The Temples of Bagan

Trip Start May 30, 2005
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Trip End Sep 30, 2006


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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

I got onto the bus in Pyay no problems, heading for Bagan. Nice and comfortable with no-one beside me. As a bonus I was able to watch The Italian Job on their TV, this beats the usual Burma-Pop or crappy sit-coms that they seem to play on the bus. I settled down nicely for the 10 hour journey. Around mid-night though the wheels came off, quite literally. Something flew off from the back of the bus followed by some rumbles and grumbles from the rear. It appears that these buses come with their own crew of mechanics and the four guys sitting at the front of the bus grabbed their tools and scuttled off to have a look. I sat there patiently for the first two hours (you get patient here) before going to see what was going on. Something was up with the rear axle and they'd taken off the rear wheels to try and fix it. I got back on the bus to wait patiently again. Just after three o'clock everything was finished and we got back onto the bus. The bus didn't get very far though. One of the guys jumped off the bus and round the back, at this point the bus started reversing back up the road (a very quiet road), I looked back and saw him searching for 'something'. This was a 'something' that he didn't manage to find after 15 minutes of reversing and looking. More banging and fixing ensued before getting going again at 4am, 4 hours of waiting and going nowhere. This wouldn't have been so bad except that at 4:30 we pulled into one of those crappy 'restaurants' at the side of the road for an hour. This is not the way to travel. By the time we arrived at Bagan about 10AM I was shattered and just wanted to head for a lie down.

I took it fairly easy on my first day, just content to walk around the town of Nyung U, There were a few temples to see, but at the main one I managed to get hassled beyond belief. In fact it got really unpleasant and I had to practically push my way out of there, I'll not be heading back. On the second day there I decided to hire a bike to see the many temples that are in the countryside surrounding the town. This would have been a great idea except I didn't fully appreciate the strength of the sun and the heat of the day. I managed to see a couple of the temples before taking a big wrong turn down this dusty track that just got dustier. I also managed to run out of water down this track which was a serious bad move. I should of turned back sooner that I did, but did I? No - not stupid me. Of course I did turn around eventually but by the time I did and then get back to the nearest shop that sold water I was completely spent. One whole litre of water didn't help. Then to a tea shop, perhaps some sugary tea (which is just described as tea here)- nope. The only thing that I though would help me would be to return to the industrial air-con unit that I'd been blessed with in my hotel. 45 minutes of blazing heat back there wasn't exactly a lot of fun either. I sat under this unit for for a full two hours and my skin was still absolutely roasting. I must have got a little bit of mild sun stroke, not a lot of fun.

To compensate for the wasted time that I'd had in Bagan I decided to be a little bourgeois and hire out a horse and cart (with driver of course) for the day. At 10 times the price of the bike it wasn't the budget traveller option but it was fantastic. I was taken to all of the main sites while lounging like a colonial emprorer in the back of the cart. Now the temples themselves are great, I can't take that away from them and I was of course happy to be able to see these fantastic ruins. It's just that they were almost all the same. There were a number of them that were sufficiently different, surrounded by the others that they looked great, but to be honest one day is more than enough time to see the temple, except if you have a particular interest in archeology. At the end of the day I headed to a popular spot to watch the sunset over the plains, withs hordes of other tourists. It was great, really beutiful.

The English football season started again while I was in Bagan, it's amazing popular. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool are the teams of choice round here. I couldn't find one single local who supported any other team, this was epitomised by one guy who was so delighted of Chelsea's 'crushing' defeat of Wigan (1-0 last minute goal) that he said "I'm very happy, Chelsea win, so I win". I'm convinced that a straw poll three years ago wouldn't have returned a single positive response for Chelsea. I keep on asking the locals if they support Manchester City but not one has shown the least bit of interest in them, Sorry Mafty. As a final though I feel like pulling out a map of the UK and seeing if any of them can even point to Manchester or even London. To be honest I think that most would struggle to point to the UK, but then, that wouldn't be their fault. The government here really doesn't want much to do with the International community and so it wouldn't be very high up on the curriculum. And as a side to that they don't make education compulsory and only the children of richer children can actually afford to send their kids to school, a) because they need to pay money to do this and, b) the children can be more profitable helping with family businesses and selling stuff to tourists. It's a sad situation which I guess leads to one of their main releases, football. Under these circumstances even I would become a Manchester United fan.

As a little side trip from Bagan I headed to Monkey Poo Hill. I'd managed to find Rachel from Pyay again and we'd arranged to go together, renting a car which also came with a few other tourists. The ride over was great, we stopped at a little cottage factory that produced gallons of moonshine. They have a drink here called toddy which is basically naturally fermented coconut juice. It's fairly potent stuff in this state but this old man had a still in his back room where he made potentially blinding drink. He even had a little scale model of the still so that he could easilly describe to tourists how he went about the business. His proudest moment though was when he poured a little glass of the nectar onto a flat stone and lit it. Booom, it went up with a brilliant blue flame, thus demonstrating that the contents of the brew were in fact ethanol and not methanol. He was so proud, and of course then proceeded to enter his sales mode in order to flog this stuff off, real Del Boy stuff.

Monkey Poo Hill was great. The locals call it Mount Popa home of the mother Nat spirit and is particularly holy to them. To me it's the hill where monkeys live, eat, and poo. Since it's another of these holy spot in Myanmar you have to climb the hill barefoot, you can tell that this is not a combination that's really not going to please too many people. I decided at the bottom of the hill that it'd be a good idea to buy a bunch of bananas thinking that it'd be cute to feed a few monkeys on the way up. Now these monkeys were cute and they were a bit like the pandas in China when the camera went into overdrive taking all sorts of shots of the wee fellas. Half way up the hill I found one of the guys and pulled out a nana throwing it at him. At this point two more appeared so I thought they'd need one too. Suddenly the whole gang turned up, word had obviously got out that someone was paying out. They came at me quite menacingly and I capitulated immediatly throwing the whole bunch into the mob. Unfortunatly all that happened was that one monkey grabbed it and ran off leaving a number of my underdeveloped cousins wondering where their nana was. We though that the best course of action was to keep on walking up the hill, they followed me grabbing at my bag as we walked. Most of them were content to stay where they were but the daddy of the bunch kept close to us and kept running ahead to block our path. Fortunatly for me he got bored after a little while as well and headed off, much better than the alternative which involved him biting or scrating at me causing diseases that I'd rather not have thanks very much. The temple of Mount Popa itself wasn't really up to much, nothing new from the rest of the Myanmar really but the view from the top was superb. It was a fantastic day out.

It was time to move on again. Next stop is Mandalay, Myanmar's second city with four ancient cities to explore in the surrounding area.
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