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The best way to appreciate the thousands of ancient temples littered across a plain near the town of Bagan in Myanmar is from the air, in a hot air balloon.

Hot Air Balloons in Bagan, Myanmar Credit: Valery Collins

Bagan in Myanamar

Bagan in Myanmar which is also known as Burma, is the site of over two thousand ancient temples.  The kings of Bagan built 4,450 temples between 1057 and 1287 and these are the ones that have survived.  This mania of temple-building was based on the Buddhist belief that building a temple earns a merit.  These temples are scattered amongst the dense vegetation of a large plain that nestles in a bend of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River.  Everywhere I looked as I was driven from the airport to my hotel in New Bagan I saw temples.  It is difficult to envisage the size of this collection of religious buildings from the ground.

Hot Air Balloon Rides in Bagan, Myanmar

Hot Air Bolloons over Bagan in Myanmar Credit: Valery Collins

My wake-up call at 4 am in the morning was a man banging on my door and shouting at me to wake up.  I was already awake as he had used this technique to rouse all the guests on my corridor.  I found my transport driver in the crowded reception area and we set off for the take-off site.  As we got closer to the designated area I could hear music blaring out from the cafés nearby.  This was soon drowned out by the roar of flames forcing air into the rapidly expanding balloons.  There were balloons everywhere each one surrounded by excited passengers anxious to clamber into the basket and float away.  I did not have to wait long before the signal to climb aboard and we were soon drifting across the plain, in silence.  It was thrilling to float over trees and shrubs interspersed with crumbling temples.

Gold Buddha inside the Unfinished Dhammayangyi Temple in Bagan, Myanmar Credit: Valery Collins

A Temple Tour in Bagan, Myanmar 

My walking tour of a few of the temples began at the most important one, the Shwezigon Pagoda.  This temple was built during the eleventh century.  Between 1983 and 1984 the entire structure was covered in gold.  In the unfinished Dhammayangyi Temple I watched a worshipper sticking a small patch of gold onto a huge golden Buddha.  It is a tradition in Myanmar to stick gold on the buddhas.  Some of them have been covered by so much gold they have lost their shape.  At the end of the day, as the sun began to go down, I climbed to the top of the five-tier Shwe San Daw Temple.  I sat on the stone terrace and watched the sun go down.   It was the best ending to a memorable day in Bagan.

Article by Valery Collins the Experienced Traveller, you may also like to read Flying High in Guatemala 

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