BAGAN: MORE THAN JUST AMAZING PAGODAS
Bagan is known for its beautiful pagodas, over 2000 of them in fact, sprawling across the 18th century 13×8 km wide archaeological site. Don’t get us wrong, they are absolutely stunning. But we want you to know that Bagan has even more on offer.
The morning market is a hub of bustling activity. We arrived early to get our hands on some delicious local produce and try our luck bumbling through some embarrassingly bad bartering. Our currency is the kyat (pronounced ‘chat’). One Aussie dollar will get you about 875 kyat. This goes a hell of a long way.
Try some fresh and delicious local fruits and vegetables. Maybe even some mohingar – the traditional Burmese breakfast of fish soup, considered by many to be the national dish. Marvel at the fresh and abundant leafy greens. Purchase a nice chunk a thanaka (more about this amazing product in future posts). Try to fend off the enthusiastic local kids trying to sell you postcards and the parents who want their children to be in photos with you. Sit back on a tiny plastic stool and just observe the organised crazyiness of the market.
BARTERING IN MYANMAR
Having come directly from India (where the decent barterer can commonly walk away having purchased something from a vendor for a fifth of their first price given), we found bartering in Myanmar to be different to the more cutthroat nature of the subcontinent. Your typical friendly Myanmar bartering negotiation would go something like this;
Us: “Maingarlarpar :)”
Vendor: “Maingarlarpar :)”
Us *pointing to the beautiful hand painting on the wall with no price displayed*: “how much?”
Vendor: “50,000 kyat”
Us: “20,000 kyat?”
Vendor: “49,000 kyat”
Vendor: “48,000 last price”
*We proceed to do our ‘walk away if not happy with the price’ thing because we consider ourselves semi-hardcore barterers then turn back around when we decide that we really do want the painting because its really unique and depicts Inle Lake (which we loved)*
Vendor: “Ok :)”
BETEL NUT CHEWING
Here we discovered the answer to a big question we had burning in our minds since arriving in Myanmar… what on earth is that bizarre blood-coloured liquid people keep spitting on the floor and is there actually a health pandemic we should be concerned about here?? Gingivitis? People floss and brush too hard?? Flesh eating ZOMBIES?!!
Turns it out is betel juice. A popular pastime and somewhat addiction here in Myanmar and other Asian countries. Apparently chewing the betel nut gives you an instant energy high, along with dark red or brown stained teeth and lips. Red wine smiles literally have NOTHING on this. You will see street sellers on every corner in the bigger cities, carefully rolling a mix of betel nut, lime pastes and tobacco into a betel leaf like a mini burrito, seemingly even more popular than Zamberos at 2am on a Saturday night.
We visited a monastery to learn about Buddhism, the lifestyle that monks lead and gain a greater understanding of the pathway for monk is. We also learnt about Buddhist nuns, I quite admired their lovely pink robes and just wish I could pull off a shaved head as well as they all could. The little monks in training were great little characters and showed us what they ate for a typical meal and their amazing cleaning up abilities!
Riding out to the villages on our e-bikes was an adventure, one which ended with me flying off into the dirt a few times as the roads deteriorated and we road through deep sand on numerous occasions. Arriving with only a few minor bumps and scratches, we were greeted enthusiastically by the village kids. Visiting their homes and the medical centre was certainly eye-opening. Talk about ‘the simple life’. It really made us realise what we take for granted in our first world lives. Basic things like clean, running water simply do not exist for these beautiful, yet extremely underprivileged people.
Access to health care is also very limited and as a midwife it was fascinating to learn how things work at the clinic here, which is entirely funded by donations. We tried to help out as best as we could, donating to the medical centre and buying thanaka and longyi’s here to support the local women’s craft, but really we left in awe at the strength and resilience of these friendly and happy people.
CAPTURED AMONGST THE PAGODAS
Are you thinking of going to Myanmar? Have questions? Ask us in the comments section below.
Have you been to Myanmar? We would love to hear your travel stories also!