Taung Bi village walking tour
On our 2nd day out with Minthu, our plan was to cover a much wider geography than on the day before so a van was a better transportation option than horse carts. Our first stop was a walk through the Taung Bi village.
Minthu told us that this was a relatively wealthy village as exampled by the village water system. In Myanmar, the small villages are responsible for their own water systems and Taung Bi provided an electrically driven pumping station to villagers by subscription; a luxury that many villages could not afford.
One of the first things we saw was the little boy in the above photo with his face fully covered in what we first thought was paint. We had seen some women in Yangon with little circles of a similar substance on their cheeks but this was the first time we had seen so much being used.
Minthu explained that it was a powder made from thanakha tree bark and traditionally is thought to offer the wearer protection from demons. In this case, it also offered good protection from the sun for this young child’s tender skin.
We looked through some private homes and local businesses and our visit was timed to witness the morning procession of young monks collecting alms. While not the home of any great monuments or temples, our walk through this peaceful village really was a nice change of pace from the hectic pace of Yangon.
Our next stop was at the beautiful Nat Thaunt Monastery; one of the few remaining old teak wood structures in Bagan.
The exterior of the main building is covered from top to bottom with remarkable teak carvings, particularly in the doors. A walk on the 2nd floor deck around the building afforded some nice views of the countryside. While a bit dark, the interior features equally impressive carvings.
As we walked into the back entrance to the Owl Bird Soya Bean Paste Factory, the first thing we could see, hear and smell was a series of pots of dark thick bubbling soya bean paste. It was actually one of the final steps in the process before packaging; the reduction of the liquid into a gummy solid product.
It was interesting to observe the division of jobs in the little factory. The men handled all chores involved in the soaking and cooking of the beans. The women handled the packaging. While this was hard hot labor for the men, we noticed the women had a strong sense of comradely including sharing their communal mid-day meal.
While not nearly as glamorous or historical as many of the other places we visited it Bagan, it was such a great experience to see real people living real lives. Plus the hard working men in the steam filled processing area and the beautiful women in the packaging area lent themselves to some of our favorite “people pictures” of the entire trip.
Our next stop was at the Nyaung Oo Market. This is a relatively small market and we found the vendors to be extremely tolerant of tourists; not pushing too hard for gawkers to become buyers.
From the market, we stayed in Nyaung Oo to have lunch at the Shwe Myanmar Restaurant (see review) a typical Myanmar buffet style place where the food just keeps coming. That was followed by a break of a couple hours back at the hotel.
Phawe Saw Village Walking Tour
Our first stop of the afternoon was a leisurely walking tour of Phawe Saw, another local village. Phawe Saw is a village with exceptionally industrious residents as demonstrated by the many different type of work being performed. We met a beautiful lady spinning cotton into thread to be used in weaving; workings busy separating plum seed powder from the chaff; another lovely lady creating bowls out of bamboo strips and horsehair that would be covered in lacquer; some really sweet kids posing for a picture like they had done it before, a group of workers creating bowls out of bamboo strips; another group of workers making a thatch roof on a home addition and oxcart drivers loading and delivering water in large barrels. Most of these scenes can be seen in the video below.
After our village walk, we drove through the countryside past temples and pagodas at every turn while we made our way to the absolutely stunning Anada Temple. As we approached the temple, sunlight glistened off the golden spires. In front of the temple, we noticed a young vendor giving a demonstration on how to grind thanakha tree bark into the powder used on the faces of women and children and also selling products made from powder.
Anada is considered by many to be the most beautiful temple in Bagan not only for its impressive façade with gilded spires but also for the 4 large standing Buddha images on the interior. Two of the 4 are thought to be original in the “Bagan” style of the 10th century and offer an interesting illusion. When approaching those 2 and looking up into the Buddha image face, the he appears to be smiling but upon closer approach, the smile disappears.
The other 2 Buddha images are replacements and while lovely; in this writers opinion, do not process the beauty of the originals.
North Guni Temple
As we drove over both paved and dirt roads on the way to North Guni, we were amazed at the number of other beautiful temples and pagodas that we passed. They just seemed to be everywhere in every direction that we looked. We also were delighted to see another rainbow (we had seen one the day before) and hoped that it would still be visible when we got to the top of this tall temple.
North Guni was our final stop of the day and Minthu had timed our arrival to see the sunset from atop. Much of the climb is on a very tight, dark and uneven stone stairway through the interior. Climbers emerge a couple levels below the top for the final push. We had been joined near the entry by what we think was a brother and sister vendor team who tagged along for the climb. We really didn’t want what they were selling but they were both really nice kids and we enjoyed talking with them while looking at the view.
One of the amazing things about North Guni is that with all its beauty; both of the temple and the majestic vistas of Bagan Plains and the fact that is a terrific place to watch the sunset, we were there alone. It was an observation we made several times during our visit to this and other destinations in Myanmar. At some point in the future, this might change but for now, you won’t find hordes of tourists even in the most famous destinations.