Friday, February 20: This morning after having a buffet lunch on the lawn of the Floral Breeze Hotel, I rent an e-bike for 7,000 kyat, or around $7, for the whole day. I’ve never driven an e-bike before, so this will be a challenge. The rental guy shows me briefly how to drive it, and I’m off. The brake and the accelerator are both on the handlebar of the e-bike. It turns out this will present me with some challenges and funny scenes throughout the day.
I drive down the main road in New Bagan, which luckily isn’t heavily traveled, and cruise smoothly along until I come to the first temple, #1056, name unknown. I pull up to the entrance on the dusty road and hop off the e-bike. With a start, the bike takes off with me hanging for dear life to the handlebars. It ends up going up some of the rough ground with me running frantically after it, still attached, and then the bike hits a bump and falls down on top of me. Ouch! It’s a lot heavier than it looks. I get out from under the bike, pick it up, and it spurts to life again, running away with me again. This time it doesn’t get far as I realize I need to stop turning the accelerator on the handle. I do so and park the bike, shaking and dusting myself off after the whole ordeal.
There is another couple with a child at the temple and they have a laugh at my shenanigans and offer to help. There isn’t much they can do at this point, but I do take them up on their offer to take a picture of me.
Besides the fun of riding the e-bike today, I’m also wearing some of the ubiquitous baggy cotton pants that so many tourists throughout Bagan are wearing. It feels like I have pajamas on. What could be better than riding an e-bike in PJs through thousands of gorgeous temples on the plains of Bagan?
Next, I venture to another nearby pair of temples, on foot, leaving my e-bike on the sidelines to give myself a break. I’m now a little worried about taking it back on the road, afraid that I won’t be able to stop the bike in an emergency.
The temples are a side-by-side stupa and shrine, Seinnyet Nyima Paya & Seinnyet Ama Pahto. They’re traditionally ascribed to Queen Seinnyet in the 11th century, although, according to Lonely Planet Myanmar, they clearly point to a period two centuries later. The zedi rests on three terraces and is topped by a beautiful stylized umbrella.
When I finally get up the nerve to get back on the bike, I ride for a bit until I come across a herd of goats.
As I carefully drive up and park my bike at Somingyi Kyaung, I see a Japanese young woman across the road who is having the same problems with her e-bike as I did. She’s running frantically after the bike, which is taking off with her holding on dearly to the handlebars! I can’t help but laugh and I tell her I was just having the same problems. We both have a good laugh over the whole affair, and then we take pictures of each other on our e-bikes.
We walk up together to Somingyi Kyaung, and she tells me she is traveling alone. Her name is Sunoko and she works in interior design in Shanghai.
Somingyi Kyaung is a typical late-Bagan brick monastery, believed to have been built in 1204. A zedi to the north and a gu to the south are also ascribed to Somingyi. This monastery is unique as it has monastic cells clustered around a courtyard, according to Lonely Planet Myanmar.
Sunoko takes another picture of me and I take one of her, and then we take off in separate directions to do our exploring for the day.
I drop by another temple along the road, but as you can see from the sign below, I can’t read the name of it. One of the locals tells me when I’m leaving that it’s known as the “many elephants” temple, something like Shimsa (?), but I can’t find any reference to it online or elsewhere. Just another one of Bagan’s thousands of temples.
Here, I leave my favorite blue Havaianas flip-flops at the entrance and go in to explore.
This temple is wonderful, with some marvelous faded frescoes and Buddhas with a variety of enigmatic expressions.
When I leave the “many elephants temple,” I see a pair of blue flip flops and, thinking they are mine, absentmindedly put them on. I hop on my e-bike and take off down the road, heading north and then getting off the main Bagan-Chauk Road.
I stop next at Shwe San Daw Pagoda; the name means “Golden Hair Relics” as it enshrines sacred hairs of Gautama Buddha. I ditch my flip-flops at the entrance, as you have to do at all the Bagan temples. According to Wikipedia: Shwesandaw Pagoda (Bagan), the pagoda contains a series of five terraces, topped with a cylindrical stupa, which has a bejewelled umbrella, or hti. King Anawrahta built the pagoda in 1057. It once contained terra-cotta tiles depicting scenes from the Jataka.
All four sides of the pagoda have a stairway leading up to the fifth terrace. At the side of the second terrace on the west, there is a tunnel dug by robbers which enabled them to access the central chamber in which relics and treasures were enshrined. Up till 1957 the whole structure of this pagoda was in its original condition— fine brick-red in color with no plaster covering, according to BaganMyanmar.com: Shwe Sandaw Pagoda.
After looking around the pagoda for a while, I take off on my e-bike, where I stop to take pictures looking back on Shwe San Daw Pagoda from afar.
I head off now in search of Sulamani Pahto, one of the most beautiful temples in Bagan, which I saw only in passing yesterday.
This is the most fun I’ve had on a holiday in a long time!