Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MY HEAVENLY STAYS IN BAGAN MYANMAR

For weeks I had scanned the lists of possible Hotels in Bagan. For sure I wanted to stay in Old Bagan, close to the monuments and temples and within walking distance to restaurants, temples and sunsets. I finally booked the Bagan Hotel River View in Old Bagan, one of the few hotels set right in the middle of the old town and the temples. 

And what a dream this hotel complex was!! The complex itself is huge. I got lost a few times. The room itself was amazing and huge!! Check-in was swift and I was shown to the room through the complex, passing by a wonderful pool. The room was perfect. Great bed (I like the mattress hard), huge bathroom, nice seating area, desk, a fridge and a big safe. The Bagan Hotel River View also provides you with more bottled water than any other hotel so far. I never ever ran out. There was also tea and coffee and I got a fresh fruit plate almost everyday. 

The hotel complex was awesome!!! We had ancient pagodas on the temple grounds, though off-limits due to earthquake damage. The gardens were filled with old trees and plenty of plants and the restaurant was right next to the Irrawaddy river. I have to admit that the best sunsets were actually viewed right from the hotel's garden. 

Breakfast was included and good. Though the cold air in the mornings was not too pleasant to be sitting outside. Lunch and dinners however were great in the warm afternoon sun. The staff was very distant, or neutral. A big difference to the staff of the Hotel Yadanarbon in Mandalay, where everyone was trying to make a friendly conversation. However, the housekeeping staff did a great job and cleaned the room always during the time when I was gone, which is not the norm in Asia and I had nothing more than coming back after hours and the room is still not made up.

The great room and the setting of the Hotel was so nice that I actually spent an entire day inside the hotel grounds, which I rarely ever do. Location of the Bagan Hotel River View is excellent, but there is nothing around the hotel to do in the evenings, and it is a bit far and dark to be walking around the village. However, since I rented an e-bike right outside the Hotel's gate, I was mobile enough. And after exploring Bagan all day long I was not really looking for any entertainment in the evenings. WiFi in my room was so bad that I gave up and used my own SIM card instead. It worked fine in the lobby, which was a bit of a walk though.

In my own rating system I would rate the Bagan Hotel River View as follows: 

Location 5 of 5 (as a conscious decision)
Room Size 5 of 5
WiFi free and working 3 of 5
Breakfast included and yummy 4 of 5
Staff competency and friendliness 4 of 5
Safety box in the room and adequate size 5 of 5
Bathroom functionality 5 of 5
Room design and functionality 5 of 5
Sounds 5 of 5

There is no question that I would absolutely go back for a future stay! 






















Friday, April 21, 2017

MY BAGAN TEMPLE VISITS EAST

My last "tour day" with an e-bike in Bagan was Magha Bucha Day, the full moon day. So, in the early morning I went back to Ananda temple, while it was still quiet. After my rounds through the temple I went east on the Bagan plain towards Minnanthu village. One sight I really loved was the Hsin Bhyushin monastic complex, which was very quiet. Only a few local workers were in the temple complex, which offered lots of details to see on the outside walls and a beautiful group of 4 Buddha images inside the main building. 

Entering Minnantu village, I found a rather developed tourist industry. Locals asked me across the road to eat at their restaurants or buy their products. Visiting the main temples on my list also proved difficult as I had to fend off loads of children who all wanted to function as an un-official tour guide. The worst was actually Leimyethna Pahto temple. All of the smaller sights which dotted the eastern part of Bagan did not allow photography and seemed to be the chosen temples for tour guides with their visitors. Narathihapathe temple was still OK to visit alone and with a camera, but all the others were dark places with awesome frescoes but no photography. 

By noon time I was about to finish my visit to the eastern temples and I came across the much debated modern viewing tower, so I decided to check it out, pay my 8.000 Kyat entrance fee (or 5 US $) and went to the viewing platform level. I was really surprised how good the view was from up here, despite it being a bit too bright at noon time. Actually one of the best views in Bagan and I am sure sunrise with the balloons in the air must look awesome from here as well. The only real big downside is the pigeons which are just everywhere and they do their business everywhere. I had to be really careful not to touch anything and while setting up my tripod with the camera I had to move the pigeons out of the way a few times.

The drive back to the hotel happened over the paved roads along the airport and through Nyaung-U. Not a pretty ride and after the quiet but dusty sand roads it was also difficult to navigate through the traffic. 

For the afternoon light I decided to go back down south to New Bagan to check out the only two missing temples on my list - East and West Hpetleik and Lokananda Pagoda by the river.  A friendly older woman opened the west Hpetleik temple and let me explore the dark galleries filled with unglazed Jataka tiles. The Lawkananda Pagoda offered great views over the river, with lots of local worshippers and monks. After all it was full moon day and Magha Bucha holiday. A nice end for my last "tour day" after which I went back to my favourite Shwegu-gyi temple to enjoy another beautiful sunset. 


















 

Monday, April 17, 2017

MY BAGAN TEMPLE VISITS CENTRAL

The temples of the central area of the Bagan plains are some of the biggest ones to see, so I planned a separate visit to them to ensure I had enough time to explore them in detail. Shwe-San-Daw temple I had already seen a few days before at sunset, so I skipped it and went right to a smaller temple called Loka-Hteikpan, which is known for its frescoes, but unfortunately the temple had been completely locked off due to earthquake damage. This would have been one of the temples with the best frescoes, thus I could only look at the photos in my book. 

So, I continued my path over the dirt roads of the Bagan plain to the huge Dhammayan-gyi temple, which is the largest temple of Bagan and basically visible from everywhere. Besides a few plastic covers on some of the corner stones, the temple didn't seem to have too much damage from the August 2016 earthquake and it was possible to explore the huge galleries and hallways of the temple. 

A bit further south-east stands the mighty Sulamani temple, which I kept looking for with my map and on GPS. I finally opened my book to see what it looked like since none of the temples here resembled Sulamani. This was when I realized that the entire top and side of the temple had been destroyed by the August 2016 earthquake. No wonder I could not spot it!  The corridors and hallways of the temple are all filled with paintings of later centuries than its initial A.D. 1183 date. 

At Sulamani temple, one stands actually right in the middle of the Bagan plain and I decided to take off freely on the dirt roads from here and see where it leads me. I came across some freshly damaged temples from a rumble the night before, where all four entrances were heavily damaged and bricks laying around everywhere. I steady reminder of the danger when visiting Bagan's temples. 

I could only follow my path by the Burmese numbers of the temples since many did not have names. Luckily I was able to read the Burmese numbers and follow up with my map. The dirt roads actually took me south and I decided to visit Dhammayazika temple, with its golden stupa, which I had spotted from the balloon flight. Unfortunately I discovered that also this stupa was scaffolded for renovation. Dammayazika was actually the temple with the least tourists around from all the larger temples. Very quiet and beautiful to explore alone. A smaller monastery building right next to Dhammayazika had a great view onto the plains from the roof top. Again, souvenir vendors were very insisting but they actually offered a good selection of lacquerware. 

This was actually the most enjoyable ride with the e-bike through the dirt roads of Bagan. Very quiet and if it wasn't for the few cars which passed me in a huge dust cloud, I would have done it more often. However I really had to completely cover myself with a breathing mask, hat and goggles from the dust and sun. As it was full moon night  I headed back to the hotel to watch a beautiful sunset by the river and find a good spot for setting up my tripod for the full moon later in the evening.