

Zaw told me that UNESCO is supporting the rebuiliding efforts, but it will take until at least 2019 to repair the damage.

So after taking some pictures and gaping at the magnificent scenery, we hiked back down and headed to The Bluebird Hotel, which was to be my home for the next five days. And can I just say …. WOW. The place looked like a fabulous tropical garden. My room overlooks the infinity pool and is beautiful. I found out when I arrived that the hotel was just awarded with the honour of the best small boutique luxury hotel in the world. And based upon the greeting I received on my arrival, the grounds, my room and the service so far … they deserve it.

So happily ensconced in my room, I had some dinner and planned my next day’s outing. I had planned to spend a free day without a guide for the first day and then with a guide the next two and the last day without a guide. My main target area for day 1 was going to be old Bagan. It was the recommended starting point and was easy to get around.

However, in order to get around, I was going to need transportation so enter … the E-Bike: a little electric motorized scooter. Larger than a moped, but smaller than a motorcycle. I was a little hesitant to try the E-Bike because I once had a moped accident in Honolulu (1988 Aloha Bowl, was riding to Hanamma Bay with some football players and coaches from the University of Houston, hit a pot hole and flew over the handle bars … without a helmet). However, I was assured the bike was easy to use so … when in Rome.

I tried one out, got the feel for it and decided I would be fine for one day. So Monday morning after some breakfast, I headed out on my E-Bike to explore. Turns out is was actually pretty easy to maneuver around.

Thurber Gate

So I really didn’t have a game plan other than to explore some of the main sites and see where the road took me. I quickly found that there were so many beautiful unmarked ruins and little tiny dirt paths that took you the back way to major ruins. It was just a blast roaming around and climbing up the stairs to the top of the stupas.

Me on top of a stupa

I found Thurber Gate (the old gate marking the entrance to Old Bagan), Thatbyinnyy Temple, Mahabodi Paya, Pitaka Taik, Bupaya, Shwegugyi and a host of unmarked completely charming ruins.

Thatbyinnyu Temple
Pitaka Talk



Whenever I stopped at one of the main temples or pagodas, I was barraged by women and children trying to sell me everything from post cards and paintings to lacquerware of dubious quality. It wasn’t until I reached Bupaya, a gold style “gord” stupa that I finally found someone selling something I was interested in … a rice candy that was spectacular. After a sample, I quickly bought. Yum.

Lady selling sweets at Bupaya

After Bupaya, I took a wrong turn and ended up in the backwoods of a small village outside the Old Bagan area. I must have driven around for 10 minutes waving to villagers, passing crumbling stupas and dodging mud puddles before I was finally stopped.. School was letting out and the crossing guard was out stopping traffic. Seriously. I was on an old muddy dirt road and there were two women each holding one end of a rope across the road with a big “STOP” written on a sign dangling from a rope. So I came to a stop on my E-Bike as did a horse carriage with tourists as we all watched the kids dash out the gate and down the road, or jump onto scooters that were driven by their parents. After 5 minutes and no end in sight, I finally turned the bike off, got off and pushed the bike around the crossing guards and down the road. Duh!

Crossing guard

I finally found what I thought was the road to Old Bagan and as turned out, this little adventure led to my best discovery of the day … a little pagoda that had the most intricate carvings, including a woman dancer, ogres (yes! love the ogres) and elephants. While at the pagoda, I ran into a German couple. They told me after 3 days, it was the first pagoda they had seen with elephant carvings. Cool!

Cute little pagoda with ogres and elephants

While at the lovely pagoda, I found a sign and determined on the map that I was now well north of Old Bagan. So now that I was back on the main road, I headed south towards Old Bagan. Along the way, I made a couple stops at pagodas that were pretty, but with no identifiable markings. As I got closer to Old Bagan, I took a side path and found myself on the backside of Ananda Pahto. This place was enormous and incredibly well preserved. It was apparently the most loved temple in the area having been built sometime between 1090 and 1105.

Ananda Pahto

As I made my way into the temple, an army of hawkers converged on me. However, once through this mass, I walked inside to find very few people. Huh? Well lucky me. So I took a look at Buddah #1 (there were four in the square main building), walked to Buddah #2 and then at Buddah #3 suddenly found myself surrounded by dozens of tour groups. Turns out that I really did enter through the backside and having made it around two sides, i was now stuck at the main entrance. I quickly (and I do mean quickly) dodged and bobbed me way around the masses to get out of the main entrance area, passed by Buddah #4 and went out into the courtyard where there were very few people.

Ogre at Ananda Payto

From the outside, the building was magnificent, but just too many tourist buses at this point in the day to really enjoy the place. So I wandered around a bit then went back to my bike and meandered down a back alley with the intent of heading back to my hotel for a rest before going out in the late afternoon.

As I was heading back towards New Bagan, I could not resist stopping at a few more ruined pagodas along the way. Bad choice for me. I climbed three steps to take a picture of a really pretty pagoda, took a step backwards to get a better view, lost my balance and fell backwards with my right back calf catching the sharp corner edge of a square brick corniche. It was apparently like a lance into my leg. Fortunately, I was wearing long pants so no penetration. At least that is what I thought. I got up, brushed myself off and then felt a dripping on my foot. I looked down to see my pant leg drenched in blood. Uh oh. That’s not good. I lifted my pant leg and it was UGLY. I took a picture, but I will spare you all the gorey reality.

I quickly got to my bike, opened the seat and pulled out my rain jacket and tied it around my lower leg in a tourniquet like fashion, started the bike and went full speed down the road. I was bleeding everywhere, and I was very concerned about the loss of blood. It seemed to take forever for me to get back to my hotel and as soon as they saw me, there were people all over the place rushing to get ice, and cloths and wraps and on and on.

One young girl applied an antiseptic to my wound while another pressed a cloth full of ice to take down the swelling (at this point the wound was looking pretty bad and the swelling was brutal). The owner appeared on the scene and immediately called a local pediatrician friend who came over and took a look. She cleaned the wound, told me I did not need stitches, wrapped it and said to go elevate it and I would be fine. For that she charged me $40. About two hours later I wanted my money back.

By 4:30, the wound had bled through the bandaging (which I might add was done pretty poorly). The staff in the hotel, called the doctor again and she recommended changing the dressing and waiting 10 minutes to see if it would bleed through. The owner has first aide training so she changed the dressing (even though she hates blood) and 10 minutes later, it was not pretty. So next option. Go to the local hospital (not recommended) or go to the private clinic to have a surgeon take a look. Uh … I’ll go with door #2 please.

Gecko on the wall of the private clinic

So the owner ordered up her car, told me she would accompany me and by 5:30 we were on the road to the clinic north of Bagan. Fortunately, I brought my camera, because what followed can only be described as comical.

I walked into the private clinic, sat on a chair and watched two geckos on the wall as I waited for the doctor. The doctor showed up in a sweatshirt and jeans and looked like he just rolled out of bed … but God bless him. He knew what he was doing. He had me lie on my stomach so he could get a good look at the wound on the backside of my right leg and immediately pronounced … Stitches. Ugh. OK then. In the meantime, I noticed another gecko on the wall.

The patient

So resigned to the fact, it had to be stitches. I followed their instructions. They had me lie on my left side. A young woman applied some antiseptic to the wound and kept saying sore sore, which I took to mean a question and not a statement. By now, the owner of my hotel had left the room because the whole scene was making her nauseous.

So the doctor finally put on some gloves (thank God) and proceeded to numb the area. In order to do this, though, he needed light. SInce they did not have surgical lights, my driver held a flashlight … seriously … I have the pictures. The numbing was not so bad, until the last injection and all I could say was “I carrumba, Mama Mia”. For some reason that made them all laugh.

Stiching me up (the guy behind the flashlight is the doctor’s driver)

So with my leg numb, the doctor proceeded to clean out the wound and then told me that the gash was about an 1 1/2″ deep (from the tip of his index finger to not quite the half way point). He told me it was just short of the muscle. ACK!

So with wound cleaned, the doctor began to stitch me up with two nurses watching and the driver holding the flashlight. Eventually one of the young women took the flashlight to move the light closer to the doctor. After about five minutes of stitching, the doctor had closed the wound. And I have to say, it looked much, much better. The doc had the nurse dress the area and then told me the stitches need to be removed in 10 days. So it will be interesting to get an American physician’s opinion on the stitch job, but for my money …. I was pretty happy. And it certainly was a story.

All stitched up.

The doctor then gave me some penicillin to take for three days to ensure no infections, told me to change the dressing in two days and with that sent me on my way with no restrictions on what I could do over the next three days as long as the leg felt ok. Oh and it only cost me $110.

So that is my story for the day. First time ever I have been injured in a foreign country. And I have no one to blame but myself.

Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

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