Mingalaba Bagan & YangonAugust 7 in Myanmar
The bus arrived outside of Bagan at 4am. Unfortunately the bus station was too far out of the old town to walk so I had to get one of the loitering rip off taxis. Luckily just off the bus I met two girls who had arrived from Yangon, so I could share a taxi with them. We were all heading to the Ostello Bello (with pool - there are two) in the old town and arrived twenty minutes later. Sadly we weren’t able to check in early so Julia (from Germany) and Ylenia (from China) decided to fight the sleep and go watch the sunrise with two french backpackers we met in reception. I was too tired so I decided to sleep on a makeshift bed of beanbags in their chill out area until it was a more reasonable hour. I got up at 7:30 and went down to reception where I met Julia. We decided to spend the morning on the free bike tour of the main temples. I attempted to get my own electric scooter but after driving about ten metres I felt really uncomfortable and asked if Julia would mind driving with both of us on her bike, thankfully she said yes. With the bike sorted we met our guide and fellow tourists at the gate and drove down to the other Ostello Bello to pick up the rest of the group. And guess who was there, Shia and Yifat! Coincidence I think not! Our guide gave us a quick briefing and then off we went on our convoy around the temples. When the complex was first built, between the 9th and 13th century, there were estimated to be around 10,000 temples and pagodas. Now there are just over 2,000. Needless to say we did not see all of them. Over the course of morning our guide took us to about 8 different temples. Some small and some larger (the bigger they are the more important the person they were built for was), and some that you could climb up (though officially all are meant to be closed due to an American tourist falling off one last year and dying). Unlike the temples of Angkor wat most in Bagan are built with red bricks and stones and are much smaller in comparison. Halfway through the tour we had a break for lunch where we could get to know each other better. Shia and Yifat caught me up on their trip since Hsipaw, which involved their rented motorbike breaking down halfway to Nyuang Shwe and then having to beg a guesthouse to let them stay (apparently only the main towns are allowed foreign visitors). After lunch we saw a few more temples before heading back to town. Back at the hotel we were able to check in and took advantage of the air con in our room before spending the rest of the afternoon by the pool. Just after 5pm Julia, Ylenie, the two french backpackers (Thibault and Apolline - can you get two more french makes?!) and I went back to one of the temples we visited earlier to watch the sunset. Along with the rest of the tourists in bagan it seemed. Ylenia spent most of it taking selfies while the rest of us watched, taking a few choice pictures. After the sunset we headed back to town for dinner in one of the local restaurants (though me and Julia barely made it back as our battery started to die just as we were entering the town). After a nice dinner we headed back to the hostel for an early night.
After a nice breakfast at the hostel Julia and I decided to spend the day doing our own bike tour of some more temples. With the help of maps.me and previous users comments we spent the next few hours visiting an array of different temples. We even finding a couple that you could climb up, albeit some more difficult than others (one in particular involving Julia climbing over a gate at the top of some stairs while I nervously kept watch, not convinced that I’d be able to climb back over if I tried). After a few hours we headed back to town for lunch and then to once again spend the rest of the afternoon by the pool (so glad I picked the one with the pool, even if it is “less social”). While biking about earlier o noticed on the map that there was a temple conveniently labelled “good for sunset - May 2018 open” so we decided to go there for the evenings sunset. And maps.me did not disappoint. The temple was much smaller than last nights but it also meant only a handful of other tourists were there too. We were able to enjoy the view sitting on the tiers of the roof much more peacefully. After the rest of the tourists left we stayed to take a few more pictures around the quiet temple before heading back to town for dinner. On the way Thibault and Apolline’s bike started to slow down as it ran out of battery (not again!). Julia and I told them to turn their headlight off to save the battery and we drove behind them, with Ylenia in front, making sure they were ok (Apolline also ingenuously thought to turn her phone torch on and hold it behind her as a makeshift break light). Thankfully we made it back to town safely and dropped off the bikes before finding somewhere for dinner. We actually found a nice cheap restaurant right opposite our hostel so after we ate we practically rolled straight into bed.
Having reached my temple saturation I decided to spend my last day in Bagan around the hostel, taking full advantage of the pool. Julia was of the same mind too so we spent our time chatting by the pool and taking a break for lunch in the town. Sadly all good things must come to an end and it was time to get ready for yet another night bus, this time to Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city and the former capital. I said goodbye to Julia, who was heading to Inle Lake, and got the tuk tuk to the bus station.
The bus arrived in Yangon at 6am and once again the bus station was miles away from the city centre. Luckily I was again able to commandeer two other tourists to share a taxi downtown. I arrived at my hostel just after 7 and was able to have a shower before enjoying their free breakfast. As I was finishing my food who do I see coming down the stairs, Shia and Yifat! They both greeted me with hugs as we commented on how strange this was getting (there are dozens of hostel in the city). We decided to spend the day together exploring. Although Yangon is The countries former capital there isn’t a huge amount to see in the way of tourist attractions. As we walked around downtown we visited the city’s only synagogue where the guys gave me a tour of some of the religious articles. Luckily it chose this point to start raining so we were ale to avoid the worst of it. After the synagogue we walked around the downtown area a bit more, sampling some of the street food. Sadly the rain continued in short showers so we decided to take a break from exploring and go to the cinema that we happened to pass. The next movie in English, The Darkest Minds, wasn’t showing for another hour and a half so we decided to wait in the nearby mall taking advantage of the air con. We set up camp in a cafe in the food court where the guys taught me Yaniv, a fast paced Israeli card game. Probably one of the quickest games to pick up and so fun to play. We almost rather kept playing instead of going back to the cinema but we’d already bought our tickets. The film actually turned out to be quite good (think a new younger version of the hunger games) and was definitely a different experience watching it in Myanmar. For one the movie started with everyone standing for the national anthem (apparently quite common in Asia) and secondly because not one, not two, but three people answered their phones and had full on conversations during the film! Seriously people?! Why bother paying for the film if you’re not found to watch it?! Mind boggling. After the film we headed to the north to the city’s infamous abandoned theme park. Although technically off limits the receptionist in our hostel said that it actually still on TripAdvisor so we should go check it out. Just be ware of the stray dogs and swarms of mosquitos. Thanks. We found it easily and entered through the fairly big gap in one of the fences. And yes there were a few stray dogs outside but luckily we couldn’t see any inside. Nevertheless I was sufficiently creeped out waking through the park, avoiding the black bog-like puddles across some of the paths. Shia and Yifat were loving it tho and were taking pictures on all of the rides we could get on. I only braved the Ferris wheel before pleading with them to go. This is how horror movies start! Finally they relented and we headed back outside and having got past the handful of stray dogs gathered on the street I was feeling safer again. We then made our way to the main tourist attraction in the city, the Shwedagon Pagoda. The huge gold pagoda (which is actually a stupa as you cannot go inside) stands tall above the city and is said to contain relics from four previous Bhuddas. The complex surrounding the pagoda/stupa was made up of smaller temples and stupas. We joined the number of tourists and sat facing the pagoda as we waited for night to fall, watching as the area lit up around us. Once it was dark we headed back into the city and found a small cafe for dinner before calling it a night.
The next morning I said goodbye to Shia and Yifat the the final time before they caught their flight to Vietnam. After two weeks of travel buddies I found myself on my own again. I decided to give myself the day off from sightseeing and spent my day reading and planning the next leg of my journey before having an early night so I was rested for my morning flight.
So there you have my final few days in Myanmar, a culturally warm and rich country.
Next stop is Bangkok to continue my Thailand adventure!