A Year Full of Discoveries 2019

2019 has been a huge year for me travelling. I didn’t go to many places but I did tick off some of my targets on my bucket list. 2019 is the year I finally saw the Northern lights which is a huge tick on my list. It is also a year I have visited 7 new countries and a handful of their regions. I also scuba dived again after a few year absent from the activity. However most importantly 2019 will always be remembered as the year I met many travellers which I could say are friends and travel partners for many years to come. 

Short Circuit, Asean Trip I

Kuala Lumpur, Apr 19First trip of the year and it was a late one. I went for a mini Asian circuit trip and Malaysia was our first stop. To start things off we got straight to hostels, roamed the city on our own and also availed an elephant sanctuary tour.
Siem Reap, Apr 19  This was probably the main focus of this trip, inspired by lonely planet I wanted to see the majestic ancient temples myself. Surprisingly and unplanned I somehow ended up getting to Siem Reap in the middle of a huge celebration(their new year) which we ended up joining in a huge water gun battle with local villagers.
Langkawi, Apr 19  We then went to Langkawi a huge Malaysian island where we went jet skiing and visited a few of their attractions. This time round we were in a hotel to get a little bit of rest.
Koh Lipe, Apr 19 – We then excursed to a smaller Thai island to do some scuba diving. The best experience here was the more than unusual immigration system as you line up on the sand where you will see just a desk under a hut.
Kuala Lumpur, Apr 19 Finally we end up in Kuala Lumpur again where we relax and do our final shopping.

Siem Reap

Oslo Trip

Oslo, May 19 – A long weekend trip with friends which correct to reputation proved to be expensive. It was a lovely city with plenty of attractions.

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Netherlands Trip

Amsterdam, Sep 19 – Its unusual to travel to Amsterdam with your family with its reputation of being a place for adults. However the city wasn’t only for adults and there was plenty to do as a family.
Rotterdam, Sep 19 – After the Amsterdam trip I excursed to Rotterdam by myself which was my first and only solo trip of the year. Rotterdam was small but is proving to be progressing to be a hit for tourism in the future.

Amsterdam

Short Circuit, Asean Trip II

Bagan, Oct 19 – One of the best places ive been due to its openness and freedom this is also the place I met some of the greatest travellers there is.
Yangon, Nov 19 – Just like Bagan Yangon was a beautiful place I have met some great people. The city sprung a few surprises. It was more modern than I thought it would be and it also had some of the friendliest people in any place I have travelled.
Bangkok, Nov 19 – Long overdue visit to the Thai capital. It was meant to be a restful end to my holiday but it proved to be the opposite. The adventures were too great and I ended up visiting many attractions.

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Iceland

Reykjavik and southern coast, Dec 19 – A 5 day trip to one of the most exciting place I have visited. I finally got tosee the northern lights which is a big tick on my bucket list. Furthermore the country’s mountains, waterfalls and other natural landscapes were just out of this world.

Iceland - Golden Circle (5)

 

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A small circuit around South East Asia II

It is my first trip to Myanmar and because of my shorter holiday leave from work I have opted to base this trip on two of the three main regions in Myanmar and a quick stopover in Bangkok before I go back home.

First stop Bagan (Myanmar)

First stop Bagan and I have come here to see if my perceptions that this region’s archaeological zone would mimic or rival that of Cambodia’s Siem Reap. See how my visit turned out and what I thought of this province.

Second stop Yangon (Myanmar)

Formerly Myanmar’s capital but still a heavy populated bustling city. See what I got up to exploring this city

A quick excursion to Dalla Township (Myanmar)

One of the most questionable excursion. A beautiful simple place but with its problems.

Ending with Bangkok (Thailand)

I planned to go Bangkok as a little rest break from my Myanmar experience. However my plans to rest didn’t go as planned and I started exploring.

Monkeys really do steal!!!

One of the funniest stories of 2019 and I just couldn’t make this up. True to stories heard from other travellers monkeys really do steal.

The night before going on a trip to Mt Popa a place where monkeys have a huge reputation in stealing and attacking tourists, I was trying to plan our journey. I was ignorant to think stories I have heard were just exaggerated and that nothing would ever happen to me I was also trying to convince our new found friend to come with us assuring her nothing would happen and these stories were exaggerated. I even went to the extent of joking I would protect her from any monkeys if needed.

So The next morning we went to Mt Popa and because I thought nothing could ever happen to me, I was in full gear with camera on my hands, jewellery on my body and other valuable out on the open. 5 minutes upon walking to the entrance Karma hit and saw multiple monkeys following me (and only me). Then quiet quickly a monkey jumped on my backpack and managed to grab my eye glasses (the only one for this trip). After this I learnt my belief of exaggerated monkey stories were wrong and I quickly hid my other valuables in my bag and even double zipping it.

I thought my glasses were long gone and that I would spend the rest of my trip partially blind but then the locals managed to get the glasses back, but I did pay them a small fee. Morale of the story, listen to other traveller’s warnings.

Bagan Temples and Pagodas

Exploring the temples of Bagan’s archaeology zone was a joy to experience. I personally didn’t plan nor did I know the temples which I would end up visiting. I came to Bagan with an open mind and with a go as it goes attitude. Instead of availing tours and tuk-tuks I rented an Ebikes to roam freely around only stopping when I see a temple or pagoda of any kind. So in no particular order these are the temples I saw, which I believe are worth going to and a little bit I learnt about them.

Schwezigon Pagoda

Firstly and probably the main place to visit in Bagan is the Schwezigon Pagoda which is the centre of pilgrimage in the province. It is one of the oldest and most significant monument in Bagan. The Pagoda is said to be the architectural influence of thousands of following Stupas around the region and it is said that because of the Schwezigon the campaign of mass temple building began in Bagan. Its special beauty comes from the gold plated central pagoda and the Makaras (Hindu sea creatures) guarding the all four stairways.

I believe this pagoda is definitely one to visit. Although one of the oldest the impression I got was this was one of the newest and most modern, maybe this was due to the constant update and restoration.

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Ananda Temple

The Ananda temple is said to be Bagan’s holiest temple. legend has it the King Kyanzittha built the temple with the image of a legendary Himalayan cave temple which eight monks from north India told him about. He wanted to bring this image to Bagan and after building this temple he had its architectures executed so the design would never be copied again. Centring this temple are four 10 metre high standing buddhas, all with their own identity and expressions. Like nearly all the temples in the region Ananda was also damaged by earthquakes and has been extensively restored.

This temple was great to visit, it is very active and in my opinion the busiest out of the lot.

Ananda Temple by DIMMIS

Dhammayangyi Temple

Dhammayangyi temple is Bagan’s largest temple and is visible in nearly every angle of the region. The temple was carefully but cruelly built by King Narathu as rumours state that builders got amputated if the construction wasn’t up to his requests. This temple is the most mysterious with bricked passageways. This temple is the best preserved out of all temples in the Bagan’s archaeological zone.

This temple reminded me of Siem Reap’s temple designs, albeit very well built.

Dhammayangyi Temple by Justin Vidamo

Gawdawpalin temple

Another significant temple to visit is the Gawdawpalin temple which is the second tallest in the archaeological zone. Construction started in one of Bagan’s more prosperous time during the reign of King Narapatisithu however it was not finished until his successors reign in the 13th century. Like many of the surrounding temples Gawdawpalin has also been extensively restored.

At the time I visited this temple which was later in the day, I was more or less getting templed out (getting bored) as I visited so many in the day. However this temple andits structure was a sight to see.

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Thatbyinnyu Pagoda

Another of Bagan’s tallest structure the Thatbyinnyu can be seen from most places of Bagan’s archaeological zone. One interesting aspect of this temples build was that for every 10,000 bricks used one brick was set aside to keep count of the total used. After its completion the tally pagoda which sits besides Thatbyinnyu  was built.

I saw this temple from a distance as it was my first view of Bagan’s sunrise. It looked very similar to Gawdawpalin.

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Others

Other than those above, there are plenty other smaller temples and pagodas to see and there are just so many to mention. Although much smaller and some damaged and left to rubbles these still function as a serious religious venues and rules like taking off shoes and wearing longer trousers are required. I saw many smaller temples just riding around on my Ebike scooter, there may be way too many to visit all.

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Overall Conclusion

In my opinion the temples and pagodas in Bagan are beautiful individually but it did not give me the same chills as Siem Reap’s temples did. Saying that Bagan’s temples made an outstanding picturesque, panoramic landscape as a whole collection perfect for the world famous sunrises and sunsets. Its temples are not yet as congested as other religious attractions such as the Vatican, Siem Reap and others alike, but I do feel it will soon get the crowds that Myanmar ought to have. Although the structures are very old, they are all very well built keeping in mind many were repaired and refurbished after various earthquakes.

Overall in my opinion Bagan was a brilliant place to visit, but I did get bored very quickly going through temples to temple. Maybe it was due to the sheer amount in the archaeological zone or that many temples had similar appearance. However it is somewhere that should be visited as there is a little more to the province than just its temples.

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Reference:

http://www.royalcitytravel.com/post/view/10-interesting-facts-about-bagan
Shwezigon Pagoda – The Most Sacred Pagoda in Bagan
https://www.renown-travel.com/burma/bagan/ananda-pagoda.html https://www.lonelyplanet.com/myanmar-burma/attractions/dhammayangyi-pahto/a/poi-sig/1368653/357082 Photo: Justin Vidamo (https://www.flickr.com/people/21160499@N04) DIMMIS

 

Bagan vs Siem Reap

Whilst planning a trip to Myanmar’s ancient city of Bagan I thought to myself the similarities that it would have with the ancient province of Cambodia, Siem Reap. During my visit to Bagan I saw some similarities and also some differences but I think both regions are comparable as  travel destinations. Here I will write my perceptions between the two provinces and what visitors would expect and which I believe is better in certain aspects.

I first start by saying my comparison of Bagan and Siem Reap is my own opinion. I respect that the two are largely religious pilgrimages but am only comparing its beauty as a tourists point of view.

 

Appearance

Siem Reap
Siem Reap had the more spectacular temples in terms of appearance. Its age, artwork and variety of design were something of a goose bump moment. Siem Reap’s temples were also much larger and the fact that their temples were built in more ancient times the appeal was greater. Furthermore many of Siem Reaps temples had roots growing around them giving their overall appearance a majestic movie feel.

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Bagan
Bagan’s temples although amazing were much simpler, smaller and newer in architecture. Furthermore, most of the temples/ pagodas I visited had similar design which mean it was easier to get bored seeing Bagan temple after temple.

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Which is better?
For me hands down Siem Reap gets my vote on the appearance for its temples and Pagodas, its architecture and decorations were just superior in appearance.

 

Setting

Siem Reap
In terms of the setting Siem Reap’s temples were predominantly set in a jungles. Whereas some have been situated near lakes, I have been told many of them are manmade and not natural. Having its temples set in the middle of the jungle means that nature is constantly taking its cause and tree roots grow take over the temples structure.

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Bagan
Bagan’s Pagoda’s and temples were situated in dusty, sandy grass fields, there are trees but far less than Siem Reap. There are a few pagodas situated lakeside, but the majority are set in isolation. However this is a positive as from various viewing points if high enough you are able to see all or a bunch of temples and pagodas together, a sight to see especially upon sunrise or sunset.

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Which is better?
For me I love both settings but edge towards Bagan for the settings due to its capabilities to see the collection of temples in a very beautiful landscape. Seeing the sunrise and sunset here is probably the best in the world.

 

Environment and Atmosphere

Siem Reap
One thing I have acknowledged between the two is that Siem Reap and its temples are fully secured with security, no go zones and ticket inspections which is a must for the community and its structures but can dampen the experience.

Secondly the huge negative for Siem Reap are its crowds. Although not entirely on all its attractions and not on every single time of the day, I do believe it is no exaggeration if you sometimes hear the atmosphere being described as a zoo of people. There are so many nice photo opportunities and from many different angles however you’d be lucky to find a spot without crowds in the background.

Bagan
One of the things I love about Bagan and have been very vocal about is its freedom. The fact that I can rent an Ebike and ride around as if I was a local was a huge difference to the experience. There was also far less crowds in Bagan which is always a positive in areas like this. Furthermore there are far less security and ticket officers around Bagan this is a good thing for the freedom of exploration however I do acknowledge that this is something that may have to change in the future as an increase in tourism is possible.

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Which is better?
The environment and atmosphere between the two region were very different from each other. One was very busy whilst the other was quiet. In my opinion I easily and passionately say Bagan tops this one. The sheer freedom to walk wherever, whenever and enjoy the setting without huge crowds is just perfect to enjoy.

 

Cost

Siem Reap
I didn’t experience large differences in price but do acknowledge Siem Reap as being much more advanced in infrastructure. There are Malls, Reputable Restaurants/ hotels, Banks and much more. That being said food, accommodation and or souvenirs were a little more expensive.

Bagan
Bagan was cheap, even for the areas pleasing tourism (albeit a little more expensive for locals). Food outlets looked like family businesses rather than chains. Due to this prices vary but still very cheap.

Which is better?
I didn’t feel a huge difference with prices but I do feel Bagan was a little bit cheaper than again Siem Reap had the more reputable outlets.

 

Other

Siem Reap

I could see that tourism is very important for Siem Reap and they have built a lot of facilities to accommodate its influx. A theatre for cultural dance, dedicated night markets and also a strip for nightlife were positive extras for the region.

Transport wise there was countless tuk-tuks on offer when needed.

Bagan

 Bagan was a little bit quieter than Siem Reap, there was no malls  for shopping or a strip for nightlife. Groceries were also scarce so snack would be bought from restaurants, hotels or independent vendors.

The Ebikes made Bagan the extravagant experience it was, due to the freedom to explore where you want when you want for a fixed price. There was very little in any other transport, I did see horse carriages and a few tuk-tuks.

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Which is better?

The Ebikes made my experience unlike any other I have experienced around the world and if only Siem Reap incorporated the same that would be amazing but I don’t expect it would be possible there because of the amount of tourists at any one time.

Overall this one is hard because Bagan had the Ebikes but then it was very quiet and little to do after seeing the attractions. Whilst Siem Reap was huge to facilitate tourism and tourists requirements.

I’d go for a draw on this one I cant chose between the two.

 

Conclusion

For me this was very close and although I maintain the structures of Siem Reaps temples were incredibly majestic and in my opinion better than that of Bagan’s. There is also more to see and do in Seam Reap, if you get bored of temples there are other amusements for any sort of visitor.

However there is something about Bagan which made my time visiting one of the best I have ever experience. I have concluded that the Ebikes, the freedom of movement and the aspects of the sunrise and sunsets made the overall experience special and different.

Although I edge Bagan being better than Siem Reap as an overall experience I believe both provinces are spectacular and top the list of places I have ever visited.

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Next Trip Myanmar

10 interesting facts about Bagan
Photo from Royaltravelcity.com

 

So its been a short while since my short trip to Cambodia’s Siem Reap, Malaysia’s Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur and the quick touch of Thailand in Koh Lipe.

So where next?

Well I have a quick weekend trip to Amsterdam this September. However I have also decided to pursue a trip to Myanmar also known as Burma this October. Reason being is that I have been persuaded by a friend who is from the country and the fact that Bagan has just been made a UNESCO world heritage site. I am a little sad I wont be able to visit Mandalay and the country’s new capital Naypyitaw  but I guess this could be done on another trip.

I want to visit as much of the country as possible but unfortunately with only a week to venture (due to work) it looks like I will only have time to visit two main regions, Bagan and Yangon. Bagan being highly advised and a must not miss during a stay in Myanmar, whilst Yangon is a huge city which is my entry and exit point, so I decided to have a look around aswell. I have decided to stay in hostels for the simple reason that I meet more people there, then to end the trip I have decided to stay in a more luxurious hotel in order to rest-up and relax.

So what do I expect from this trip?

I expect similarities between Myanmar and  Cambodia. I expect Myanmar to have the more modern temples whilst Cambodia the older more ancient temples, however the lifestyle I envisage (but could be wrong) to be the same. I expect to use unusual modes of transport but food similar to that of Cambodian, Thai and Malaysian cuisines. Visiting here hasn’t really been on my bucket list but just recently after visiting Cambodia it was high up on my list.

Any advice for this trip?

Photo from Irrawady.com