Central Myanmar, Dec 2013

Our second day in Myanmar, Nancy and I placed a bet: How many days would it take us to get templed out? Myanmar is definitely the country to find out your temple tolerance level. Everywhere we went, every direction we looked, temples! Even our Burmese monk friend wondered why his country attracts people. In his own words, “there is nothing but temples here.” (For the record, Nancy said 5, I said 6; we were both wrong.)

U Bein Bridge, Mandalay, teak foot bridge, Myanmar, BurmaU Bein bridge, one of the handful of attractions that is not a temple. It’s the world’s longest teak bridge.

Sunset at U Bein bridge, Burma, Myanmar, MandalayThe sunset a U Bein bridge is said to be the most photographed in Myanmar. One of these people got mad at me for walking close to the bridge poles and bombing his photo. Weird.

traditional burmese food buffet, enormous, deliciousAnother non-temple attraction. Burmese buffet makes my belly happy.

Central Myanmar is the religious hub of the country and we hit all the three cities with the most numbers of temples, pagodas, stupas, monasteries: Sagaing, Mandalay, and Bagain. Mandalay, the last royal capital, has been the country’s center of Buddhist higher learning and teaching since the 19th century. 20kms south across the Irrawaddy river is quiet Sagaing, where 6000 nuns and monks settle live their religious journey. Continue onto the southwest for 4 hours by car and you’re in Bagan. The capital of the first unified Burmese kingdom dating 1000 years back saw over 10,000 Buddhist structures erected on her land over 2 centuries, more than 2000 of which still survive till this day. (Yes, all of those numbers are correct.) Although we constantly joked about it, we were pleasantly surprised at our eagerness to visit temples after temples. Not only was the architecture unique and the sculptures impressive, the history was fascinating. We learned about the evolution of stupa styles, the rise of the Burmese kingdom, the influence of the conquered but highly sophisticated Mon people… One thing that blew my mind was their foresight in preserving history. Every temple had a dedicatory stone inscription that details the date and story of construction. Some of them were written in several languages (Burmese, the now extinct Pyu, Mon, Chinese, Pali). Of course not all inscriptions survive time and looting, but the remaining still provide a wealth of information on language, culture, and history. The other thing that blew my mind? The omnipresence of temples. In Bagan, no matter where you are, you cannot find any visual space uninhabited by temples. There is simply no escape. And there, we finally clocked out, at 7 days!

Shwenanda monastery, teak temple, Mandalay, burma, myanmarBeautiful teak carving at the Shwenandaw monastery, built in traditional Burmese style

Maha Aungmye Bonzan brick monastery, Ava, Inwa, Mandalay, Burma, MyanmarAgent Nancy and Agent Ukkamsa at the brick Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery in Inwa/Ava

Kaunghmudaw pagoda, golden round stupa, Sagaing, Myanmar, BurmaKaunghmudaw Pagoda on the outskirts of Sagaing. The original stupa at 46m high remained painted white over three and a half centuries. In 2011, the military government painted it golden to showcase the country’s posperity, a decision not popular with monks and locals. I have to admit the color contrast with the blue sky is quite captivating.

hsinbyume all white temple, mingun, mandalay, burma, myanmarHsinbyume temple in Mingun. First time I’ve ever seen an all-white temple.

Hsinbyume all white temple, Mingun, Mandalay, Burma, MyanmarThe Maui Jim shot by Nancy. Maui Jim, please find this photo, use it for your ad, and give each of us a pair of the coolest shades on planet earth.

Biking Bagan is Lonely Planet’s top 10 or something like that. I was more than happy to be in a car. First, because I don’t like LP. Second, I can bike in the dust in Vietnam anytime. Eat our dirt, cyclists! I fully support you.