After a full day in Yangon, the second part of our trip would take us north to Bagan. In the 9th to 13th centuries, Bagan was the ancient capital of the Pagan Kingdom, the first kingdom that united Myanmar. Near the former royal capital Mandalay, Bagan is over 600km north of Yangon. We chose flying to save time. There are several local airlines that offer the service. We picked Air KBZ, one of the guidebook recommended private airlines, and bought our tickets online two months prior to the trip. To maximize the time in Bagan, we chose the 7:15 flight and left Yangon’s Loft Hotel before dawn. We arrived at Yangon Airport in no time. After checking in, we had a noodle breakfast at a cafe in the boarding area.
Among several eateries we ended up sitting down at Gloria Jean’s Coffee in the boarding area for breakfast.
Black coffee and Shan noodles represented a set breakfast with a local twist.
Approaching Bagan, we could occasionally see Buddhist stupas in the landscape down below. We were pretty excited as we approached the ancient capital of the Bagan Kingdom, where thousands of pagodas and stupas once stood on the dry plains near the Irrawaddy River.
After a little over an hour, our plane touched down at Nyaung U, the main town in the Bagan area. Nyaung U was also where we would base ourselves in the next two days.
The Nyaung-U Airport is a small airport that served only domestic flights. Upon arrival, all passengers gathered at a room to wait for their luggage to be carried in by airport staff. After picking up our luggage, we walked out to the arrival hall and was greeted by our local guide Win Thu.
Win Thu took us back to our hotel Oasis Hotel to drop off our bags, and immediately began our Bagan tour by visiting Shwezigon Pagoda, the largest Buddhist temple in Nyaung-U. All visitors of the pagoda are greeted by the chinthes, the traditional leogryph guardians of temples in Southeast Asia.
We took off our shoes and entered one of the two remaining entrance halls. The entrance hall was crowded with pilgrims, tourists and vendors selling all kinds of religious offerings.
The entrance hall is a stone-paved covered walkway leading to the central pagoda compound and the gold gilded central pagoda.
Before approaching the golden stupa, we stopped by a pavilion with statues depicting the Buddhist story of the Four Sights: when the 29-year-old Siddhārtha left his royal palace for the first time and first met an elderly man, sick man, dead man and an ascetic. The four sights led Siddhartha to realize the real sufferings in life, and inspired his decision to embark on an ascetic journey towards enlightenment.
In Shwezigon, there are shrines dedicated to local deities such as the Nat God. Like many local deities, Nat predated the arrival of Buddhism in Myanmar and still remained popular today.
Completed in 1102 AD, the golden pagoda of Shwezigon Pagoda is believed to house a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha. The bell-shaped stupa represents the architectural tradition of the Mon people of ancient Myanmar.
Many visitors gathered around a tiny pool of water to check out the reflection of the golden pagoda. According to our guide Win Thu, the king also used the pool of water to inspect the construction of the stupa.
The pagoda has a central solid core, with steps at the four cardinal directions rising from the base up the terraces for pilgrim’s worship.
Shwezigon Pagoda is the largest and most popular Buddhist temple in the Bagan area today.
Win Thu led us to the back of the pagoda to check out the famous Chayar Tree. The tree is famed for its year-round blossom, unlike other trees of its kind which would only flower at a certain period of a year.
At the back of the pagoda, we also found a small building housing local deities that predated Buddhism in Myanmar.
Before leaving Shwezigon Pagoda, we passed by a number of small prayer halls that surrounded the golden pagoda.
We found our way back to where we came. It was time to move on to the next designations in Bagan.