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Passing through... We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves--Pico Iyer---Passing through from Europe to Africa to Asia to Oceania etc.& back again! 9 mos. of dreaming and exploring!

Bagan

MYANMAR | Wednesday, 24 April 2013 | Views [463]

Another highlight point on this trip!! I was hoping I was going to like this place and I was hoping it would be as I imagined it---tranquil, remote and a hidden treasure! Jackpot!! Plains upon plains of temples dotting the barren landscape, with random and remote locations, and almost no one in site! There are tourists here but the place is so spread out that often, the only time you see them, is eating lunch or dinner at the few food spots in the little town. As for the temples, you could spend the day exploring temples and not see another person!--- obviously, if you go to the more popular temples you will see people but usually just a few (the exception is at sunset-the most popular temple to view the sunset from-although probably not the best- there are heaps of tourists). Nonetheless, you could get lost in it all for days….so tranquil, so remote, and so HOT (about 42 degrees Celsius every day to be precise)!! For the few days we were there we just rented a bicycle from our guesthouse and discovered the ruins and the temples—piece by piece, at our own pace, with few distractions in our way. No one bothered us, and few people were even on the roads! The place felt like a ghost town the minute you left the main town road---you felt like you were plucked into some barren remote countryside with nothing around for miles and miles except ancient temples as far as the eye can see! Magnificent!

As per plan, we didn’t pre book any accommodations before arriving at Bagan. The bus ride itself was a funny (and comfortable) affair—we left at 8am (on time) and were scheduled to arrive at about 4pm. However, the bus pulled into the Bagan (actual town name Nyang U) bus station at 1245pm! I would have to say this was the first bus I have ever been on that arrived early! Significantly early! Later, we learned that the roads in Myanmar have been significantly improved over the past few years with the tourist influx, but ironically, the time frames for bus rides have not been changed! So you are still told your bus ride to Bagan will take 7 hours even though it will only take about 4-5! No one bothers to tell you that though……we learned this is the case with the overnight buses too (sucks if you arrive at 3am somewhere instead of your scheduled 6am)! Arriving in Bagan early on the day bus was great! We walked down the main road for a few minutes and booked the first hostel we found because it was cheap and it was in our Lonely Planet book—with A/C and all because of the intense heat! Unfortunately, there are frequent, long power outages so the A/C only works part of the time- we would crank it on when it would work so we could cool the room off for the times when it was off. On our bus ride we made some new friends that we actually ended up spending our entire time in Bagan (and beyond) hanging out with:  a young, quirky, outgoing Japanese/Hawaiian guy from Venice Beach, California, and an older, interesting, quirky, jolly guy (67 years old to be precise but seemed more like 50!) from Dublin, Ireland. We formed a crew and hung out with each other at all times of the day—eating, biking, exploring….it was great! The young American guy was travelling throughout southeast Asia and was almost done his (?) 7 month adventure and was soon going back to Venice Beach. He was constantly chatting it up with people and making friends. The Irish guy was one of those interesting older guys you always hope to meet on your travels—incredibly well travelled and informative, he was the youngest 67 year old I have ever met! He would go biking with us in the heat all day and I think I was more tired than he was! He was full of enthusiasm and we loved hanging out with him! Turns out he was a recovering alcoholic ---sober for over 25 years! He was one of those rare people you meet on your travels that inspires you and makes you see just how amazing some people can be. It seems there was not one place he has not been, and he shows no signs of slowing down! It would be fun to visit him in Ireland (if I could build up the energy!). So this was our ‘Bagan crew’ for a few days…

Almost every day and every meal we ate at a place called ‘Weatherspoons’, recommended to us initially by our American friend (who heard it was great)---it was! It was one of those cool spots where travelers wrote stuff all over the walls and you could spend the whole day there just reading people’s posts! Lots of Canada and Poland representing!! Even Detroit was there! Ha! The tea leaf salad was delicious (Tom wrote down the recipe) and they had great shakes and smoothies. It was a staple spot for us during our time in Bagan. We only ate at 1 other place once during our time there, and it only made us miss Weatherspoons more! Ironically, the restaurant was not in our Lonely Planet book, but we later learned that it was a recent opening---besides, all of the ‘Recommendations’ on the walls made you realize you were in a great place. Don’t worry, we left our own mark there ;) ‘Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer. Thanks for the great food! Pozdrawiamy (All the best/Cheers!) Tom & Magda from Newfoundland Canada!’ (unfortunately, I misspelled the message a bit)—either way, we made our mark in Bagan!

The first day we decided to check out the sunset from one of the famous temples. Unfortunately, being one of the most famous temples, it was quite packed with tourists. And, unfortunately, it was quite cloudy that day so the sunset was only an imaginable one :P The next day, we had the full day to explore. Our plan was to catch the sunrise before 6am, but since it was still cloudy in the morning, we left a bit later. We biked for nearly 4 hours before we realized how tired and hungry we were! Empty streets, deserted temples, friendly locals made the time pass so quickly! For lunch it was obviously back to Weatherspoons! After lunch, it was the worst heat so we took a break in our room, however, with frequent power outages, even that was not a very comfortable place. After the worst sun, the plan was to bike around again in the afternoon to evening. The skies were clearer on this day and we found a more deserted temple we could climb and watch the sunset from---BEAUTIFUL! Temples everywhere on a beautiful green backdrop! It was not the easiest place to find but what a find!!! A fantastic way to finish the day!

Overall, our time in Bagan was fantastic. A chilled, relaxed, friendly environment away from the hustle and bustle. It felt like your own hidden away haven. I am so glad we saw it now, before the droves of tourists arrive (although we were there in the off season so I bet in the high season it is already too busy to be serene). Definitely a highlight of this year. We left with a sense of calm and serenity J

A little about hawkers/touts etc. in Myanmar:

The whole appeal about Myanmar is supposed to be the lack of it being ‘ruined by tourism’ up to now (soon to change I assume, unfortunately). Therefore, you expect less people bugging you to buy stuff, less people hassling you on the street, less people trying to cheat you for cash. It is definitely noticeable that there is much less of that here (in comparison to the rest of Southeast Asia). However, it is not absent. Still, here are some key differences that I noticed:

--People here are sincere. There were few times that we were quoted an astronomical price for something and very few times that people seemed to want to cheat us. Often, you still had to haggle a bit, but the original prices quoted were quite reasonable, and in many circumstances the prices were already fixed anyways (reasonable prices). Overall, Myanmar is more expensive than its neighbours, but somehow the more sincere approach and less aggressive tactics makes that a thing you can deal with. Ofcourse, there are still taxi drivers or rickshaw drivers wanting your business, but the whole process is much more pleasant.

--Unfortunately, you tend to feel worse here about not buying things at markets or stalls (souvenirs, etc) because buying means you are directly helping the Burmese people and it’s not going into government pockets. However, how many Buddha statues and t-shirts can 1 person have?? Plenty, I realize, but you really just can’t buy that many things!!! So we found ourselves feeling bad sometimes for not getting some dinky souvenir that cost a few dollars that we couldn’t fit into our bag and didn’t want, just because we knew we could help people by buying it. However, in saying that, we have pretty much completely avoided buying stuff like that this whole trip, but finally caved while we were here—a few souvenirs and postcards and Buddha statues later, we felt we had done our part!!! The one thing that made me very uncomfortable on certain occasions (at markets/stalls) was when people would actually genuinely ask me to help them by buying something from them---we knew this was partially a ploy because they know we know it would help them, but to throw it in our faces like that makes it really uncomfortable. Especially, when they are selling stuff you REALLY don’t want and when you have already spent enough money on other stuff you don’t need! I must say it’s the first time I have really felt bad saying no to people. There were a few occasions like this: when a young Burmese woman wanted me to buy a longyi (long traditional Burmese skirt) from her. I really didn’t want it, I had enough long skirts/pants etc. from India and Africa that I probably wouldn’t wear at home, and it wasn’t the cheapest purchase. But when I would say sorry or tell her ‘maybe tomorrow’ she would reply ‘everyone says that, and no one will buy from me, and I haven’t sold one in a long time’—you know she is probably exaggerating but you just feel so bad!! And she is so sweet about it, not aggressive at all, just a bit annoying. Another time was when a young girl approached us with postcards (we had literally just bought a few right before that) and told us she was a student and needed our help, insisting we buy a bunch from her. We really didn’t want any but she milked her story so well you really felt bad….it just felt so sincere even though it may not be…..so hard to tell and so hard to not give in…..

We also gave some money to a few beggars because they also seemed sincere—like the old grandma with a severe hunchback who I think just wanted some money for food; or the little girl who specifically asked me for some water (not money!) and ofcourse I gave it to her…..this was the hardest thing for me in this country… 

Tags: agnes obel - riverside (amazing world remix)

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