From Yangon we flew to Bagan, an ancient city in the Mandalay region. From the 9th to the 13th century it was the capital of the Pagan kingdom. Now tourists visit to view the pagodas.
During the time Bagan was in it’s prime 4,446 temples, pagodas, and monasteries were built. Now 2,230 remain in various states of disrepair. Because they are religious sites you must cover up to visit. You can rent a bicycle, a horse and carriage or even take a hot air balloon but we just had a car and guide.
As there are so many buildings this is a good way to see a few of the best sites. They were all built to gain merit by the families living in the area. You can get your own merit by paying to free the caged birds on every corner but I’m pretty sure they are back under the basket before you’ve got more than five minutes away.
Next was Mandalay, the old royal capital.
The reputation of this city meant it would never live up to expectations and it didn’t. Its true the legendary sunset on Mandalay hill is wonderful and there are beautiful pagodas but the city itself is dirty and the many small industries churn out obvious pollution. Such a shame that somewhere I expected to be magical was, well, just a bit too real.
The teak bridge was -just old teak! but then things got better. The worlds largest book in the grounds of the Kuthodaw Pagoda was an interesting visit. Built in 1857 by king Mindonmin, the carved scripts in the 730 tablets were filled with gold. The gold is long gone but now a filling of black ink means you can see the words.
The gold beating shop was fascinating. A row of young men were endlessly pounding the gold with seven pound hammers to produce gold leaf. One gram of gold makes two hundred leaves all much thinner than a sheet of paper. A little book of gold leaf makes a great souvenir and because it contains so little gold it’s quite cheap.