Biking Bagan

Bagan will certainly be the highlight of our trip to Myanmar! Visitors can explore the ancient city by car, foot, horse cart, ox cart, or hot air balloon. But the best way to get away from everyone and see the remotest temples and ruins is by bicycle.

We’ve spent several days straining our leg muscles – and it’s so worth it. Watch Bagan through our eyes and see the temple city come alive.

Little Bike Repairman

Little Bike Repairman

This little guy was up early to check out my bike and make sure it was ready for today’s explorations of Bagan. Unfortunately, he must have missed something because I ended up with a flat tire on a dusty track miles from nowhere. Or, perhaps, the flat had something to do with my “short cut” through that stretch of thorny scrub. Hmmm.

Bagan

Bagan

Simply put, Bagan is extraordinary. So extraordinary, it’s hard to imagine that it’s not as famous as the Egyptian pyramids, Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, or Petra. It’s the forgotten world wonder, lost in the geographical black hole otherwise known as Myanmar.

A dusty plain dotted with over 2000 ancient temples, pagodas, stupas and shrines, Bagan is epic and overwhelming. It is an unusual place, a 21st-century lost world that allows travelers to play Indiana Jones for a day – or better yet, a week.

Yes, travelers in the know discovered Bagan years ago and a limited number of tours do visit the larger more accessible temples. The site is not unknown. But the scale of Bagan is far beyond the number of people currently visiting the region. Anyone needing some space can grab a bike and take off on one of the dusty tracks to find a temple, and an adventure, of their own. In 2009, this is as good as it gets.

Barely Noticeable Bodhi Tataung

Laykyun Setkyar at Bodhi Tataung

It’s quite telling that Monywa and its ginormous Laykyun Setkyar at the wild Bodhi Tataung complex barely register as a bleep on the travelers’ radar screen. In what other country would a 312-foot reclining Buddha backed by the Laykyun Setkyar, a 423-foot standing Buddha (much taller than Lady Liberty) not merit a visit. In fact this standing Buddha is the second tallest statue in the world. However, in architecturally overwhelmed Myanmar, it’s just another massive monument.

True, they’re relatively new constructions, but they’re impressive all the same. If it makes snobby monument connoisseurs feel better, the towering figures are already starting to crumble and should look like ruins within a decade. Give the site time to mature.

Thomas and I explored the cavernous interior of the reclining Buddha, but I was a touch worried Continue…

Bite-sized Bugs

As you probably know by now, my traveling revolves mostly around food – any kind of food. So when I browsed through some of the snack food options and saw a pile of fat, juicy, deep-fried locusts, I became intrigued. I probably wouldn’t have been crazy enough to eat any of the winged critters but the smiling lady selling them by the bag offered me one for free. How could I possibly decline?

Watch this video if you want to see a first-time-locust-eater, and to find out whether I could convince Tony to be part of this experience.

Drowning in Gold

Mahamuni Buddha

“Come!” insists the monk, “Come!” He grabs my arm and pulls me through the crowd of pilgrims towards the huge pedestal supporting the holiest Buddha in Mandalay, the Mahamuni Buddha. He charges through the praying disciples, a monk with a mission, namely to get me and Thomas up onto the elevated platform.

Myanmar monks scare me. One week in this country has taught me that encounters with monks come at a cost. In a nation filled with some of the most generous people on the planet, it has become clear that materialists head straight for monkhood, Buddha be damned.

“It’s OK,” I answer hesitatingly, “I’ll just stay down here.” Reflex causes me to glance up at the phenomenal site. The monk immediately detects my weakness and goes in for the kill. Shoot, that slip is going to cost me Continue…