Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Model Wonders

Aside from actually visiting each of my Wonders, I've set myself an additional little project. That is to try and collect a miniature version of each Wonder. Every time I visit a Wonder, I keep an eye out for a small model version of it. For famous tourist spots, this is usually pretty easy - souvenirs of famous landmarks are pretty common. But sometimes it is harder work that you'd expect, and finding a model can be pretty challenging. So far, I'm happy to report that I've collected a model or appropriate representation of every Wonder I've seen, although I know that in the months and years ahead, some will prove challenging. Impossible? Never, as Bagan will demonstrate.

Here are the model Wonders I have collected on my travels so far.

Sydney Opera House

This was actually purchased a couple of years ago, when visiting Handsome Matt. I'd already had the idea of buying a model of each Wonder, so took the opportunity during this holiday so as to save myself the extra burden when travelling. I bought this at the actual giftshop of the Opera House, and it wasn't cheap at something like AU$40, or £25. I did some shopping around at the various other souvenir shops about, but everything was smaller or tackier. Despite the price, I'm pretty happy with this one. Regrettably, for a year, I somewhat inexplicably placed this at the back of my cooker, and as a result it's turned quite greasy.

Marina Bay Sands

I had thought this might be my first stumbling block, as the Marina Bay Sands is only a year or so old, and is a growing symbol of the city rather than an established one. But it was no problem at all - within the hotel was a gift shop, and among the various Marina Bay Sands tat on display was this model, for around £12. It even came in a polystyrene-padded box. I'm quite pleased with this one, for as with the best models out there, it is in full colour. 


This one was easy. Upon leaving the main site of the temple, you are channelled into a maze of stalls, packed with souvenirs and vendors vying for your attention. There were numerous different models of Borobudur, and after a little haggling I got mine for a little under £2. I like this version, as it's made from dark stone, so resembles the real thing (there were loads of wooden models, which looked great but were the wrong colour). My only regret is that I think I could probably have found a larger one.

Petronas Towers

This was a dead easy one, as expected. The base of the Petronas Towers is a giant shopping mall, and on the lowest level were various stalls selling souvenirs. I could have got a gigantic, rucksack-filling, model for a vast amount of money if I'd so wished, but opted for this sleek thing instead, for a pretty decent £8 or so.

Shwedagon Pagoda

Burma proved pretty tricky for buying models, with even its main icon being quite elusive. The covered walkway leading up to the pagoda was packed with souvenir stalls, but most sold beads or Buddhas or other Buddhist images. Fortunately, a few sold miniature pagodas, but either in an ugly perspex or a more attractive but wrong-coloured grey stone. I really wanted a gold one, just like the real thing. After explaining my needs to a stall owner, with a bit of digging he uncovered this one. It's pretty lightweight metal and not very good quality, but it fits the bill perfectly. Burness has criticised it for not being of the Shwedagon Pagoda per se, but looking like any old pagoda, but you could argue that the Shwedagon Pagoda itself pretty much looks like any old pagoda, except bigger. It can also be disassembled, which is very handy for packing away (I keep it in the Marina Bay Sands box).

A bargain at about £4. Very pleasingly, I later saw the same model in the official gift shop, for about £15 (albeit, probably less dented that the one I bought).

Ananda Temple in Bagan

Unquestionably my favourite model. After a few days in Bagan, I had started to grow very worried that I hadn't seen a single model of a single temple, let alone one of Ananda. Souvenir sellers tried the hard-sell on postcards, paintings, and miniature Buddhas, but there wasn't a single model temple. Surely there must be a market for such a thing, I was heard to exclaim a number of times. With just a day to go, I realised the situation was growing grave, and started looking harder. This brought me into a wood-carving shop, where they had a beautiful model of Dhammayangyi temple - but it was massive. I would have required a mule to follow me around for the rest of my travels, carrying the thing on its back - clearly not practical (the mule would take up two seats on flights, for a start). So I spoke with the shop owner, and explained my needs, and for a negotiated $65, or about £40, he said he could have a small version of Ananda with me by 10pm the next day.

And so he did. I now have this exquisite, one-off, hand-carved temple of Ananda, done to the exact size I'd specified. It took three people the whole day to make. It also breaks down into six pieces, for easier transportation - the shop owner understanding that I would be carrying it about for some time.

I fell in love with it the moment I saw it, still stinking of drying varnish, and of all the models I've acquired, is definitely the one with the greatest aesthetic value. Within the model Wonder world, I have no doubt this will be one the Seven.

Bodhi Tataung Standing Buddha (Laykyun Setkyar)

Buying a miniature Buddha should have been a cinch, after all they're sold everywhere. Surely, in one of the numerous stalls that lined the passages to the gigantic Standing Buddha, a small Buddha statue would be available? But no, Burma confounded me. There was not a single Buddha on sale around Monywa. I am still astonished. But I managed this laminated picture for just 10p. I've since done a little hunting on the internet for an appropriate Buddha statue, but found nothing, so maybe one day in the future I'll pay some poverty-stricken arts student £25 to build me a replica. I quite like the laminated picture though, I must say.

Angkor Wat

I was feeling under a bit of pressure with Angkor Wat. It was perhaps the first true heavyweight in the world of Wonders that I'd visited (albeit Sydney Opera House and Borobudur chasing its tail) and I wanted to find a model that did it justice. This turned out to be much more difficult that expected. Simply, not many Angkor Wat models were around. The only one was an ugly, cheaply-made black stone thing, that I would only have bought if nothing else was available. It took some hunting, but I uncovered this far-more attractive piece, which I got for $55, or around £35. Like all the best models, it breaks up into a few pieces.

It's also damn heavy, perhaps over a kilo. In a different shop, a similar but even bigger version was available, but it would have been hopelessly impractical to carry around.

Banaue Rice Terraces

I'd thought I would run into trouble here, not expecting models to exist of what are essentially hills growing rice. But the first shop I went into sold a model for just £2. Great. Then I made the mistake of popping into another shop - it sold just the same model, but a little nicer, for just £1.50. I had to buy it, and it's the one you see photographed. The other languishes in the back of a wardrobe in the Banaue View Inn. It's one of my weaker models, largely featuring a traditional building and with less focus on the terraces themselves; however it holds up to two pens, thus is utilitarian as well as decorative. I bought a small fridge magnet for a bit of extra colour too.

Both the Ayutthaya and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha proved pretty tricky to get anything, but I did manage to get some vaguely 3D, colour fridge magnets. They're hardly the highlight of the collection, but they're better than nothing. I don't have photos because Burness has now taken everything back to Scotland with him while he returns from Christmas, thus lightening the load.

And lightening it considerably. At its heaviest, all these models added an extra 7-8kg onto my rucksack's weight - an over 50% increase on its starting weight. If Burness hadn't generously offered to take them all home with him, I'd have had to have sent them by post, because there's no way I could have continued gathering any more additional models. So my bag is now back to its lightweight self, in preparation for the many models I hope India and China have to offer.

Ultimately, when all my travels are over, I look forward to displaying all my model Wonders in a display cabinet in my (so far fictional) study, in a display that will surely mix the tacky with the tasteful, but will ensure, as I sit back with my pipe gazing at them, that my thirst for travel will always be quenched, as I have all the world's Wonders right there in the room with me.


  1. Sheena (Philippines)14 May 2012 at 20:25

    Hi Nev, great blog, I'm fascinated reading all your travel adventures. I also started travelling and I collect dolls made by the locals or any dolls representing the people of those country I visited. I Hope to do around the world and collect everything and like you, make my own display cabinet. what a pleasure!

  2. Thanks Sheena. Up until last year, I'd never really collected any mementos, but have discovered that having a themed travel collection is a great way of recording travels. If you ever visit Scotland, you should have no trouble at all getting a Scottish doll from one of the many Edinburgh souvenir shops.

  3. Hi Nev 360,

    Where is the best place to shop for a miniature Shewdagon Paya / collectibles in Yangon?

    You mentioned there is an official gift shop, any idea of an address or where is it located?

    Thank you.

  4. By the far the easiest place is at Shwedagon Pagoda itself. There is a long covered corridor connecting to it that is filled with vendors selling all kinds of souvenirs. The model I got took a little hunting within there, as I wanted a gold one, but there were many stone ones.

    Near one of the entrances (the tourist one? It's where people take the lift up rather than the stairs) there was an official gift shop. But you can get everything in the covered corridor for a fraction of the price, if you haggle just a little.

  5. Thank you so much Nev.

    I am also into collecting some of the miniature famous landmarks of that particular country that i am visiting. Yangon is next on my list.

    You have an impressive collection I must say.

    Thanks again :)

  6. I to collect buildings from around the world. Always looking for interesting ones.

    Thanks! Scott


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