Category: Myanmar, 2013

Red Balloons and Golden Buddhas

January 23

Today was much more of a normal tourist day, as compared to what we’ve been doing on this trip. And that’s not so bad, because, after all, we are tourists.

Picked up at 5:45 by Balloons Over Bagan and bused to the take-off site, where we are served coffee and biscuits. We are broken down into groups of sixteen and given a brief lecture on procedure. Our group of sixteen moves on behind the limp balloon, lying on the ground and receives a safety lecture. Watching the balloon fill with air, first cold and then blasts of hot, is quite exciting. When it is filled, we circle to our positions and climb into the basket.


Not long after, we’re aloft and floating towards and over some of Bagan’s 3000 pagodas. Our pilot points out some of the more distinctive structures, but it’s the overall scene which is quite spectacular. Many pictures are taken, including some of the group from a camera tied to the balloon ropes. The pilot can control the height and speed of our, but the wind controls the direction. He jokes that he thinks will blow us over the pagoda area, but that otherwise, we’ll be in the river. After about an hour, we drift down to an easy landing in an open field. We climb out of the basket and are offered champagne and snacks, as well as an opportunity to buy a cd of photos of us taken on the balloon. (I do, of course.) We are then bused back to our hotels–a very,neat, professional and well-thought out operation.



Carol and I are picked up by our guide, Ko Ko, and driver. Ko Ko proves to be an excellent guide, nice manner, good English and an appropriate sense of how much detail we can absorb. He gives us some general background about the six types of buildings/structures–pagodas, temples, monasteries, caves, libraries and ordination centers. And, early on, he describes the four main poses of Buddhas we’ll see–don’t worry, middle way, witnessing and traveling. He talks about Buddha’s first sermon, the five disciples who followed him, his teachings (darma) and those who follow him (sanga).

King Anawradha brought Buddhism to Bagan in 1057, ruled from 1044-1077 and built the first pagoda we see, Shwezigon Pagoda, which has a massive, gold-gilded dome and reputedly houses a tooth, collarbone and frontlet of the Buddha. We spend some time walking around it.



We walk through the Manisithu market, which I would say is an authentic tourist market. It combines fish and vegetables, clearly sold to locals, with goods aimed at the considerable number of tourists who wend through the market. Carol buys four bamboo picture frame, which may or may not survive the rest of the trip, for about twelve dollars. Bagan has clearly been “discovered” and tourists are in evidence most places we go. This is hardly surprising, since the wealth of pagodas is stunning and, seen from ground level, makes a nice contrast from the aerial view from the balloon.


Next we visit the Kyan Sither Cave, dedicated to monks by the 44th king of Bagan. The cave contains some wonderful drawings that we view by flashlight; no photos are permitted. The cave was built on a site identified by a white elephant, a powerful figure. We talk with Ko Ko about the meaning of white elephant in our language.

We move on to the Hit Lo Min Lo Temple, built in 1280. The temple is two stories high and known for its plaster carvings on the outside.


Lunch with Ko Ko. Carol instructs the waiter on how to make the grilled cheese sandwich I request. We talk about Ko Ko’s family of nine children. He has been a guide for three years. Took him about a year to complete studies, exams, etc and he now freelances. When I ask whether he guides mainly Brits, Americans or Aussies, he says that he most often guides Asians who do not speak Burmese, but do speak English.

After lunch, we go to the Ananda Pagoda, the masterpiece of Mon architecture, built in 1091 by King Kyan Sither. The ground plan is a perfect Greek cross. There are four huge standing wooden gilted Buddhas. The two originals stand 31feet high and their faces appear to be serious (for the king) when up close and smile from afar (on the people).


Through phone calls with our Yangon travel agency, we are able to line up a guide for the next two days, to replace Dotty’s friend, whose English probably would have driven us nuts. We walk through what we thought was the festival area (but later found out that there was another one), which had many booths that could be grouped under the corporate name Crap R Us. We do not spend long.

After cooling off and cleaning up for a couple hours, Ko Ko picks us up and takes us to the Shwe San Daw Pagoda, THE place to see sunsets. We climb four stories of very steep stone steps and muscle our way around for a very lovely view of the pagodas at sunset. The way down is only slightly less difficulty (Carol would say more difficult).





We ask Ko Ko to drop us off at the upscale resort that Bonnie and Tim are staying at and immediately encounter Bonnie in the lounge on her iPad. We arrange to have dinner with them outside on the large deck, and have a laughter-filled evening with our new Brit friends. They say that Carol and I must visit Sri Lanka. We say goodnight and promise to stay in touch.

Trying to walk back to our hotel, we get lost (Carol’s fault, of course), so we walk straight back to the hotel from whence we came and get them to order us a taxi. We are rather bushed and go right to bed.

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