Bagan Photo Essay Part 2

Apr 2014

Finishing off my photo essay of Bagan will take you through the rest of my visit to this ancient city which was once the unifying capital of the regions that would make up Myanmar.

The road between Bagan and Mt. Popa {our next stop} is lined with a number of quaint places that make palm liquor and sweets from the sugar palm.  Along with demonstrations, you can have snacks and purchase the products made there.


I learned from our guide that there is a significant problem with diabetes in the country, much of it stemming from the prevalence of this crop, combined with rice and the snacks and sticky deserts that are consumed throughout the country.  The government is working hard to disseminate information about the disease and encourage residents to get treatment.


The liquid from the palm is tapped and carried down from the trees by very agile workers.


A must have is the infamous tea leaf salad.  I had heard much discussion about this Burma speciality before I left, and it was described as everything from magical and  unique to make sure not to miss it. Being a tad squeamish, I wasn’t sure what to make of a FERMENTED tea leaf, but it truly lived up to it’s reputation.  Crunchy, sour and savory, the tangy green tea leaves are doused with fresh lemon juice and then tossed with tasty peanuts, various seeds and chopped vegetables, tomatoes, chillies and fried garlic.


The stunning Popa Taungkalat monastery sits gleaming  in the golden Myanmar sun. Built upon a volcanic plug, it stands like a lone skyscraper amongst the shacks and stands of vendors below.

mt popa bagan myanmar

Mt. Popa is a volcano about an hour and 1/2 drive from Bagan. It is the most important site in Burma for nat, or spirit pilgrimage.  If you can brave the 777 steps to the monastery, which appear to be guarded by an army of monkeys at every turn, you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside.

monkey mt popa

You’ll find vendors selling everything from the ubiquitous tea leaf salad to the magnolia blossoms that are given as offerings to the residents of the mountain.

magnolia blossom offering mt popa myanmar

Apparently, once the blossoms are bottled, the blooms will last for months.

nats mt popa-myanmar

The spirits {nats} are depicted in their human form at the bottom of the entrance to the steps that will bring you to the monastery.  The 37 different personalities are all colorfully described and match the brightly colored costumes adorning the statues who met an untimely death. Worship of the nats predates Buddhism in Burma, and eventually merged into the religion.


Back in Bagan, there happened to be a traveling market in town.  Tents the size of football fields had vendors as far as the eye could see selling everything from stuffed animals and household goods to crafts, paintings and food.  I was immediately taken with the woven baskets made of recycled plastic strapping from shipping containers.  After inducing in a few for summer beach and market bags, I noticed that much of the population was also using them at market, and I continued to see them the rest of the trip.


One of the best experiences of the trip was the early morning trip I took with Balloons Over Bagan.  It was my first hot air balloon ride, and worth every minute of the 5:00am wakeup call. It was fascinating to watch the balloons being filled with hot air and rising in the first light of dawn.  Once we took off, seeing the expanse of temples and pagodas throughout the plains of Bagan was mesmerizing. I felt like I was floating thru a different century.


Seeing the sun come up from the height of the sky was an incredible way to spend my last morning in Bagan. The ride is a bit pricey, but for me the experience was worth every penny.

bagan photo essay part 2

Lunch under the Banyan tree was a traditional affair, and a special experience here in Bagan.  Our fabulous guide Aung and our driver share a bite before getting back on the road.


Be sure to take advantage of the many spa treatments in Myanmar.  They are inexpensive and really wonderful.  Many use natural local ingredients and it’s a luxurious way to unwind after a day traveling through the countryside. The Bagan Lodge offered an expansive menu to choose from making a selection  of just one tough!

sunset on irrwaddy river

The Irwaddy river is key to the lifeline of the country.  At some point during your travels, make sure to take advent of the many opportunities to observe life along the banks.  It’s a different perspective and a sunset cruise with a bottle of local Burmese wine was a beautiful way to finish off my stay in this ancient city.

  1. noel says:

    I’m dying to visit before it gets too touristy, looks amazing as does your photos

    • alison says:

      Thanks for your comment Noel. I spoke to someone yesterday who had travelled there 10 years or so ago and already the changes seemed quite extreme. I hope Myanmar can handle all the changes coming its way! Try to go soon.

  2. 5am sounds awfully early but I’m sure it was totally worth it!

    Thanks for sharing such wonderful pictures, Allison… this was really interesting to read and I had no idea about the diabetes issue.

  3. The first thing that springs to mind as I read this post is just agile those workers are that climb up and down those trees every day – I can’t say that I envy them but kudos to them for doing that!

    The monastery pictures are awesome, how you captured it perfectly just standing lonely on top of the mountain, the perfect setting for such an iconic landmark.

    This is a really interesting post and the collection of images that you used really takes the reader through an intriguing story that leaves them wanting to explore the region for themselves!

    • alison says:

      Chris, those workers had an amazing sense of balance! The monastery was otherworldly, alone by itself standing so tall and proud. An appropriate spot to house spirits. There was so much to see, It’s hard to capture everything even in several posts. I’m glad you felt like I covered a lot of ground. Thanks!

  4. Wow! The Popa Taungkalat monastery looks beautiful as does your entire trip. (including the monkey!). Wish I could tie in Myanmar on my upcoming trip to Asia, but it will have to wait.

  5. Strange my comment disappeared, in any case, I’d love to travel this magnificent region some day. I also love tea leaf salad and order it instantly when I visit a Burmese restaurants.

  6. Popa Taungkalat monastery….WOWSA. I’m glad the monkeys didn’t get you. I love that you are were so adventurous during your trip to Myanmar…plus I LOVE THIS BLOG@@@

  7. Popa Taungkalat is other-worldly magnificent. What a magical approach you’ve taken. I wish we’d had time available to add Myanmar to our SEAsia travels last year. It’s definitely on the list for next time.

  8. Took me back to our own trip to Myanmar last March! Did you try the palm liquor?

  9. Beautiful photos of what looks to be an amazing adventure, especially the Popa Taungkalat monastery and the hot air balloon ride.

  10. What lovely images of Bagan! I especially like those bottled flowers.