Myanmar: Photo Essay Part 1

The Land of A Thousand Temples and Beautiful Sunsets

One of the most compelling travel photos I had seen from a page of a travel magazine was a photo of hot air balloons over a hundred temples, and over the hazy horizon and mist lifting from the ruins as the sun rises.  That photo inspired me to travel to Myanmar (formerly Burma). But due to the high cost of travel to Myanmar and the political unrest, my dream remained on my bucket list for a while. After debating whether it was 'responsible travel' to go despite the country's negative political news, I asked myself "If not now, then when."  I finally decided to join nine other intrepid travelers on Discovery Tours. Although there are still places that are out of bounds for foreigners, our itinerary followed the main tourist route. 

I want to share some photos of the incredible sights along the way.

Yangon

Our journey began in Yangon, where we visited some museums, the Bogyoke Aung San Museum, and did a walking tour downtown to see some colonial buildings, but the highlight of Yangon was the Shwedagon Pagoda, thought to be the oldest and one of the holiest shrines and the biggest in Myanmar. I’ve been to many religious sites around the world, but I was not prepared to see what I was about to see. The Shwedagon complex was bigger than I expected. There were four entrances, but most visitors, locals, and pilgrims entered through the West Entrance that could be reached by taking an elevator. 

As we entered, I saw a colorful procession of pilgrims (shinbyu) around the massive golden pagoda, the centerpiece of the complex. The sight was a photographer’s dream and I could have taken the option of exploring on my own and take photos, but instead, I followed our guide so I could gain more insight into the place. The golden pagoda was surrounded by little temples and pagodas, plenty of bells and chimes. There was even a gallery (photos of the pagoda's intricate details like the bell-shaped part, the turban, inverted alms-bowl, lotus petals, the banana bud and the umbrella crown).  Later in the day, my focus shifted to photographing the whole place at sunset. 







Bagan

From Yangon, we flew into Bagan, a city rich in history and a unique site in the world with 2,000 plus temples and pagodas that stretch as far as the eye can see. I didn’t mind forking out $340 - $400 to go ballooning over Bagan and take some photos, hoping to replicate the photo that inspired me to travel to Bagan. Sadly, the hot air balloon providers canceled all hot air ballooning activities during our stay because it was too hot and windy.  Instead, I went up the hill to capture the sunset over Bagan.  






The following day, we were scheduled to go on a sunset cruise along the Irrawaddy River. The sky was clear that morning, so I made an early start photographing the temples near our hotel. But it started to sprinkle by mid-morning. The sun came out by midday so we started visiting more temples. By late afternoon, the sky turned dark and it started to rain. I thought our guide would cancel the sunset cruise, but after the rain, we loaded up on a small river boat to catch the sunset, our boat floated on the Irrawaddy River until the sunset hour, but the sunset failed to occur. The clouds then slowly started closing in, obscuring any prospects of a sunset, so I put my big camera away. We headed back to the dockside, but upon reaching the riverside, a beautiful orange glow appeared. It was a different world from just minutes earlier. Obviously, our guide knew something I didn’t know. He said that Bagan offers some of the most beautiful sunsets in all of Southeast Asia. 





We visited so many temples that, to be honest, I felt templed out and got tired of taking my shoes off at some point, but I stuck to the program by visiting the last temple in our itinerary.


Shwezigon Pagoda, the first temple we visited in Bagan

Ananda Pagoda, one of Bagan's most beautiful temples both inside and out
One of the standing Buddha images inside the Ananda Phaya.
The expression on the face of the Kassapa image appears to change when viewed from different distances

Thatbyinnyu Temple, one of highest monuments in Bagan

Manuha Temple one of the oldest in Bagan contains three images of seated Buddhas and an image of Reclining Buddha said to be entering Nirvana 


One of the seated Buddhas at Manuha Temple

Pindaya

Disappointed that I was not able to do hot air ballooning over Bagan, I tried to lower my expectations about our next destination – The Pindaya Caves. The bus ride from the Heho airport to the Pindaya caves was not that comfortable, however, the scenery looked great. We passed farmlands covered in red soil. I did not expect that the caves described by our guide were at the top of the mountain. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see the amazing views of the lake and some temples below as our bus climbed higher and higher. 





The caves contain more than 8,000 Buddha images.  




Barely scratched the surface on the Buddha count


NOTE:

1.  All photos by the author
2.  I have no material connection to any travel related providers mentioned in this blog or received compensation for writing this blog.

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