November 11, 2016
We have loved our time in Bagan. I am embarrassed to say that I did not know it existed 6 months ago. Admittedly, knowing about Bagan is not needed to navigate our lives in the US, but I have always thought of myself as a closet anthropologist. As a child, I was fascinated with Egypt, Greece and Rome. When I saw that English gardens would place fake ruins, I understood.
I loved Indiana Jones.
Pictures of Petra or the Great Wall or the Terracotta Warriors or Machu Picchu would mesmerize me.
During our honeymoon, Susie and I traveled to Turkey and Greece. Most people assumed we chose those locations for thier beaches , but we went for the ruins. We spent some time relaxing, but even more time visiting interesting sites. One of our favorites was Aphrodisias – a village devoted to the goddess of love – Aphrodite. These ruins were in the middle of nowhere. Picture a Hellenistic “Burning Man” – if yu want to spend a week indulging your desires, you need to go to a massively inconvenient place.
We were able to walk the ruins essentially alone and without restrictions. We crawled through old doors and windows. As long as we did not try to talk any antiquities, the one guard did not care wat we did.
As a result of our shared love of ancient cultures, we added Cambodia to our travel itinerary 5 years ago to see Angkor Wat and the other impressive sites of that country. When we went there, I thought we had visited the last great site of semi-undiscovered ruins.
Then I saw a photo of Bagan. I am not sure where I saw it. Perhaps it was a ballooning ad or a travel magazine. But I was mesmerized. When I shared it with Susie, she was equally excited. Myanmar was the last addition to this trip.
Bagan has been like Aphrodisias - fun and free-form. You can climb on some of the ruins.
After a few days, we have come to a few conclusions.
First, the people of Myanmar are nice to a fault.
Second, their native food is not that great.
Third, e-bikes are really fun.
Fourth, while nice, the Myanmar vendors around the temples and shrines are a tenacious group. After a few visits, you recognize patterns:
Some start young. This was at the end of the day, so I am hoping he also went to school.
Finally, there is a point when you say, “Another temple?!?!? Are you kidding me? These people needed another hobby.”
When we went on our safari in September, our excellent guide (Walter) saw us leap to our feet to take a photo of a zebra or warthogs.
“You will soon be tired of them. To be honest, you will be tired of lions before we return home.”
When he said that, it seemed incredible, but it proved to be true. We could not be bothered to look up for a wildebeest. A lion needed to be moving and not just sleeping. Warthogs, zebras, gazellles and even giraffes became second nature.
Similarly, the ruins here are simply so abundant that you stop appreciating them individually and instead understand them as part of an unequaled overall statement. I have tried to take a picture that captures the sea of green growth and orange, white and gold temples, but the camera simply lacks the flexibility. We have peripheral vision and can absorb a wide and complicated landscape. Even the best camera lacks this skill. [Note: once we get a connection that is not like 1995 dial-up, I will share more photos.]
But in the end, Bagan has been a huge succees. I am estimating that we visited 20 sites in detail. For arguments sake, lets call it 22. That means that we covered 0.1% of the 2,200 sites here. Of course, we saw all of the most important ones, but that statistic helps you appreciated how many ruins there are here.
I will share our ballooning adventure tomorrow.