“You can take a picture on this spot. You’ll get a better view of the stupa here” a voice told me in somewhat a better Burmese-English while I was taking a photograph inside one of the pavilions in Shwedagon Paya. I looked back to see a young monk with glasses. He introduced himself as Xanther. He volunteered to take my photo. Thinking about it, I don’t have a personal photo here yet so I obliged. He seemed like a friendly guy and offered to take me around the paya if I wanted. I wasn’t sure at first but he might be one of those young monks trying to practice their English so I let myself be entertained.
I arrived at the familiarly busy, Highway Bus Station in Mandalay by 6am. I was wide awake, having been able to sleep during the bus ride due to exhaustion. I waded through the crowd of touts by the bus entrance and immediately tried to look for motorbike ride to town. A guy with cleanly pressed white long-sleeved shirt wearing a red longyi hailed if I needed a ride. He seemed decent enough and his English quite good so I hired him to take me to downtown. I’m glad I’m back in Mandalay.
“Where are you from?” asked a pagoda watchman at Upali Thein. “I’m from the Philippines!” I replied slightly exasperated already from answering this question just on the third day in Myanmar or is it because I haven’t slept yet. “Oh Philip-Pines!” most people would pronounce it with the last syllable sounding similar to a “Pine” Tree. I proceeded to admire the beautiful frescoes inside this small ordination hall then suddenly the watchman spoke “My friend, maybe you can help me change this money, I can’t use them here” I looked back and saw in his hand a few peso bills amounting to 850 pesos. Surprised, I asked “Where did you get those?”
There are more than 4400 temples in Bagan. Even staying here for more than a week, there’s a slim chance to see all of them. While there are must-see temples and charming unpopular ones, for me the memorable ones are those where I encountered interesting people that adds character to the payas. And early on my first day in Nyaung U, Shwezigon Paya was one of those memorable payas I visited in Bagan.
Do I try to sleep or do I go out explore? Its 5am in the morning and somehow doing some chores has dampened the sleepiness I was feeling earlier. I just arrived from my Bus ride from Yangon and checked in at May Kha Lar Guest House in Nyaung U, Bagan and the first thing I did was do the laundry so it would dry out for the day. I lay for a few minutes on the bed but I couldn’t sleep so I took my camera bag and tripod and went out in the early morning blue.
The tranquil face of a gigantic Buddha filled my vision as I enter a large open shed with metal roof. He seemed contented there, reclining on the floor with his crown adorned with diamonds and precious stones glittering for everyone to see. This is Chaukhtatgyi Paya, home of this gigantic Buddha, uncommonly known but is considered one of the most beautiful reclining Buddha in Myanmar.
“Where are you from?” is the usual ice-breaker question people here would ask. “I’m from the Phillippines” I replied with a smile as I bite into my toasted slice of bread with a healthy layer of butter and strawberry jam while having breakfast. Young adults here like to engage in a conversation to practice their English. “Where are you going today?” I told him that I’d be leaving tonight for Bagan but this morning I’ll hit the streets of Downtown Yangon first to do some sightseeing.