Burma (Myanmar)

Photographs by Shaun O'Boyle

But in the end the trip was well worth the effort. Pagan turns out to be a spectacular place, one of the true wonders of Asia. It is a huge ancient deserted city spread out across the plain along the Irrawaddy River.

   The city dates from the mid ninth century and had a huge growth for about two centuries until Kublai Khan sacked the city in the late eleventh century and it was never rebuilt.   The temples and pagodas number at about five thousand here and it is an awe inspiring site to look out across the plain from the top of some of the larger temples at sunset, as far as the eye can see temples glow red in the evening light. 
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Junks and rafts float down the Irrawaddy River and the only sounds are the ox drawn carts rumbling along the gravel paths and the bells clanging at their necks, a few children yelling and playing in the distance but no sound of automobiles or machinery at all.  It is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I have ever been. The local villagers were very friendly and helpful in finding a place to stay, there are a few small hotels and I had no problem finding a cheap place along side the river to act as my base for the next few days.
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I spent three days wandering the ruins visiting the many pagodas and temples where many of the Buddha statues have been recently restored.  There was a major earthquake in 1975 that caused extensive damage but most of the major temples have  been repaired.   Walking though the farm fields you can often find bits and fragments of artifacts that have been tilled up by the farmers.

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I found that the best way to explore the area is to rent one of the rickety bicycles that are available and check out as many of the temples as you can.  It makes for a long day but is well worth the effort.   Two days after I arrived in Pagan I ran into the crew who had tried to hire the jeep again.  They had been ripped off,  again,  and had lost another day in Rangoon sitting waiting for the night train out to Thazi and Mandalay. 

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In the end I had to pull up stakes and leave Pagan, I bit the bullet and paid the extra cash for a flight back to Rangoon, having only seven days in the country I didn't want to spend more time in transit than I had to. Once back in Rangoon I  took a day trip to the city of Pegu which was interesting, it is cheap enough to hire yourself a taxi for the day and the driver acts as a tour guide to the sites.  I also wandered about Rangoon in the markets and down the back street soaking in the atmosphere.
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I found the people of Burma to be extremely friendly (with a few exceptions illustrated above) and found the country to be a beautiful place. The trip to Pagan is a must, probably the best reason for a tourist to visit the country. Of course check on current political tensions in the country, many people, myself included,  will be put off by the current governments repressive policies and I would urge caution if you intend to travel there now.

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