Our last stop in Myanmar was Bagan. Touring Bagan was the highlight of Myanmar for me. It was beautiful, ancient, and relaxing. Pagodas and temples sprout up from the rust earth. Ancient frescos of the Buddha fill many of the temples interiors. As an art lover, 11th century frescos really left me ohhing and ahhing. Bagan reminded a lot of Bali. Beautiful hotels have been built around a tiny city to support the tourism. And to make me just a little bit happier, the food was by far the best of Myanmar, noodles and delicious salads were everywhere. (And by everywhere I mean at my hotel, which is the only place we ate because it was delicious and really pretty.)
“Bagan” our guide informed me, “is the best of Myanmar, ancient, beautiful and filled with history.” I saw Bagan as an example of everything happening in Myanmar, both the good and the bad. It is jaw droopingly beautiful, the kind of beauty that really makes you think wow. The people are kind and welcoming, and the area is a show of the former historical power of the Burmese Kings. The area is also in the midst of a tourism explosion. And like many things in Myanmar it is about Buddhism, a giant architectural tribute to the power of religious devotion. However, it also symbolic of corrupt government rule. All of the pagodas and temples underwent a makeover in the 1970s in an effort to restore them back to glory. The restoration was lead by a military dictator and resulted in uniform cake topers on every single pagoda and temple. Unfortunately for Myanmar these temple tops, which lacked any historical archeological accuracy, have delayed (possibly forever) Bagan’s application process as a UNESCO world heritage site (a process, which began in 1996, and remains ongoing.) Additionally, the military seemingly missing the point of tourism, transported Bagan’s residents out of the historical city center into “New Bagan” as “Old Bagan” has been transformed into a museum or a ghost town complete with a new palace.
It is difficult to describe Myanmar, as most writings on it are either the romanticized version or speaking about the poverty and governmental problems. I saw both sides of the country, there were moments while touring when I thought wow this place, but than I saw a man trafficking young girls out of the country for what one could only assume was sex work. I think my wonderful food guide, James, in Yangon said it best, when he said “things are changing, but not quick enough.” He was hoping to receive a Visa to the good ol’ USA, and to live in Texas