In many ways, Bagan is the most stunning place I’ve ever seen. Pictures are definitely going to go long here.
I stayed in Bagan for three nights. One of the Aussies I was with in Inle and the trek tipped me off to the Winner Hotel. For air conditioning and my own bathroom for 11 bucks a night, it was indeed a winner. I met a group of dudes straight away and hung out with them on my first night, and an impromptu party at the Winner put the one we threw in Inle to shame, and every continent was represented by the travelers there. I definitely arrived on the right night, as the rest of the nights I spent at the Winner were much quieter.
I spent a day and a half peddling a bicycle alone around the plains of Bagan. I’m sure I could have joined another group, but Bagan alone had its charms. With 4,000 temples, I found plenty that were completely empty.
I hung out at one medium-sized pagoda that lied between two major touristy ones, and had it completely to myself. I sat down in the dust and listened to “The End,” the Doors song, on the speakers and not the headphones because it seemed like the kind of place to do that. Not another soul happened by to break the mood throughout the entire eleven minute song.
I visited another temple near the river (Migalazedi) that Lonely Planet had claimed to be quite popular. As the temple was under repair, I had it to myself excepting the construction workers, who didn’t care that I was there nor that I climbed to the top.
While walking around on my first afternoon, I met a local who told me the river was nearby, and then took me to see the sun setting over the mighty Irrawaddy. Afterwards, we went to his hut in the nearby village and had tea. He told me that his father worked for the government, which is why he hadn’t been uprooted from this village and forced to move to New Bagan like most locals. He also said that his father’s job in a nearby government museum paid him 30,000 kyat a month, which is about 40 U.S. dollars. He tried to sell me a pointy stone head, which was cool, but I feared that the airline my construe it as a weapon so I didn’t buy it.
Bagan is full of souvenir hawkers, which I suppose isn’t surprising. Some would follow me around a bit, which got old, but most were considerably more charming than the average Thai tout so I ended up buying a couple of overpriced knick-knacks.
On my third day in Bagan, I took a truck taxi to Mount Popa with a French Canadian dude and a Chinese American girl that I’d made friends with the night before. (Hmm, that sentence kinda illustrates how awesome this trip is.) Along the way, nearly every farmer in the fields or kid on a motorbike smiled and waved at us. Mount Popa is really more of a hill as you’ll see in the pictures.
Speaking of which, lots of them today, so I’ll get to them.
Shwezigon Paya. This is considered the prototype Burmese pagoda, and it was built in 1102. A woman tried to sell me a piece of gold leaf to rub on a Buddha for 1,000 kyat. I balked. Then she offered 500 kyat, and said it was the “Burmese price.” Having learned the day before that a large number of locals make 1,000 kyat a day, I didn’t believe that this 500 kyat “local” price was remotely true. I don’t mind getting overcharged by touts on the road so much, but I get annoyed at such obvious lies.
I had this field of temples essentially to myself. One lone tourist rolled up on a bike as I was leaving, but then I saw him again five minutes later down the road so he obviously didn’t stop to look around at this cacti filled plain of pagodas. His loss.
Sulamanhi Pahto, the last of the more famous temples that I visited. In fact, this was my last temple on Day 2, I was exhausted at this point. I got surrounded by some fierce dogs near here because I ditched my bike for a bit. The dogs wouldn’t let me pass until a monk came out, said one word to them in Burmese, and they ran off.
Okay fine. Interesting doorway, Sulamanhi Pahto. After this, I rode back to the Winner, met some friends, and went out to eat at a place called Weather Spoon, where I was able to ditch my standard rice or noodles and order an enormous burger, just what I needed after 10 hours on a bicycle.
The next day, I headed to Mount Popa with two others. Lots of monkeys around the bottom of the hill. The ladies selling noodles at the bottom knew exactly two words in English – “hello” (which Southeast Asians have an amazing ability to use in almost any context, as a greeting, as a sales pitch, as a warning, as a way to call attention, as a question, as an answer) and “monkey.”
Sunset on my last evening from Htilominlo Pahto pavilion, which I had to myself. It was technically closed, but Bagan taught me that there’s always another way in, as “closed” is merely a suggestion. The next morning I headed for Mandalay.