We arrived in Bagan after dark that first night so once we rid our room of mosquitoes, we took it easy and readied ourselves for a full day of exploring.
Our goal for the next morning was to rent a motorbike and explore the area, leaving temples for the following day. So after breakfast we booked our bike and when two wind-up looking battery powered bicycles showed up we stared at them with confusion, and then spoke to reception in an attempt to correct our order. Apparently in Myanmar it is illegal for tourists to drive high-powered scooters, so we were stuck. And we couldn’t even share because they weren’t strong enough to support two riders.
The bikes took some getting used to but we figured it out and quickly learned that the only exploring you can do in Bagan is to visit the temples so we drove all around, stopping and touring some and admiring others from afar. When you arrive at the airport in Bagan, they actually charge you the $15 park fees so you don’t have to pay again throughout your stay, which is great. The only trouble we faced was, just like at the wats of Angkor, being hassled to purchase souvenirs from every member of the family. Even young children approach you with the intent to sell.
The temples themselves (over 2000 remain from centuries ago) are amazing. We saw hundreds, some large and others only small. We wondered why there are so many, but staring off into the distance with dozens of temples peaks piercing the horizon, we are thankful that there are.
Turning down an unmarked road we happened upon a little village on the water. The kids played innocently and the adults worked diligently. It was a brief yet beautiful glimpse in the day to day life of Bagan away from all the temples.
We motored quite far at one point, just far enough for Rob’s bike to decide it would be the perfect place for it to run out of battery. We had been assured that morning that the charge would last all day…figures. Luckily the pedals worked but since it’s so heavy, it took a lot of work. By the time we reached a tourist information center, he was wiped out. They phoned the bike company, who promptly delivered us a replacement and we were back on our way exploring until after dinner.
The following day, in search of something exciting to do, we booked a trip to Mount Popa. It’s meant to be a truly beautiful place but we woke up to a downpour that morning. That didn’t stop us from enduring the hour-long trip through bumpy unpaved roads, oh no, we embraced it. Traveling through the area is like going back in time – family houses are constructed with bamboo frames and palm leaf roofs. It’s a unique sight, but beautifully simplistic at the same time.
We enjoyed a quick stop at a local manufacturer of sugar cane candies and alcohol. We gladly sampled and listened as they explained how their products are made. Very impressive! And they do so much with so little. They even offered us some delicious green tea leaf salad and fixings. Who knew that could be so tasty?! We couldn’t leave without purchasing some so we grabbed a couple to share with family as a taste of Bagan for them.
We headed back out again and arrived at the base of the volcano, shrouded in mist, the summit invisible. Despite the rain, we had to climb it, so we began to ascend. Thankfully, visitors can use tiled stairs covered with roofs to get to the top. I had expected to trek up a muddy hillside in the rain. It became clear during our first few hundred stairs that the flooring was quite slippery in its wetness. And since the monkeys run wild throughout the area, each stair had a fresh mixture of monkey poo rain. So we trudged up over 800 slippery stairs laden with watered down monkey poo…barefoot, as is the Buddhist tradition and expectation.
The view at the top is exactly what I would expect it to be like inside a cloud. Bright and white is all we could see. But as we peered over the side of the highest point, the wind pushed the clouds aside and for a few brief moments we could see the forest beneath. It was not a clear view, but it gave us an idea of what lay below. Satisfied with our unique experience at Mt. Popa, and grossed out with our feet, we headed back to the hotel to shower and book a bus to Mandalay for the following day.
A couple of shots from Mandalay, including an example of the local form of make-up nearly all Burmese women wear: