Sandra Scott Travels: Tourism, History Meld In Myanmar

Last week I asked: Where was the capital of Pagan? In Myanmar.

Today Pagan is known as Bagan.

 farmers herd their white cattle across the field between the ruins.
Farmers herd their white cattle across the field between the ruins.

From the 9th to the 13th centuries it was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan.

During its glory days there were more than 10,000 Buddhist temples and monasteries; today only about 2,200 remain.

Even so, it is the premier tourist destination in Myanmar rivaling the ruins in Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

The once thriving city may have had a population of 200,000 at its peak and drew scholars from India, Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) and other countries.

The empire collapsed due the Mongol invasion in the 1200s and today Bagan is a small village that exists on tourism.

Burma gold pounders
Burma gold pounders

Late one day, we climbed one of the temples to watch the sun set which is a popular thing to do.

The sun set like a bright orange ball but before that I enjoyed watching the farmers herd their white cattle across the field between the ruins.

The Bagan area is also known for its excellent handicrafts.

It was impressive watching lacquer ware being made.

There are so many steps in the complicated process.

In Myanmar, the lacquer comes from the sap of the varnish tree that grows wild in the forest.

The light yellow sap turns black when exposed to the air.

When it is applied to a plate, box, or other item it makes a hard, glossy surface.

Puppet Show at Amazing Bagan Resort
Puppet Show at Amazing Bagan Resort

We have seen sinks and bathtubs made of lacquer ware.

We also visited an area where making pottery is a cottage industry for many of the families and one day we saw a boat transporting jars gliding down the Irrawaddy River.

One of the most impressive workers I have seen were the gold pounders which operates as another cottage industry.

Many of the Buddhist statures and pagodas are adorned with gold leaf.

Liquefied gold is turned into sheets then cut into small pieces and placed between layers of bamboo secured by two wooden blocks.

The gold pounders standing upright and using a six-pound hammer beat the block for about 30 minutes.

The process continues with some variations for three more poundings after which the very thin gold leaf is cut into two-inch squares, placed between straw paper and it is ready to be applied.

The gold pounders work long hours for a little more than dollar a day.

Students at  the Jetawan Buddhist Monastic Education Center
Students at the Jetawan Buddhist Monastic Education Center

We stayed at the lovely Amazing Bagan Resort where, from our window, we could see hot air balloons passing over the ruins.

It is an expensive but popular activity in Bagan.

After viewing the ruins from the ground we cooled off in the hotel’s beautiful pool and in the evening we enjoyed a traditional puppet show with our dinner.

One day a staff member from Amazing Bagan Resort took us to the Jetawan Buddhist Monastic Education Center where we visited an English class.

The teacher, Daw Mya Mya Win, spoke excellent English and so did her students.

We were impressed. “Daw” is used for older women who are in a senior position.

English has become an important connecting language so no matter where we go in the world we can find English speaking people.

With tourism growing exponentially in Bagan the people who speak English will have an opportunity to get a better paying job in the tourism industry.

The school has grown from 46 students in 2006 to 375 this year.

I loved the wise sayings on the wall.

“The golden jar of learning cannot be stolen.”

Trivia Tease™: What took place on April 19, 1775?  Look for the answer next week.

Sandra and her husband, John, have been exploring the world for decades, always on the lookout for something new and unique to experience. We have sailed down the Nile for a week on a felucca, stayed with the Pesch Indians in La Mosquitia, visited schools in a variety of countries, and — to add balance to our life — stayed at some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Let the fun continue!