Tuesday 7 May. Mandalay to Myingyan. 108km.
We knew that today was going to be one of our big days of cycling and although I wouldn’t say we were worried, it was definitely going to be a test to see if we could do the distance in the searing heat. Our alarm went at 4am and after a pre-prepared breakfast “box” from the hotel consisting of hard boiled eggs, a sandwich, cake and a banana we were on the road at exactly 5am. The breakfast box felt a bit like one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five picnics….but without the “lashings and lashings of ginger beer”! It was still dark when we left but there were enough street lights to get us through to 5.20 when the sun came up.
Despite it being so early, it was humid as hell for the first couple of hours but when the humidity dropped off and for about 2 hours it was quite pleasant. It got gradually hotter until 11am when someone switched on the TURBO switch…OMG it was scorching, especially on the parts of the road that had no shade covering…..of which there were a lot! And unlike other days we struggled to find places to buy ice cold water on the way so had to make do with the tepid water in our bottles.
The road itself was definitely not the most interesting …..
…but as always on our travels there were interesting things to see, such as these amazing mango stalls that were all set up by 6:15am. It’s obviously mango season and since we got given one by a friendly local a few days ago it’s now our fruit of choice …and for about 20p each!
It wasn’t a flat road and although they weren’t huge hills there were times when it took effort to keep the pace at 15 kph – and plenty of sweating of course!
A recurring theme of our travels that we continue to see on a daily basis is tradition intermingled with technology. Everyone seems to have mobile phones here, but traditional farming and manual labour still prevails…
We also passed this roadside “camp” – a reminder of the poverty that many people are living in. And for the first time in Myanmar we had kids at the side of the road asking for “money money money” as we passed.
We arrived at our hotel in Myingyan around 12.30…hot and sweaty. At this stage our water supplies were at such a temperature that I could have added a tea bag and had a decent cup of tea! But we were proud in the knowledge that we could cycle the distance despite the heat, as there will be other days that we will need to do the same. The hotel staff had obviously had other cyclists stay, as without us even asking, they gave us an ice cold drink when we got to reception and told us to take our bikes inside! Before even changing our clothes we had lunch at their restaurant and then went through the usual afternoon routine of peeling our sweat-saturated clothes off to have a wash, followed by a snooze. The quality of hotels here is such that our days of bucket washes appear to be over and it’s proper showers now….but the lack of bucket does cause of a bit of an inconvenience for us rinsing out out sweaty, salty clothes at the end of the day!
And a quick mention of a current ailment that we are both suffering, which I guess comes with the 40 degree temperatures: prickly heat…mad itchiness, especially after a shower and is impossible not to scratch…..!
Wednesday 8 May. Myingyan to Batam. 70km.
On the road early again for a functional ride into Bagan – home to thousands of temples where we will spend 2 nights. Not much to report about the ride except that we passed some roadworks where these workers, both men and women, were building the road by hand…in the searing heat. Apart from the road rollers in the picture everything else is done manually. Absolutely heartbreaking to see….some of them did look up at us and give us cheery smiles and waves, but many of them didn’t and just looked sad with a sort of “defeated” look on their faces. The photos doesn’t quite convey the scene but we didn’t want to add insult to injury by spending too long taking a photo or trying to get too close.
Got to our accommodation in Nyanja-U just outside Bagan. It was more basic than we have had recently but with the all-important air-con in the room we didn’t mind…and having seen those roadworkers, who we guessed weren’t going’s home to air-conditioning, it made us even more appreciative. A hard image to erase from our minds for the rest of the day, and beyond, to be honest…!
We had a lazy afternoon out of the heat and in the evening ventured to one of the recommended temples to visit as it was literally around the corner from our hotel….the Shwesandaw Pagoda. And what a bling-tastic sight it was. Absolutely stunning! It also houses a tooth and a bone from Buddha himself although you don’t get to see those relics (More on the relics later). Despite it being one of the “to see” pagodas it was mostly locals there, so we had a lovely hour just wandering around taking it all in. I even managed a bit of meditation!
We then finished our day with a delicious dinner and a few cold beers.
9 May. Bagan archeological zone. 21km.
Although our heads were a bit fuzzy after our beers, it didn’t stop us being first in the dining room for breakfast and out our on our naked bikes around Bagan by 7am.
Bagan archeological zone is one of the largest and most important historical sites in SE Asia. For us it was the Buddhist version of Hampi…the ancient town in India with hundreds of Hindu temples we visited a while back. Bagan is on the Irrawaddy river, which also flows through Mandalay. Settlement started around the 9th century and Bagan Kingdom was founded in 1044. The founding king was converted to Buddhism and then decided to spread the religion. He started a campaign to build thousands of Buddhist temples and pagodas and at one stage there were apparently 10,000 here! Fast forward to 1975 when there was an earthquake in the region, which destroyed thousands of them… however there are still 2,200 left, many of which are in quite bad condition. Having seen the current state of disrepair of so many of the temples it’s not surprising that thousands fell in the earthquake. What is a shame about these and the Pho Win Taung Caves in Monywa that we visited recently, is that for such historically significant structures the government has not maintained them and if they continue to neglect them as they do, they will be lost forever. Unfortunately neither the cave still of these temples have UNESCO status, although Bagan is apparently on their current “under consideration” list.
So is there a difference between a temple and a pagoda? Well apparently a temple is a place of worship, a Stupa is a bell-shaped structure, which often contains religious relics such as Buddha’s hair or tooth, and a Pagoda can be used to describe either.
And a very quick précis on Buddhism…Buddha was a real man who lived around Northern India. No idea why that’s a surprise to me, but it’s was! There is some debate as to when he actually lived…somewhere between 1200 and 1400 years ago, but there is agreement that he died aged 80. He was a philosopher, thinker, teacher and guru, and his teachings on Sramana traditions (an earlier religion) gave rise to the many forms of Buddhism that exist today. What’s interesting for us is that the all the Buddha statues that we have seen in Myanmar are of a slim and beautiful man…not the little fat Buddha that we have generally seen before. Apparently the little fat buddha is just a different interpretation of how he looked!
So, our day started with a visit to the viewing tower to get a panoramic view of Bagan. We had the place to ourselves and although the photo doesn’t really do it justice it gave us some idea of just how many temples and pagodas there are – and this was just on one side!
We had chosen seven to visit so we had a lovely morning going from one to the other and we were lucky enough to have very few other tourists to share them with. We did go inside the pagodas that we could and yet again saw many many buddhas and paintings. The stupas of course are concrete domes so visitors can’t get inside them.
The Lemyethna Pagoda…
Anada Temple…(check out Nigel’s face as his feet burned on the very very hot concrete!)
Shwesandaw Temple….which has a relic of Buddh’s hair inside the dome at the top…
What was equally as nice as going inside the major pagodas was just cycling around and seeing the more minor ones. The whole place just has a really nice feel to it.
Surprisingly they are all quite different but by midday we were well and truly “pagoda-ed” and “Buddha-ed” out so after lunch we were happy to retreat to our room to relax for the rest of the day and avoid the heat. A Temple-tastic day in Bagan!
And a couple of random photos to add to the selection….why ladies are off-limits we wonder….
…and what could this be?! We only saw the sign, not the pagoda but it did make us wonder ….