Going Standby in Mandalay

Three days ago we woke up in our Rangoon hotel at 5:30 a.m. and headed to the airport for our departure up country. We’d gotten a “special monsoon fare” from Air Mandalay to get us to a series of points around the country since it’s the rainy season and the roads and rail are all in disrepair at the moment.

We got to the Rangoon airport and had to go through immigration and customs again so they could track our internal movement. It took us a while but was pretty straightforward.

They called boarding for our flight and once we were on the plane they did a headcount and since everyone was present the plane actually left 15 min early! I suppose it’s more efficient since everyone was on board. One hour later we were landing at a simple airport in the Bagan Archaelogical Zone.

This region is absolutely unbelievable and there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. In the historical Mon period in Burma from 800-1200 AD the Mon king had a series of Buddhist temples constructed in this are in the west of the country. In a 10 sq kilometer area there once stood over 4,000 temples averaging from ten to fifty metres high. Today about 2,500 remain tucked in the jungle, all scattered across the region.

When we exited the airport transportation choices were taxi or horse-drawn cart. We chose the cart, threw our backpacks up with the driver then sat backwards with our legs hanging off the back of the cart. We were heading to the opposite side of the region to a series of hotels that sit on the Irawaddy river at the center of the temple zone.

It was 7:30 a.m. and already getting warm, but it was dry, such a welcome change from the heavy heat of Rangoon. At this hour of the morning the sun is also casting a golden glow across the region.

Our cart left the airport and went down the paved road for five hundred metres but instead of following the road it turned onto a dirt track and headed out through the fields. We couldn’t see anything at first due to the high bushes surrounding the adjacent field, but where they ended the most magnificent view was afforded to us.

Twenty temple, all different sizes, lay before us – some right next to the cart and others off in the distance. The sunlight lit every on perfectly, some temples’ spires blocked by only a row of lazy palm trees which just added to the view. White spires, red brick spires, gold leaf, these were truly otherworldly. Many of these temples have a large square base with a tall circular spine rising up from there.

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