musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘New Bagan’

Chinlone Books Goes to Bagan!


It all started with a request for a loan.

My friend from Bagan, Nine Nine, was unhappy with his current job and wanted to start his own business. After four years of working at the same hotel he was frustrated with the low pay and long hours. Opening his own business seemed like the thing to do. Low pay and long hours got you down? As many of us entrepreneurs can tell you, opening a business is certainly no cure for that dilemma! But hey, there ARE opportunities to reverse that equation if you are the boss, and Nine Nine is astute enough to realize that. But, after the birth of his daughter last year, money was running low. Needing some startup funds, he asked if I could help him.



Hey, I try to help my friends whenever I can, but I don’t have a lot of cash to throw around, so I wanted to hear more about his business plan and what it would all cost. I wasn’t making any promises, but I told that we could discuss it when I visited Myanmar the next time. That was two months ago, back in September. The end result was that his idea was not going to cost all that much, so I DID lend him some money and his shop, 99 Souvenir Shop & Chinlone Books, is now  open in New Bagan!



Yes, in addition to selling various souvenirs such as lacquerware, clothing, and postcards, he is running another branch of Chinlone Books. I asked Nine Nine if he was receptive to the idea of adding books to his product mix and he agreed. He’s been open for about one month now and is excited about what he’s been selling (the first book sold was “M is For Myanmar” from Things Asian Press) and what customers are asking for. The Bagan branch of Chinlone Books is located on Kyay Street (New Bagan’s main street) next to the Ostello Bello hostel, and diagonally across the street from the long-running Silver House restaurant. They are open every day!



During that last trip to Myanmar, Nine Nine met me and my friend from Mandalay, Ye Man Oo, in Nyaung Shwe and we showed him the book setup at the Chinlone Books branch in that town, located inside Aye Aye Travel Services. The owner, Mar Mar Aye, explained to Nine Nine her system of cataloging the books and how she keeps track of sales. She’s an honest, hardworking lady and I hope her advice will help Nine Nine with his own business. If you are visiting Nyaung Shwe (near the popular Inle Lake in Shan State) or Bagan (New Bagan is just down the road from Old Bagan and the bigger town of Nyaung U) please drop in and say “Mingalaba” … and buy a book or two!



Bagan without the Crowds


One of Myanmar’s most popular tourist attractions is the city of Bagan. Actually, the area known as “Old Bagan” has almost no residents nowadays (most of those people were forcibly moved about two decades ago to an area now known as New Bagan), but Old Bagan is where you will find thousands (yes, that’s plural!) of ancient pagodas and temples, stretching across the dusty plains to the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) River. Gazing upon those marvels of architecture is truly a wondrous sight.



Because of the increase in tourism to Myanmar in the past couple of years, Bagan has also seen the number of visitors surge dramatically. It’s not nearly as bad as the busloads of tourists that now make visiting Angkor in Cambodia such an annoying activity, but nevertheless there are a lot more tourists in Bagan these days and it’s rare that you’ll be able to enjoy a pagoda by yourself, or at least in a tranquil atmosphere. That is, unless you plan carefully.




Thanks to it being rainy season, and thus the low season for tourists, and factoring in my preference for visiting out-of-the-way and less well-known sites, I managed to avoid the tourist hordes altogether during the two days I spent in Bagan. I ran into one carload of four tourists at one temple and that was it. Pretty darn amazing!





bagan091419For day one of my temple excursions, I went out entirely on foot, starting from my hotel in New Bagan, skirting the site of the old morning market, and then walking further towards Nyaung U. It’s surprising how many interesting old ruins are within walking distance, as long as you stick to dirt roads and small paths, but they are definitely out there … just don’t mind the garbage-strewn byways. It was nearing sundown by the time I returned to my hotel, just in time to snap a few more photos.





On day two I rented a bike from the nice folks at Silver House Restaurant. That bike, however, had a problem with one of the tires, so I returned it and got another one. While I was walking it down the main road, a young local boy stopped to talk with me. He said his name was Phyo Phyo and was on his way to play a game of football (soccer) with his friends. After telling him of my temple-hopping plans for the morning, he asked if he could join me. I usually enjoy just venturing out on my own, but then again, it’s nice to have company sometimes too, so I told him that he was welcome to tag along. Actually, since I didn’t have a concrete plan as far as places to visit, I told him that he could serve as my guide.





After visiting a couple of temples near the main road, we followed a dirt path that took us toward some more isolated sites. I should have paid more attention to the path, however, because at one point I ran over some small branches, ones that had large thorns on them. Even before I stopped the bike I knew what had happened: punctured tire! Sure enough, in no time at all, the tire was flat. But Phyo Phyo said that there was a tire repair stand back near the main road, so that’s where we headed. Under the shade of a tree, a man operated a little repair business. He patched up the tire — there were two holes — for a ridiculously cheap price and off we went again to explore a few more temples, one of which, if you climbed to the top, had a really nice panoramic view of the area. And I never would have known about it if it weren’t for Phyo Phyo’s suggestion. A good guide indeed!






When our morning excursion was finished (I had to be at a friends’ house for lunch, so I had to cut the tour short) I gave Phyo Phyo some money as a tip, figuring that’s what he would expect. But he looked genuinely shocked when I handed him the money, telling me that it wasn’t necessary. I assured him, however, that I appreciated him taking the time to show me around (hey, you gave up your daily football match!) and that I wanted him to accept the money as a gift. With a big smile, he took the money and wished me well. Another unexpected, but memorable encounter in Myanmar.





Boppin’ around Bagan: 90th Street on the Road (Pt. 2)


After Mt. Popa, the next stop on my journey with the crew from 90th Street in Mandalay was Bagan. We arrived in Bagan early in the afternoon of the first day. I stayed at a hotel in New Bagan, but Maw Hsi and the kids opted to stay at a monastery closer to Old Bagan. I’d offered to put everyone up at the same hotel (a place I’ve stayed at many times over the years,  and was assured of a discount with a group this big), but Maw Hsi seemed very concerned that I’d been spending too much money on these trips and didn’t want me splurging more than needed.




After a short afternoon siesta the truck picked me up around five that afternoon and we headed over to the nearby Lawkananda Pagoda, perched on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy River. The pagoda was under repair, with bamboo scaffolding covering most of the dome, so other than some nice views of the river there wasn’t much to see there. I suggested that we visit a smaller group of pagodas closer to Myinkaba where we could watch the sunset, and more importantly not be run over by any tour groups. There are several pagodas in Old Bagan that serve as popular sunset spots, but most of those are horribly crowded nowadays.






The kids managed to find a few temple caves in the area and made mad dashes through the dark interior and back outside, screaming happily the whole time. Good, silly fun. After that short sightseeing stint we headed back to New Bagan and had dinner at the outdoor Shwe Lan Thit Restaurant, just down the dirt road from the Thazin Garden Hotel. I knew the owner when he managed the nearby Mi San Restaurant, so I make it a point to patronize his place when I’m in town. It’s not expensive by any means — most dishes cost around two to three US dollars — but I sensed that Maw Hsi was a bit uncomfortable with ordering from the menu, so we settled on fried rice for everyone, plus pork with black bean sauce (a Bagan specialty that I crave) for me. The owner threw in free plates of French fries as appetizers, adding to the very good meal. The kids, especially Zin Ko, also had fun playing with the cloth napkins and making hats out of them!




bagan1332 bagan1341


We did some more Bagan sightseeing on our final morning before returning to Mandalay (I’ll have a separate post about our long Day 2 trip later), stopping to visit most of the more popular pagodas in the area around Old Bagan. I’ve been to these sites numerous times before, but just like Angkor in Cambodia, I never get tired of marveling at these ancient wonders. At Bagan, the plain of ancient pagodas dotting the horizon — no matter which direction you are facing — is positively spellbinding. But the children, being the silly youngsters that they are, seemed more interested in buying snacks or posing for photos than admiring the architecture. Ah well, what can you do?






Before leaving Bagan, we stopped at the monastery where the group had stayed for two nights and had lunch there. As with most monasteries where I’ve eaten in Myanmar, the meal was very tasty and second helpings were offered. And also, as usual, because I’m a foreigner, they plied me with instant coffee and little cakes afterwards. Enough already! I asked Maw Hsi how much I should give to the monastery, some sort of donation to thank them for their hospitality, and as is usually the case when I ask “how much,” I was given a non-committal answer. So I just came up with a figure that I thought was fair and left it at that.






After lunch we were back on the road for the final dusty leg of the journey back to Mandalay. Frankly, it had been an exhausting three days, but other than a few minor arguments amongst themselves, the kids behaved well and it was truly a pleasure travelling with them, Maw Hsi and the two other parents (who took turns driving). Once we were in Mandalay and rumbling down the narrow stretch of 90th Street near Ko Tin Chit’s teashop, the kids broke into a song and started clapping their hands, big smiles all around. It’s those sorts of spontaneous acts of genuine happiness that endear me this country, and these people. Can’t wait for the next trip!






Kickin’ it in Bagan

While I was in Bagan they were holding a football tournament, the Tike Su Cup, featuring local teams. These weren’t conventional football (soccer) matches, however, but “mini-matches”. Each team was only allowed three players on the small pitch, and had two substitute players on the sidelines. The goals were tiny ones (literally “narrow goal” in Burmese), making it very difficult for the players to score goals. Most kicks were either too wide or too high. When it came time for free kicks, the smart players gently tapped the ball, making it sure it never left the ground, but rolled straight towards the untended goal.


I went with my friends from New Bagan, Tun Tun and Zin Zin, to see the semi-finals one afternoon and the final the following day. The matches were held in what basically looked like a vacant dirt lot, a couple of blocks off the main road in New Bagan, and just down the street from the high school. Tun Tun was still licking his wounds from his own team’s defeat in the opening round earlier in the week, but he was excited about seeing his friends on the Yadanarbon team play a match.


Each late afternoon match drew a vocal crowd of supporters. The crowd, as expected, was comprised mostly of males, but a considerable number of young ladies were also present. Some of the smaller and shorter kids in the crowd found it hard to see the action, so they found better viewing spots … in the nearby trees! The atmosphere was very festive and pleasant, and absolutely no traces of hooliganism. There’s not a whole lot to do in New Bagan, so this event was a real treat for everyone. Even the losing team in the finals didn’t appear too upset with their defeat. Maybe that’s because once the teams got to the semi-finals they were all assured of a cash prize.



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