(Continued from the previous post)
24 Jun 17, Sat
Upon reaching Began bus station, we were greeted by many taxi drivers, who typically quoted high fare. One of the drivers was willing to offer a fare of 3,000 kyat per pax to Hotel Yadanarbon, which was the rate researched and asked by my friend. We travelled in Bagan in a group of three, having met a Turkmenistan solo traveller on JJ Express.
In the taxi, we were stopped and asked to pay an entrance fee of 25k kyat. We each got a ticket, which the taxi driver advised that this had to be shown at certain temples. (But we were never asked to produce the ticket after that.)
My friend and I did not book any hotel in Bagan beforehand. We made our way to Hotel Yadanarbon and asked the receptionist for the rate. Being the budget travellers (at least we tried to), we checked against the rates on booking.com and Agoda and went ahead with Agoda which offered the lowest rate. The hotel had the feel of a resort, in terms of its design. There was a bathtub in the bathroom. You could enjoy breakfast by the pool. The only downsides were that room was small and you could hear your neighbours talking in the next room. Luckily, I was exhausted enough to fall asleep.
The hotel offers free application of Thanaka. When you are in Myanmar, it is definite that you will notice the yellowish-white paint on Burmese’s face. Thanaka is a traditional Burmese beauty treatment made from Thanaka wood, used as a natural sunscreen. The paste is prepared by kyauk pyin, a stone slab) with a few drops of water added and the log grinded against the flat round stone.
Bagan is an ancient town where over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed over the Bagan plains as a representation of power by the different kingdoms from the 11th to 13th century. Today, over 2,000 remain.
(A pagoda is a type of temple. A monastery is a place where monks and nuns live, work and pray.)
The three of us paid 30k kyat in total for each of the two days for full day taxi rides. Low season made it a good opportunity for bargain. First day, we had a tour of the temples in Bagan. After a while, all the temples looked similar. The temples are all rather near one another. Thus, expect just a short drive before reaching the next one. They are not within walking distance though. Alternatively, grab an electric bike. If you wish to understand the story behind these temples, a guide is recommended. We were lucky to meet a friendly Burmese in one of the temples, who was happy to answer our questions.
There are a few temples that are good spots for watching sunset. We watched at Shwesandaw Pagoda, a well-known spot. The stairs are steep, but as long as you watch your steps, hold onto the railing and not have any dramatic thought, you will be safe and sound.
Dinner was at Black Rose restaurant. There isn’t any air-conditioned restaurants in Bagan. We didn’t expect Bagan to be backward prior to travelling there.
25 Jun 17, Sun
We left for Mount Popa at 9.30am the next morning. Mount Popa is an extinct volcano 1,517 metres above sea level, topped by gold stupas. Popa is believed to mean flower in Sanskrit.
Almost an hour drive there. You will be surrounded by monkeys there. But not to worry, as long as monkeys and human can live in harmony, there is no war on the mountain. I wasn’t attacked at all. We climbed 777 steps up to the peak. There were shops and view along the way. Not an exhausting and challenging climb for normal people. It was cooling on the mountain and the view was scenic.
We had our lunch at Yangon restaurant (I know we were at Bagan), recommended by our driver. We had fried rice and vermicelli, at 4,000 kyat each plate, slightly more expensive than elsewhere, but for which my friend complemented for its good taste. The restaurant offered free handphone charging.
In the evening, we took a 15 min walk to a restaurant near our hotel. Sometimes, you need to walk on your own to discover more of the unseen. We passed by a hotel nearby and the staff told us that there was no guest at all on that day. We entered grocery shops only to realise some of the food being sold there had expired. Wonder how they survive with such poor business. Bagan does seem pretty undeveloped.
26 Jun 17, Mon
To inject an element of adventure into our journey, we decided to take train from Bagan to Mandalay, despite the many bad review (disgusting toilet etc) we read online. The train departed from Bagan at 7am and reached Mandalay at 2.30pm. We dropped by the train station the day before and was informed to arrive at 6am to purchase the tickets instead. Train ride was surprisingly cheap at only 2,900 kyat for upper class. Bus ride was only a few dollars more. Our taxi driver quoted 80,000 kyat to drive us to Mandalay within 4 hours. Our taxi ride from Hotel Yadanarbon to the train station costs 6k kyat, 10 to 15 minutes drive away. I would advise to use the hotel bathroom first and avoid the toilets at the train station and the train to keep your journey as pleasant as possible.
I was welcomed by two dead insects on my seat in the train. Using a tissue, I sent its dead bodies out of the window. Having adjusted my mindset, I stayed neutral about it. In Myanmar, you have to let go of hygiene to an extent. It is a norm (or rather, mandatory) to walk within the temples and pagodas barefooted. The floor is not as dry and clean as what you may have imagined. The floor will be wet on a rainy day and you will be walking on wet and dirty floor. Just make sure you book a decent hotel where you can enjoy heavenly shower at the end of the day.
The train travelled at a speed such that if you were on the track and you heard and saw this train coming, you should be able to react and get off the track. The train made a few unexplained stops as well. There was really no breathtaking scenery to admire along the way. You just have to do your own things or look out and enjoy the peace. I’m super good in stoning, hence, I can blank out and look at the greenery. Hopefully, it can help to improve my eyesight, especially back in home country where I hardly have time to catch a breather and rest.