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Posts tagged “Buddhism

DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN, Bagan, Myanmar

Watching sunset at Bagan Myanmar from the top of a pagoda has been one of the most popular activities for tourists.  However, according to our guide Win Thu due to recent accidental falls of some tourists, the government temporarily banned pagoda climbing during sunset.  Instead, Win Thu took us to one of the designated earth berm where we could still see dipping of the crimson sun over the plain of Buddhist stupas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALeaving Ananda Temple behind, we moved on to a designated lookout in Old Bagan.

DSC_3745Obviously we were the first to arrive at the lookout.  It was nowhere close to as crowded as watching sunset atop the most popular viewing spots in Angkor of Cambodia, but it was not romantic and peaceful as one may wish either.

DSC_3749The view would be much better if we could climb onto one of the pagoda for the sunset.

DSC_3751Yet, it was still enjoyable to watch the colour of the ancient bricks changed from brown to orange as the sun dipped lower.

DSC_3760Behind the lookout there was a wetland, sort of a rare sight in the rather arid plains of Bagan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome tourists arrived in horse-carts.

DSC_3767As sunset approached, the distant pagodas and temples turned into layers of silhouettes.

DSC_3779The horse-carts and ancient pagodas made a perfect picture.

DSC_3797An Ox-cart emerged from nowhere and stole everyone’s attention.

DSC_3809The scenery of pagodas reminded us the spiritual ambience of Bagan during the Bagan period.

DSC_3814Pagodas in partial ruins standing against a rural setting provoked a romantic feel.

DSC_3823Gradually the foreground turned dark just before the sunset.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeyond the pagodas and mountains, the sun dipped rather quickly in front of the crimson sky.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun set rather quickly and just a moment later, it completely disappeared behind the distant mountains.



DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO, Bagan, Myanmar

After a brief rest at our hotel, Win Thu came to pick us up for another temple visit.  We went further down Anawrahta Road from Nyaung-U towards Old Bagan to visit one of the most prominent icon of Bagan, the Ananda Pahto (Temple).   Built between 1090 and 1105 by King Kyanzittha, the wonderfully preserved temple is often considered to be one of the finest structures in Bagan.  The iconic golden spires of Ananda were not always golden.  In fact, they were gilded in 1990 on its 900th anniversary.  The exterior walls of the temple, on the other hand, were whitewashed from time to time.  Four large standing Buddha were housed in the temple, each facing one of the four cardinal directions.  The north and south facing images were said to be the original which were crafted in Bagan style.  The east and west ones were replacements after the original ones were destroyed by fire.  All four Buddha images were made of teak wood and covered with gold leaves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took off our shoes before entering the entrance hallway.  Led by our guide Win Thu, we walked into the courtyard of Ananda Pahto and were immediately amazed by the grandeur of the temple.  The golden spires glowed under the late afternoon sun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore entering the temple, Win Thu took us to see the famous glazed terra-cotta tiles along the lower terraces of the structure.  Hundreds of these well-preserved tiles depicted the Jataka tales (stories of previous births of Gautama Buddha in human and animal forms).

DSC_3685While we examined the glazed tiles, a large group of school students arrived into the temple courtyard.

DSC_3674Before going inside, we walked to the far corner to see the reflection of Ananda Pahto in a pond.

DSC_3692The first thing captured our attention as we entered the west entrance of the temple was the exquisite fresco.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeeking through the pointed archway we could see one of the four magnificent standing Buddha.

DSC_3695Facing west, Gautama Buddha (present Buddha) greets visitors with a hand gesture of fearlessness.  This is one of the later replacements for the original statue, showing carving details in Mandalay style.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe enormous teak wood doors at each of the four main entrances look splendid but should be quite heavy to operate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe core of the temple is a solid cube surrounded by long passageway, connecting the four worship halls where the large Buddha stand.

DSC_3711Natural light lit up the passageway through pointed arch openings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFresco and relief carvings depicting the life of the Buddha are all over the walls of the passageway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuddha statues with different hand gestures, postures, and facial expressions convey a unique meaning and a stage in life of the Buddha.

DSC_3717Facing north, the Kakusandha Buddha is the fourth of the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity and the first of the five Buddhas of the present aeon.  This statue is one of two original statues from the Bagan period.

DSC_3723On the other hand, the east facing Konagamana Buddha (the fifth of the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity and the second of the five Buddhas of the present aeon) is a later replacement of the destroyed original.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe exited the temple after checking out the south facing Kassapa Buddha.  The Kassapa Buddha is the sixth of the Seven Buddhas of Antiquity, and the third of the five Buddhas of the present aeon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore leaving temple, Win Thu explained various forms of reclining Buddha, differentiating between when the Buddha was taking a nap and when he was attaining parinirvana upon his death.

DSC_3731_01The Ananda Pahto under the late afternoon sun was glorious.  Despite we were barefoot, we still enjoyed walking around the temple compound to photograph the beautiful architecture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt a far corner by a back exit, we stopped by a gate with a niche and small statue.

DSC_3737_01Looking back over to the temple, the sun was setting fast.  We decided to move on to another spot to watch the sunset over Old Bagan.

DSC_3740It was still pretty busy at the entrance of the Ananda Pahto when we exited the compound.  Behind us, the splendid golden spires of Ananda glowed under the western sun.


Considered as the first empire in Myanmar, the legacy of the ancient Bagan Kingdom is what drawn all visitors coming to the dry plains at the eastern bank of the Ayeyawaddy River today.  With over 2000 ruined pagodas concentrated around a few villages, Bagan is truly one of the most wonderful place to visit in Southeast Asia.  After seeing Shwezigon, probably the most active temple still popular with pilgrims today, we moved on to check out some of the less intact pagodas nearby.

The first was Htilominlo Temple.  Built on the spot where King Htilominlo was chosen as the next king, Htilominlo was eventually named after the king himself.  Topped with a sikhara, an ornamental tower originated from Hindu architecture in Northern India, the 46m pagoda is a majestic brick structure plastered with stucco carvings.

DSC_3546Built in the 13th century, the Htilominlo is about 46m tall.  The temple was damaged by earthquake in 1975.

DSC_3547Among all the tourist souvenirs on display at Htilominlo, local puppets seemed to be the most eye-catching.

DSC_3553Well known for its detailed plaster work, Htilominlo is a popular temple among the 2000+ pagodas in the area.  The sikhara at the top was under scaffolding during our visit.

DSC_3566There is one gilded Buddha figure at each of the four worship halls facing the four directions.

DSC_3578Each of the four Buddha figures is unique in appearance.  Pilgrims usually visit all of them for the worship.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe four main worship halls are connected by vaulted corridors running around the core of the main structure.

DSC_3579The interior of the architecture is full of archways and vaulted corridors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of the fading fresco can still be seen inside Htilominlo.

DSC_3584After an interior loop, we walked around the temple to check out its exterior decorations.  Some of the beautiful plaster work and glazed terracotta plaques were still visible.

DSC_3604Across the road from Htilominlo, we reached a smaller building called Upali Thein.  Built in the 13th century, this building houses some fine frescoes from the 17th century.  The interesting roof battlements attempted to mimic a type of historical Burmese wooden architecture that can no longer be found today.

DSC_3594We were fortunate that the usually locked Upali Thein was open while we were there.

DSC_3621We wandered around a cluster of stupas nearby.  These stupas varied in size and form, and were constructed in different eras.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the past, constructing stupas in Bagan was considered a religious good deed of the donor.  Stupa donors in Bagan ranged from businessmen to officials and even kings.  Names and addresses of the donor were often presented at the entrance gate.

DSC_3631Constructing stupas was a competitive business in the old days among the wealthy class.

DSC_3656Today, most of the 2000+ surviving stupas and pagodas stand in partial ruins, except the most prominent ones that are still serving as places of worship for Buddhist pilgrims.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACenturies of competitive stupa constructions put Bagan at the top of the list of attractions for Myanmar.

DSC_3658Looking back at Htilominlo from afar, we could truly sense that our two-day feast of temple and stupa hopping would be a really special experience.  Unlike Angkor in Cambodia where majestic temples are overtaken by the powerful rainforest, Bagan is a romantic landscape picture consisted of layers of pagodas scattered across the horizon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor lunch, Win Thu took us to a local restaurant nearby.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was no menu as all customers were given the same dozen or so small plates of local dishes and a large plate of rice.

DSC_3669Housed in a simple shed, the restaurant kitchen was filled with the scent of charcoal.


DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U, Bagan, Myanmar

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmong several eateries we ended up sitting down at Gloria Jean’s Coffee in the boarding area for breakfast.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlack coffee and Shan noodles represented a set breakfast with a local twist.

DSC_3459Approaching 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.

DSC_3471After 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWin 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.

DSC_3539We 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe entrance hall is a stone-paved covered walkway leading to the central pagoda compound and the gold gilded central pagoda.

DSC_3492Before 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.

DSC_3499In 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.

DSC_3477Completed 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.

DSC_3514Many 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.

DSC_3520The pagoda has a central solid core, with steps at the four cardinal directions rising from the base up the terraces for pilgrim’s worship.

DSC_3516Shwezigon Pagoda is the largest and most popular Buddhist temple in the Bagan area today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWin 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the back of the pagoda, we also found a small building housing local deities that predated Buddhism in Myanmar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore leaving Shwezigon Pagoda, we passed by a number of small prayer halls that surrounded the golden pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found our way back to where we came.  It was time to move on to the next designations in Bagan.


DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT, Yangon, Myanmar

After Shwedagon Pagoda, we took a taxi back to Downtown Yangon.  Despite the taxi driver got lost on the way, we did eventually find our way on foot to LinkAge, a social development restaurant and art gallery that offers delicious food to customers and cooking training to local street kids.

DSC_3354Established by NGO Forever Humanitarian and Development Projects, LinkAge is situated on the upper level of an old apartment block on Mahabandoola Garden Street.

DSC_3349The time was a bit late but there were still several tables of customers in the restaurant.

DSC_3346The ambience was causal and relaxing, a perfect venue to have a local beer and chill out after a long day of sightseeing in Yangon.

DSC_3352We ordered lentil soup and curry shrimps.  The food was decent and reasonably priced.

DSC_3356After the meal, we wandered around Downtown Yangon where streets and shops were still quite busy.

DSC_3358We walked past some of the street vendors who had spent the entire day on the streets.

DSC_3360We also passed by some of the city’s spectacular colonial architecture.  Standing beside the High Court since 1917, the Myanma Post and Telecommunications (Central Telegraph Office) is another piece of fine architectural gem.  Today, the former communication hub still offers counters for sending telegrams and emails.

DSC_3362Soon, we arrived at the Ayeyarwady Bank building (former Rowe & Co. Department Store) again.  The former Rowe & Co. Department Store was covered with splendid Christmas lights.

DSC_3364Across the street from Ayeyarwady Bank, the street market along the east side of Maha Bandula Park was still running.

DSC_3374The north side of Maha Bandula Park across the street from Sule Pagada and City Hall was much more crowded than the morning.

DSC_3380A large crowd gathered for the live music performances on the stage where we passed by in the morning.

DSC_3390When we arrived, the performer was playing the guitar and singing in Burmese.  For some reason, the Burmese songs did sound a little like Japanese to us.

DSC_3402Where there were people gathering in Yangon we would always find street food vendors.

DSC_3403Many cars just stopped by the roadside to absorb the atmosphere of the performances, even public buses.

DSC_3412A little further from the main stage, other vendors were selling festive stuff like illuminated wands.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course there were also helium balloons for the festival crowds.

DSC_3418Just a stone throw away from the crowds at Maha Bandula Park, Sule Pagoda continued to bathe in its peaceful spirituality.

DSC_3426On our way back to Loft Hotel, we climbed onto the pedestrian overpass north of Sule Pagoda.  The overpass was originally constructed by the junta government where soldiers could shoot at an out-of-control political demonstration in front of the Sule Pagoda, an iconic and popular venue for massive protests.

DSC_3443The Christmas tree in front of Sakura Tower reminded us that Christmas 2017 was just around the corner.


After sunset, the Shwedagon Pagoda transformed into a mysterious world of flickering candles and shimmering golden ornaments.  We stayed at the open space in front of the Photo Gallery for a little while after dusk.  We then wandered around the central stupa, where people were lighting up candles around the stupa base.  We saw a constant flow of people arriving at the main terrace from one of its four main stairways.  It seemed there were actually more visitors at compound after dark.  At the compound, some people were worshipping and chanting, while others were chatting and taking photographs of themselves with the glittering background of the pagoda.  At the end of our visit, we decided to walk down one of the grand covered stairways to descend the Singuttara Hill.

DSC_3202The view of the central stupa from the Photo Gallery was gorgeous no matter what time of the day it was.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the northwest open space in front of the Photo Gallery, worshippers gathered to offer incenses, candles and other religious items in prayers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the nearby prayer hall, the large Buddha in golden robes looked peaceful under the soft lighting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe golden prayer halls and chapels looked even more surreal in the evening.

DSC_3249The locals enjoyed posing for photographs at some of the golden worship halls.

DSC_3231At the base of the central stupa, the continuous ring of candles appeared like a stream of sparking fire flickering in the wind.

DSC_3241Just as daytime, the planetary posts were still one of the popular worshipping spots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe covered stairway, or zaungdans, are often occupied by merchants selling all kinds of religious items from flowers to different kinds of offerings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter sunset, the main terrace around the central stupa is still adequately lit up.

DSC_3257From the north gate, the central pagoda stood perfectly at the terminus of the perspective axis.

DSC_3260Some visitors preferred to stay away from the busy actions surrounding the central stupa.

DSC_3275At the outer perimeter of the worship terrace, the sacred Bodhi tree was highlighted with flood lights.

DSC_3292Colourful electronic lights are commonly used to create the halo ring for each Buddha statue.

DSC_3297Statues of the Buddha were everywhere in the ompound.

DSC_3305After the candles were lighted up, many people came to the ring of candles to pray and worship.

DSC_3315Some monks were meditating inside the small Buddhist shrines.

DSC_3323Same as worshipping in daytime, pilgrims came up to the planetary post and clean the altar with water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the visit, we took the covered stairway at the east gate to walk down the hill.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe east stairway is flanked both sides by shops selling souvenirs and religious items.

DSC_3343Back to the main east gate, we picked up our shoes and looked for a taxi to return to Downtown Yangon.

DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

As the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda is also one of the liveliest venue where the Burmese gather not only to worship but also to participate in all kinds of social and community activities.  For the locals, Shwedagon is the place to chill out, to date, to spend family time, to chat with friends, to seek for advice from monks, and to mingle with foreign tourists.  For us, the compound was the perfect place for people watching: devoted families worshipping their associated planetary post, kids amusing themselves with bronze bells and ritual tools, women reciting Buddhist mantras, monks meditating in front of the Buddhist shrines, children dressed in traditional costumes attending novitiation ceremony, large number of volunteers sweeping the marble floor, pilgrims lighting up candles and incenses surrounding the central stupa under the setting sun.

The terrace of Shwedagon has long been the centre stage for the people of Yangon.  Since 1920, students, workers, civilians, and monks had took up the terrace to protest against all kinds of social injustice from colonial rule to the authoritarian regime.  The most recent incident was the 2007 nationwide protest for democracy, when tens of thousands of monks and people marched from Shwedagon to the streets of Yangon demanding for change.  Political figures also chose the Shwedagon as the assembly venue, such as Aung San (Aung San Suu Kyi’s father) addressing the mass in 1946 in pursuit of independence from the British, and Aung San Suu Kyi meeting with 500,000 people in 1988 demanding for democracy from the military regime.  Religiously, this huge Buddhist site holds the sacred hair relics of the Buddha.  Socially, the pagoda terrace is the iconic venue for national independence and democracy.  Historically, the Shwedagon is one of the oldest Buddhist monument in the world.  Culturally, the compound contains some of the Myanmar’s most remarkable architecture and national treasures.  With its layers of meanings, the Shwedagon Pagoda is truly a remarkable venue for the people of Myanmar, and the single most important monument that defines the cultural and social identity of the Burmese.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWearing a Burmese longyi and walking bare-feet on the marble floor of the Shwedagon is an unique Burmese experience for foreigners.

DSC_2896The Shwedagon is a popular place for Shinbyu parades, the traditional novitiation ceremony in Burmese Theravada Buddhism.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout our visit, we saw a few Shinbyu parades at the marble terrace of the Shwedagon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Shinbyu parades offered us some of most remarkable moments of people watching.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt Shwedagon and elsewhere in Myanmar, gold is warmest colour.

DSC_3033Many pilgrims would light up candles and incenses at the altar around the central pagoda.

DSC_3008Local fruits are popular for religious offerings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeditation is a typical practice for Buddhists, and a common sight at Shwedagon.

DSC_2972Young children seemed enjoying themselves at the terrace while their parents were busy worshipping.

DSC_2926A kid trying out the bronze bell.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA devoted family worshipping at one of the planetary post at the base of the central pagoda.

DSC_2976A group of women reciting Buddhist mantras in front of a reclining Buddha.

DSC_2981Visitors and monks resting among figures of sitting Buddha.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVolunteers collectively sweeping the marble floor was a unique scene for us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe volunteers formed a line and walked at the same pace to sweep the floor.  During our visit, we saw the sweeping group several times at different locations in the compound.

DSC_3071Away from the main circulation space, some worship hall were less crowded, allowing visitors to meditate quietly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear sunset, many gathered at the open space in front of the Photo Gallery northwest of the central stupa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGathering people included young visitors carrying flower offerings for evening worship.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also saw a large group of what looked like to be the Wa people.  The Wa is an ethnic minority group living in Northern Myanmar and Southwestern China.

DSC_3148Myanmar is ethnically diverse, with 135 ethnic groups officially recognized by the government.