The Land of 2,000 Temples

The central city of Bagan, Burma (formerly Myanmar), about an hour southwest of Mandalay by plane, is known as the land of 2,000 temples. The locals however argue there are closer to 4,000 and even if you lived there it would be hard to visit every single one. People travel to Bagan to watch a sunrise or sunset from the tops of the many ancient pagodas. Many temples and pagodas have steps you can climb, although the Burmese government recently banned tourists from doing this as of March 1st, 2016 (read more on the banĀ here). Luckily I got there in January and managed to catch a sunrise from one of the smaller, lesser-known pagodas.

Waiting for the sun.

Waiting for the sun.

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To get around to the many temples and pagodas most travellers rent a regular bike, an e-bike (a bicycle with an electric motor) or a moped (like a slower, battery operated motorcycle with no license required). Mopeds were the most preferred since the side roads needed to get to said temples and pagodas are often sandy and uneven which makes adventuring with a bicycle difficult. Moped daily rentals cost between 5,000-8,000 kyats (approx. $5.50-$8.80 CAD) depending on the size of the bike. Most rental places expect the bikes back by 8pm or whenever it gets dark out so it’s a fair deal for a whole day of exploring.

My first moped rental. A little scary but I did it!

My first moped rental. A little scary!

What often happens when heading out to find the big famous temples is you get side-tracked by some random and often unmarked pagoda or temple that looks interesting. So off you go down a sandy path towards the temple that caught your eye and the next thing you know it’s been an hour, you’ve found nothing on the map but you’ve explored about a mile of ancient roads. This is why they say you need at least 3 days to look around. You need time to wander. Below are some pictures of the ancient unnamed pagodas I stumbled upon.

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Eventually I did find my way to some of the more well-known temples but with great fame comes a great many patrons and tourists. Here are some shots of the bigger temples. The huge white temple below is called Ananda Temple.

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Htilominlo Temple was one of my favourites because of the markets at the entrance to the temple. It was busy and pretty much a tourist trap but I enjoyed the bustling atmosphere amongst the devout.

The walkway to Htilominlo.

The walkway to Htilominlo.


Htilominlo seen from the top of a neighboring pagoda.

Htilominlo seen from the top of a neighboring pagoda.

Thatbyinnyu Temple was another I liked, partly because I found it by accident. Many of these temples are the same inside with big buddha statues, cool stucco walls and old cement floors. Often times the architecture from the outside is the best part and the insides are more plain.

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For those who don’t want to bike around to the temples and would rather the safety of a car, it is possible to rent a driver and a car for a day. The cost is around $60 USD so share the fare with 3 people and it’s not so bad. Keep in mind that the drivers rarely own their own cars. Drivers usually get $2-$4 USD for an 8 hour day while the car owner keeps the remaining money. If you do rent a driver be sure to tip them well!

I will leave you with some sunset pictures to end our journey through Bagan. No matter how limited your time in Burma may be, I highly recommend you include Bagan in your itinerary. Until next time Dear Readers, be well.

Sunset from a temple-top.

Sunset from a temple-top.


A Tour of Mandalay

The next part of my journey led me from the southern city of Yangon, Burma (Myanmar) to the northern city of Mandalay. My hotel offered city tours through their connections so I signed up for one heading out the next morning. I had a great time as our group was small and our guide was passionate. I traveled with 2 other ladies, one from Shanghai and one from Hong Kong. Our first stop was a teak woodworking shop to see the craftsmen at work and obviously, to shop.

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After the teak shop we went to the Maha Gana Yon Kyaung monastery that is still active, housing over 1,000 monks of all ages. We were told that often times joining a monastery is the best chance at a good education since most kids come from low-income families and education is free while studying there. We caught a glimpse of young monks waiting to enter their eating hall for lunch. They traditionally bring their pots outside into the street in the morning to get offerings from the locals who gladly oblige. At this time, some tourists put snacks on the lids of the passing monks’ pots but they went into the eating hall where food was already cooked and waiting.

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Next up was a short boat ride across a lake and onwards to a horse and carriage ride waiting to take us around the town of Ava, also known as Inwa. Ava was an imperial capital city from the 14th-19th century and the remains of decadence are notable. We saw an old teak monastery called Bagaya Kyaung. It’s too old and dilapidated to use as an active monastery so it remains as a historical landmark for tourists. It was too dark inside to get any good shots but here are some from the outside:

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Ava (Inwa) is also home to some beautiful temple ruins. The ones you’ll see below are called Yadana Hsimi pagodas, built in the mid-1800s. There are also “stupas” which look like little mini temples with long pointed tops and no entrance.

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These ruins used to be an actual temple but due to earthquakes, most of the foundation has crumbled.

These ruins used to be an actual temple but due to earthquakes, much of the foundation has crumbled.

Just before the sun got too low, we went to see one more ancient place called the Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery. Although this pale yellow monastery was built in the traditional way architecturally, this one is unique because it was built with brick and stucco instead of the traditional wooden pagodas and temples of the times. It was completed in 1822 but earthquakes over time did some damage. It got repaired by each successive imperial family as needed and today it is still used as a place of worship among monks.


Young female monks pray to the Buddha statues inside.

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Myself, my two tour-mates and our tour guide, Lynn.

Myself, my two tour-mates and our tour guide, Lynn.

To top off our adventure we went to U Bein Bridge in Amarapura to catch the sunset. This is the longest teak bridge in the world, built in the 1850s and legend has it that couples who walk the 1.2 kilometer (3/4 of a mile) bridge together will have good fortune in their relationship. I walked a few feet out but the lack of railings mixed with the volume of people had me turning back mighty fast. I was still able to get a few shots and after that it was back to the hotel.


Lynn was a wonderful guide who worked hard to teach us about his country’s history. I hadn’t thought much of Mandalay until I took this tour and I’m glad I did. For 24,000 kyat (approx. $26 CAD) We got over 9 hours of adventure plus lunch and good conversation all day. We met lots of locals, many who were eager to have a chat and take our picture.

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Stay tuned next week when I’ll share my most favourite part of Burma – adventures in Bagan!

Pagoda Hopping in Burma

You can’t do Yangon, Myanmar without seeing the beautiful golden temples. Smack in the middle of downtown Yangon lies the temple known as the Sule Pagoda. This was the first one I explored upon arrival in Yangon.

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Next up was the Botataung Pagoda, known for housing a piece of Buddha’s hair as well as the temple’s inner gold-plated walls, secured behind glass.


Nap time for some locals inside one of the outer shrines.


Yours truly attempts inner reflection within these gold-plated walls.


Ancient relics kept safe behind bars.


Beyond the glass, above the mound of money, apparently lies a piece of Buddha’s hair.


A temple employee sweeps up money, folded into little triangles and tossed into the table by local worshipers.

On my last day in Yangon, I couldn’t respectfully leave without paying my dues to the most famous, most elegant temple, the Shwedegawa Pagoda. I met a monk there who approached me based on the Canadian flag on my backpack. He told me how each gold leaf hammered into place in this temple was donated by the Burmese people who devoted much of their savings to the construction of these pagodas back in the day. He told me the best places to watch the sunset and told me he was happy I was enjoying his country and his temple. I wanted to shake his hand but it’s not proper to touch a monk so instead, I bowed low and thanked him for his time.


The entrance to the temple, surrounded by young children out of school trying to sell items related to the temple.

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Whatever your degree of spirituality, one cannot help but feel a sense of awe at the site of such devotion from a humble, modest society who gave their few spare coins to the building of these great monuments. Next week I’ll take you on my tour of Mandalay, Burma so get ready for some picturesque shots of the beautiful northern city!