Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
59Trip End Apr 23, 2005
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Factoid of the day: Giving gifts to Buddhas with glasses doesn't improve your eyesight, least not if it's jelly beans you give...
Nitty Gritty: Left Monywa after b'fast and hadn't got too far before we had to stop as we could all hear a tap, tap sound, which turned out to be a huge nail stuck in the tyre - puncture no 2
The road to Pakokku where we would catch the ferry to Bagan was hot & dusty and we reached the dock just in time to catch a ferry leaving at 1pm. The dock was little more than a shed on the bank of the Ayeyarwady which because the water level was so low, was a dust bowl. The ferries were moored alongside the bank with huge planks of wood connecting them with the riverbank.The ferry travelled up a very narrow dredged channel between 2 sandbars before entering the main channel of water and our destination on the other side.
Our hotel in Bagan was one of the most plush we'd stayed in and actually clean! As Bagan is one of the top destinations in Myanmar, lots of rich tourists stay there and few backpackers would stay in the hotel we had managed to get for a knockdown price through our driver. We had to give the guys from the hotel who carried our bags to our room the slip as they were hanging around for a tip and everywhere else we'd been our bags had been carried for us for nothing. It may seem callouse of us to avoid this, but rich tourists do have a habit of spoiling things for others by creating expectation
It was really hot, so we didn't venture out again until 5pm when OT came to collect us and take us to see sunset over the temple complex.First we visited a small temple which you could climb to the top of for a 365 degree view of the temple complex. Unlike at Angkor, there are few trees and the plain on which the temples stand is vast and flat so you can see them reaching to each horizon from where ever you stand. In the fading sun, the temples were glowing orange and it was the most beautiful sight and we both agreed that the view had rejuvenated our desire to explore, something that had been lacking lately.
We then watched the sun set from a much larger temple with steep steps to the top which had another wonderful view, with crowds of other people. I found this amusing as whilst G was taking some photos, I sat watching the sun near to a German woman who was fiercely guarding a place for her husband that he never sat in and when ever anyone came along, she told them the place was reserved (brings back memories of towels on sunloungers in the Med)- I wasn't aware that you could reserve a place on an ancient temple!!
We hired some bikes for exploring the next day from a lovely family who owned a bike shop and had a great italian meal of fresh pasta (they make noodles in a factory fairly close by and have branched out into pasta)which was the first meal in ages that we actually finished as it wasn't too rich
The next day after an early b'fast we took off on our trusty steeds - it was great to be doing some proper exercise and the freedom of having the bikes was great, except that we stopped every metre or so to take photos, the place was so photogenic.
Many of the large temples were unimpressive inside except for Ananda which had 4 huge 8th century standing buddhas inside with very enigmatic faces.
The following morning we were up early to see sunrise over Bagan which was sensational. It was dark when we got to the temple OT had recommended and we needed torches to navigate our way through the staircases to the top. The view as the sunrose was amazing, especially when 2 hot air balloons drifted into frame. Once the sun was up, the light was perfect for taking photos and we must have taken about 300 of that morning alone!
After b'fast we set off with OT to explore some of the further away temples many of which were decorated with excuisite frescos inside, cleaned with the help of UNESCO.
During the next few days we visited as many temples as we could (and there are so many), seeing more frescos and different views of the larger temples in the distance. We took in 2 more sunsets and another sunrise and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
We were sad to leave Bagan
Beside the road, families were grinding peanuts to make oil by using an Ox to turn a huge grinding wheel in to the centre of which the peanuts were poured and the oil collected at the bottom. It seemed to take a lot of effort to produce the oil. The family also harvested sugar palms by scaling the palm and cutting the fronds and hanging small bowls made from tyres under the wound to collect the sap. The sap was collected each morning and inside the house, cauldrons of the sugary liquid were being boiled over a fire, fed by an old woman with wood and cow dung, until they produced a thick paste which was rolled into balls and dried in the sun. The resulting jaggery was not as sweet as that which we'd had in Cambodia.
We took a detour from Magwe to visit a temple festival at Shwe Mon Tor that OT had heard about. We both had pretty low expectations, especially after the 2 hour, hot, dusty journey, but how wrong we were. The festival is basically a 3 month festival which culminates in the water festival in April and attracts pilgrims from all over the country
The walkways were covered and lined with souvenir stalls which was fascinating to see as this is definitely not a tourist destination and we were something of a sight ourselves. It was interesting to see the kind of things on offer were very similar to in the west e.g. hairslides, small toys, t-shirts etc. We soon had a gathering of kids following us and we felt like the pied piper...Everywhere we went people were intrigued and astonished to see us there.
Once at the bottom of the hill again we bought the children an icecream - we don't usually do this as we are concerned about the possibility of expectation being developed, but it seemed like the right thing to do.
It was blisteringly hot so we all decided to go for a swim as it was acceptable for mixed bathing. R was lucky enough to change in the living quarters at the back of the restaurant whist G & OT had to change by the car under the watchful eyes of the crowd
R needed the toilet and was led away by one of the women to a neat row of bamboo and rattan cubicles up the hill. Each was closed with a padlock and you got the key from a stall holder for a small fee. It was all very clean!
Swimming was great fun and we had our photos taken by the official festival photographer with various groups in the water. It was really refreshing if a little swift flowing.
R was invited to change in the boudoir of the restaurant owner who was applying her evening makeup which consisted of a paste made from a particular tree wood that is applied over the face like foundation and red lipstick. It is said that the tree wood paste is a natural sunscreen, but we think they use it as we would makeup too.
We would have really liked to have stayed in a bamboo hut overnight but OT was uncomfortable with this as it was not licensed for foreigners and could have resulted in a police visit once we'd left. We were sad to leave, but privileged to have taken part. We stayed in Magwe that night in a hotel with strange plumming, another theme to our travels - the bathroom had hot water to the sink and a tap on the wall, but the shower was only connected to the cold water supply as there was no connecting pipe, so we had to fill a bucket with water and tip in over our heads to have a hot shower!
The following day we headed south to Pyay where the temperature was even hotter, but where we had the luxury of BBC World on a TV in our room, so we caught up on the news!
The trip from Pyay to Yangon was our last day and we were melancholic, but ready to move on. R was keen to stop at a pagoda en route containing a big Buddha wearing huge gold rimmed spectacles. Rumour has it that leaving a big donation may result in your eyesight being restored, but sadly our donation wasn't big enough as R is still shortsighted.
We stopped at an animal market on the way south which was really interesting as it was where the locals bought piglets, Ox, water buffalo and cows. A water buffalo costs about $250US, so they are prized animals.
You can imagine our delight when a few kms further south we met an elephant walking down the road. He was huge with big tusks and a man perched on the top with a basket behind him containing produce from the market plus a piglet that he'd picked up too. We were so excited to have seen a real life working elephant in Myanmar - he was off to the forest to fell trees.
We said our goodbyes to OT and promised to make him a website so that he may start working for himself and eventually buy his own car.
Our last night in Myanmar was spent stuffing ourselves with yet more Masala Dosa at our favourite place followed by yoghurt and fruit at a small café recommended in the LP as being clean but that was infested with the biggest cockies we'd ever seen that were crawling up the walls and on to the tables, needless to say we ate quickly and left
Myanmar is a wonderful country with the friendliest people we have met on our travels so far, and hiring a car and driver was an excellent way to get around.