Old Bagan, Myanmar. January 21st-24th. Temples for days, EBike Angel, sunset yoga
The bus was Antarctica cold. The reviews said it was going to be cold, so I wore extra layers, and had a blanket and a pair of socks handy. I was still freezing. I managed to sleep a few hours here and there because of my amazing travel pillow and my amazing ability to be completely void of emotion when I choose to be.
We stopped often, once at a KFC. They love KFC in Myanmar. I mean, have you ever had a Famous Bowl? What's not to love?
The bus dropped us at the Bagan Bus station. I was approached by a man who asked if I needed a taxi. GRAB taxi is not a thing in Bagan, so I knew I would have to find a local cab myself. I agreed to the man's price and he walked me to his car which was parked peculiarly far from the station. Red flag.
The car had no TAXI markings. A young man was sleeping in the passenger seat. I got that bad feeling.
NOPE. BIG NOPE.
I declined the ride and went back to the bus station.
I met a foreign couple who were going in a similar direction, so we shared a cab to my guesthouse in Old Bagan. The Delight guesthouse.
I got there around 7 am. My room wasn’t ready for check-in, but the man at the desk offered me a more expensive room that was available immediately. I see what you’re doing, guy, and Dammit, fine, I’ll take it.
I was oddly energized, even though I hadn’t had much sleep or any famous mashed potatoes bowls with corn. I decided to take advantage of my first morning in the ancient city and world heritage site of Bagan.
Wikipedia will tell you that Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, as well as the political, economic, and cultural center of Myanmar.
During the kingdom's height between the 11th and 13th centuries, 4,446 Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries were constructed. 3, 822 of the temples and pagodas remain today. Even if you are not very good at math, Tara will tell you, that is still a shit ton of temples.
I found an EBIKE to rent and rode around like a member of a more environmentally friendly hippy version of hell's angels. Many people were wearing facemasks to protect themselves from dirt and air pollution. I didn't wear one, but looking back, I wish I had.
The ancient city was breathtakingly beautiful. There was a combination of old brick remains and shiny new gold plated reconstructions. I was surprised to see so many trees and plants because the earth and the air seemed so dry. There was a fair amount of stray dogs and even horse and carriage cabs.
I was driving along and saw an excessive amount of smoke. I pulled over and watched in awe as children played in rubbish and burned plastics. It looked almost like a war zone at the moment, though the rest of Bagan was more peaceful.
I climbed to the top of the Bagan Viewing tower for sunset. Tourists lined the tower in every way possible. To have enough space to get a good view and photo, I had to walk halfway down the tower and stop on the stairway. The weather in the early morning and the weather after sunset is pretty cold in South East Asia standard, around 50 degrees F.
I enjoyed my nice cozy more expensive bed, too many episodes of SUITS and a good rest.
The next morning, I slept past breakfast and gathered my belongings to move to another hotel down the street. I practiced yoga in my room and laid low for the rest of the day, walking around to the sites and restaurants close by. I wanted to see the river, so I set the destination in my google maps and walked the route to the water.
When I got close to the river, I could see a group of children under a tree. There are heaps of trash, plastics, and coconut shells on both sides of the path and stray dogs sniffing and running about.
The children spot me. They start to say “Hello Baby.”
When I get closer, they run to me. There are probably eight or so children and the oldest is probably seven or so. Even though they are children, my guard is up. I tell myself that I can handle a group of kids, though, I question if I am about to get jumped or led somewhere unsafe.
Two little girls grab my hands (one hand, one elbow, because my phone is in my hand) and the rest swarm around me as they guide me to the river. I entertain them and smile. We walk to the river and it's pretty dried up. The river is still pretty, but not like I am going to park myself there and read a book or anything.
The children ask me to take a picture of them. I agree. Then the oldest child tells me it will be 1000 kyat. I say no, no, it won’t. They all frown. They ask me if I want to go on a boat ride. Do I want postcards? None of them had postcards. Do I want this and do I want that. I say, " No thank you," many times, and then start to ignore them.
I look at my phone to see where else I can go and hope they will leave me alone without me having to tell them so. As I am looking down, the children come behind me and try to open my bag.
I whip around, and scream, HEY. They jump backward and laugh. I tell them it’s not funny. I start walking away and think, did I almost just get robbed by a gang of children?
For dinner, I met up with my friend Dusty from San Diego, who is traveling with his two friends DeeDee and Nick. We went to an Indian restaurant and I had an amazing curried lentil dish. It was such a treat to be able to share a meal and a conversation with great people! I didn't realize how much I missed human interaction.
The next day, the four of us rented a van and a driver. Joe (which was not at all his actual name) took us to all the major temples and pagodas. I had a good lay of the land from my EBIKE adventure, but it was nice to be chauffeured around from place to place without any planning on our part.
One temple was dark and cold and had bats flying around the ceiling area. I screamed like a little girl when I realized the thing flying around my face was NOT a butterfly. Dusty and I befriended a few puppies at one of the pagodas. We tried to walk away from them (Bc we had to go) but they kept following us. We picked up our pace. I tried not to look back, but I looked back many times (Bc I loved them) until we eventually lost them…
I asked Dusty to take a photo of me doing yoga outside of a temple. We were not inside a temple so I didn’t think it would be considered disrespectful. I took off my long sleeve loose-fitting shirt and went into warrior two. A man drives by on his motorbike and yelled for me to stop and to put my shirt back on. I was wrong. Oops.
I put my shirt on, and reversed my warrior.
At every temple, there were locals selling souvenirs. Mainly postcards, books, puppets, lacquerware, clothes, and the wood they added to the clay to make the traditional yellow face paint. They had smoothie stands and ice cream stands. I don’t know who I need to talk to, but someone should sell coffee and dog treats… they would make a killing…
We went to an authentic Myanmar buffet restaurant for lunch. The food came out immediately and even though there were vegetable options the flavor was too “earthy” for me to eat. By earthy, I mean, everything tasted like cold horse shit that had been sitting in a hot barn for a week.
I kept trying to eat through the pain, but at a certain point, #fuckpoliteness. Besides that meal, the food in Myanmar has been fantastic.
DeeDee and I went to a vegetarian restaurant down the street called “The Moon” and the boys had the buffet all to themselves.
Deedee and I ordered milkshakes and curry dishes and got to know each other better. We talked about yoga and traveling. The guys met up with us and Joe took us to a lacquerware factory.
When I walked into the factory, I immediately thought, "Laaammme," and had no intention of learning anything or buying anything.
We sat through a brief explanation of how the lacquerware was made. It was fascinating. The owner told us about how the lacquer is collect from the trees and layered over the bamboo for months and months to create exceptional durability. Then the piece is hand etched and powder coloring is used to color within the engraved lines.
I decided to buy a cup, a cup that would never break. A symbol I could get behind. It was a total FU to the Sri Lanka mug.
After sunset, Joe dropped us all off at our different hotels and we called it a night. I had such a great day making new friends and seeing Bagan!
One of the things that I was really excited about seeing in Bagan were the hot air balloons during sunrise, so I woke up early and rented an EBIKE to drive to an overlook. The weather was colder then I have felt in months and I froze my ass off at 6:30 in the morning driving the few miles to the overlook. I watched as the sun rose and the hot air balloons floated in the sky. It was pretty rad. I remember the time I rode in a hot air balloon in Vermont during peak foliage. They gave us champagne, cheese, and maple candies once we landed. It ruled.
The sun didnt warm up the temperature, so I froze my ass off on the way back to my hostel. I went to breakfast and ordered tea after tea after tea, but just could not warm up. I was starting to sneeze and my throat felt raw. I cozied up in bed and rested for a few hours and finally felt warm.
I went back to the Moon cafe and ordered Massaman vegetable curry and garlic naan. I was talking to the owner about where I could get some date on my phone and I asked her if it was disrespectful to do yoga outside of a temple. She told me it was and then continued to tell me about a sunset yoga class they offer at Bagan yoga every night at 4:30pm. I looked it up and decided to check it out! The experience included a boat ride to an island, a 75 minute yoga class during sunset, and hot tea on the boat ride back. Hell yeah!
Everything was amazing! The boat ride, the participants, the yoga class, the sunset! It was the perfect way to end my visit in Old Bagan, Myanmar.