Walk, Scoot, Gawp; or, the Bagan Templesplosion

Pagoda by Night

Bagan. There are pagodas there!

The sun rose in Bagan, as it often did, over a sea of ancient spikes.

I had only a faint inkling of quite how large this sea would be as our night bus pulled up to the bus station. After attempted fleecings by the attendant taxi drivers, we piled into a cab and took the long road into old Bagan, grumpy and only half-rested and feeling curmudgeonly about the price of our ride. We were prepared, as one often is on the road, to let the petty things dampen our mood.

Bagan quickly stamped on this impulse, as prickly temples and jagged pagodas soon sprouted from the ground all along the roadside. Holy places were thick as tumbleweed here, brick and mortar and metal and stone jutting everywhere into tiny and enormous structures. Along the roadside, like fireworks stands or ragged old taquerias, were dozens of spires aimed skyward.

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Myanmar Photoglut Pt II: On Temples and Gastrointestinal Distress

Myanmar II Cover
After the glorious weirdness of Dalla and the delights of Yangon, we took, as all traveller in Burma must, the long road up to Bagan. Being the sometimes ignorant turd that I am, I knew little of the area except that it was full of temples, and possibly a lot of them. In Southeast Asia or India I had some inkling of history, connections to local religious beliefs and a sense of cultures, while Burma existed outside of my cultural awareness bubble. We slid off of the long overnight bus into the wilds of the archaeological zone and were left to fend for ourselves amid the prickly brick pagodas piercing the endless, scalding sky.

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Dalla Days: Hey, Check Out This Self-Mortification

Tromping Dalla

Time for fun, sun, and sackjuice.

Burma. It occupied a special slice in my mind, one murky with half-remembered news headlines and foggy recollections of local military history that had been looked up and forgotten. Other travellers talked about Burma as though it were a secret hidey-hole, a hidden place accessible only with great cunning and with great effort. The ability to enter Burma required the cleverness of the djinn, the swiftness of the Pegasus, the strength of the minotaur. According to backpacker legend, controls on tourism had only recently been relaxed, and entry past the border necessitated unmarked, non-sequential US currency in a pristine leather valet case, several hidden bottles of high-quality foreign whisky, and the rights to your unborn children.

In actual fact, going to Burma involved booking a ticket, then talking to Jane, the nice lady at the travel agency, and handing her a neat stack of yuan for my visa.

My feet hit the ground and still I felt a tiny swell of pride, the surge of self-assurance that I was achieving something. Sure, our plane was packed full of Korean tourists and missionaries, but wasn’t I still something of a ground breaker? Forging into new lands? As always, the myth is more endearing and enduring.

As we woke on our first day in Yangon, our friend declared that he had already seen much of the city, and wondered if we might explore what lied across the river on the opposite banks. The journey was simple: bypass Sule Paya, veer through the verdant park just beyond, and ride the ferry to bucolic quaintness.

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Myanmar Photoglut Pt. 1: It’s Sackjuice Time Somewhere

Myanmar Pt 1 Cover

Let us now gather, children, around a warm sack of fermented woodlands beverage and enjoy some photographs of joyous, spectacular Myanmar. As an ornery completionist, the lack of Myanmar on my Big Dumb Asia MegaSojourn caused me great, undue anxiety. To the west of Thailand was a huge unruly blob of the unknown: dark roads, unseen temples, unslurped noodles. There were whole swaths of countryside I had not trod upon, great pools of sweat I had not yet exuded, great glories of the continent that were as yet a mystery to me. When friends from Korea declared their intention, I knew it was time to explore. Set your eyeballs on these shinies, kids. Myanmar is pretty golden. (The joke being that much of Myanmar is covered in gold leaf. Get it?)

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