My Adventure with Electric Motor Scooters in Bagan, Myanmar

Preparing to Go

Preparing to Go

Me - pretending to drive motor scooter

Me – pretending to drive motor scooter

In Bagan, Myanmar we rented electric motor scooters and went on an adventure. On the motor scooters you technically did not have to wear helmets, but through a lot of effort my parents were able to get two helmets for my sister and me. My dad and I were on one scooter. My sister and my mom were on another scooter together. When I first got on one of the electric motor scooters, I was excited and scared. I had never been on a motor scooter before and I was worried that I might fall off. These scooters had different speed levels. Each level had a maximum speed. The first level had a maximum speed of 40 kilometers per hour and that was the level that my parents would only allow. After we tested the motor scooters and had our helmets, we set off to see some temples.

Gold Painted Buddha

Gold Painted Buddha

There were previously 13,000 temples in Bagan, but you can only visit about 3,000 of these today. Our first stop was a temple that was built in the 11th century. At the entrance of the temple, there was a big gold painted Buddha that was about 7 meters tall. Inside the temple there were tunnels that led to meditation caves. We had to use flashlights to move through the tunnels to get to the caves. My mom did not want to crawl through the little hole to get to the meditation cave. I think my mom was scared of the rat that I had just seen!

Mom and Alex on the Scooter

Mom and Alex on the Scooter

After we finished this visit, we got back on our scooters to continue our adventure. We drove along back roads and the highway to find more temples. We had to park our scooters in a small village because the road was too rocky, sandy and steep. We were all worried that we would wipe out if we drove the scooters down the hill! After walking for about a half of a kilometer, we finally came upon a monastery surrounded by lots and lots of temples. Each temple had a Buddha statue inside. If you want to go inside the temples, you need to take off your shoes and socks. We only went inside a few of these because we were wearing running shoes and socks and it was a bother to take these off again and again.

Dhamma Yan Gyi Pahto Panorama

Dhamma Yan Gyi Pahto Panorama

Next, we wanted to find the Dhamma Yan Gyi Pahto. In some spots on the road there was a lot of sand and it felt like we were driving on a beach. The scooter was sliding around in the sand. Fortunately, my dad had strong arms and we did not fall over. My mom and my sister almost fell over once! When we finally arrived at the Dhamma Yan Gyi Pahto, we found the stairway and went straight to the top. The roof of this temple had a panoramic view of the 3000 other temples in Bagan.

We spent the rest of the day zooming around Bagan to try to find more temples. There was always a Buddha statue in each temple. Some of the Buddhas have gold leaf on them, some have gold paint, and some were just painted white and red. We probably visited about 12 temples this day. It was a nice and fun day in Bagan.

Sunrise in Bagan

Sunrise in Bagan

Temples

Temples

Red & White Buddha

Red & White Buddha

Gold Leaf Buddha

Gold Leaf Buddha

40 Foot+ Buddha

40 Foot+ Buddha

Modernized Buddha :)

Modernized Buddha :)

Golden Temple

Golden Temple

Golden Buddhas, Golden Stupas and Gold Leaf – Discovering Something Very Different While Biking In Mandalay, Myanmar

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Three Buddha Statues at the First Temple

Our teeth chattered as our bicycles bumped along the roadways of Mandalay as we set out to explore this bustling city. We had set out in search of amazing temples and places that were completely off the beaten track.

Golden Buddha

Golden Buddha

Our first stop was a large local temple hidden on a small back street off the main road. As it was midday and because this temple was not a touristic site there were only a few locals inside. The entry hall was lined with red and yellow pillars, with flower patterns made of mirror. As we walked further inside the temple and into the center chamber, there stood a 2.5-meter, pure gold, diamond, jade, emerald and ruby encrusted Buddha. Quietly we tiptoed around the room so that we did not to disturb the local people in prayer, I scanned the room for security cameras and found none!

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Woman Praying at First Temple

As we continued to wander around this huge temple complex and admire all of the statues, I noticed that all of the Buddhas had slightly different faces! I couldn’t imagine how many artists it must have taken to complete all of these hundreds of unique Buddhas!

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Coal Workshop

While we were biking to the next temple, we saw a small workshop where children ages 7 to 10 were breaking big chunks of coal into smaller pieces. Their faces were completely blackened from the coal dust and their clothes were falling apart. We couldn’t believe our eyes! Once we were a block away, we stopped to discuss what we had just witnessed. My parents decided that we must bike back to confirm what we had seen – it seemed so unreal. My dad felt that the scene reminded him of parts of a Charles Dickens’ novel. We watched these children for a few more minutes both in fascination and pity.

Golden Stupa at Second Temple

Golden Stupa at Second Temple

My head was still spinning as we arrived at the second temple. This temple had countless stupas in its walls, each one different. The biggest stupa was coated in gold leaf, which was hard to focus on, as it was bright out and the gold was reflecting the sunlight directly into our eyes. In another part of this temple, there were some statues that depicted Buddha under a bhoda tree, with some of his disciples sitting around him. These followers looked oddly like Jesus, which we found strange.

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Palm Sugar Refinery

Soon after leaving the second temple, we saw a rusted, corrugated steel building, with many old and used oil barrels outside. The air smelled strongly of molasses, and my dad was curious as to what the purpose of the building was. When my dad peeked in, he saw that some workers appeared to be making a type of sugar. One of the workers invited my dad to come further inside, and he saw that the men were using a pre-industrial method to refine sugar cane.

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Small Garbage Dump

A few minutes later we came upon a small garbage dump, which we had to ride through in order to cross the river. After hurrying through it, as it was very stinky, we biked past a fairly dingy looking temple and over a teak bridge. As the bridge was long, there was a covered spot in the middle to provide refuge from the blistering sun. I felt a little uncomfortable as we walked our bikes through the roofed section because there were many young homeless men sleeping on the floor and the wooden benches. A few minutes later, we reached the other side of the river and came upon many people, who although they appeared to be quite poor living in makeshift homes without running water or toilets, were smiling and waving at us.

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The Ayeyarwady River

Soon after we had left this area, we suddenly came upon a large restaurant for tourists overlooking the Ayeyarwady River. As we were famished, we decided to stop for lunch. While we sat waiting for drinks and food enjoying the amazing view, we reflected on how great the differences were between the lives of the locals and that of the tourists.

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Long Teak Bridge

After lunch, we re-crossed the small bridge and stopped in front of the temple we had seen before lunch. My parents wanted to go in, but Matthew and I did not. After looking around for a bit, I noticed numerous coffins on the floor of the “temple”, and we realized that this “temple” was actually a crematorium and morgue! After this discovery, we decided to hurriedly get out of there because it was a bit creepy – to say the least!

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Local Market

On our way back, we crossed through a buzzing local market. There were so many people, carts and trucks that we had to walk our bikes! It seemed like the only foods for sale were tomatoes, garlic, onions, pickled vegetables and potatoes! One stall sold only onions. They had hundreds of huge mesh bags full of them! Another had thousands of different types of tomatoes for sale. As we made our way through the market, we noticed that everyone was looking at us and smiling and waving.

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Gold Leaf Right After Pounding

 

 

Shortly after this, we finally arrived back at our hotel. After cooling down for few hours, we got back on our bikes in search of a gold leaf market. Gold leaf is created by placing small sheets of gold between thousands of pieces of paper. The papers are then placed into a bamboo box, and workers continuously pound the containers with a sledgehammer thinning the gold until it becomes what is known as gold leaf. This process normally takes upwards of 5 days. At the gold leaf market, we noticed that men were the ones pounding the gold leaf, women were cutting the leaf, and children were responsible to make the packets that held the leaf. Pounding the leaf appeared to be very demanding and the children looked sad as they did their work. Gold leaf is important in Myanmar because it is often applied to Buddhas and stupas for good fortune and health. Typically only males are allowed to apply the gold leaf. Females are not permitted to do so in Myanmar – which I found very sexist!

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Pounding the Gold Leaf

When I started out on the bike ride in the morning, I had no idea what I might see. I had assumed that I would see Buddhas and stupas and maybe run into some monks. What I actually saw was very different. For the first time, I witnessed child labour and extreme poverty. Again, I feel very lucky to live in Canada.

 

 

 

 

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Tons of Tomatoes at the Local Market

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Buddha and his Followers