The van journey from Hsipaw to Mandalay was much much faster the train journey there. Although, it felt like we had seven near death experiences. The driver was an all-round grade-A douche. He was very heavy set, and put all the mass behind the accelerator and the horn, scaring the remaining (overloaded) passengers. Writing this now, a little while after the experience, we may be a little over indulgent with the details, and it is actually hard to remember how scary it was, since we have had an, even more, terrifying journey a few weeks later, than another, a week or so after that. So, on that basis, we may be using a little bit of poetic licence. Nevertheless, we would never take the van option again!
We kissed the ground, when we arrived back at our ol’ faithful Mandalay Hotel and scurried upstairs for a well deserved free cocktail.
The following journey from Mandalay to Bagan, was much more leisurely paced. Hearing that Mr Kipling was actually full of it, as he had never even been to Mandalay, we took the title of his book, did the opposite, and took the River from Mandalay. Actually, the road the old boy was talking about was the Ayeyarwady River all along, but at least we had been there. It was actually one of the most leisurely journeys we had taken in a long time. It was nothing like a bus trip in Nepal, or a van ride in Myanmar, it was all about kicking your feet up on a boat for six hours and catch up on writing blogs. Well, the feet were kicked up, and instead we decided to listen to music and drink some beers. By late afternoon we arrived to Bagan.
After three minutes ashore, we discovered the future of Myanmar, if tourism takes over. It was the first, and only, time we were rushed by local drivers attempting to rip us off, and, it was the only time, where we were almost ripped off. The ticket ladies at the gate have developed their own currency conversion rate, completely dissimilar to rest of the country. Based on thousands of people heading to Bagan every day, they were turning a tight little sum amongst them. We managed to spot a flaw in their process and argued continuously until other tourists arrived, and they ushered us away before the unsuspecting began suspecting. We hope the rest of the country does not fall down the same path as the schemers in the Bagan community.
This aside, Bagan is beautiful. We arrived at our hotel, with enough time to hire our electric bikes. We were told to pay extra as it was the sunset, but managed to get the normal price (and a smile) from the owner, when we said we have never been charged for a sunset in our life, before electric cycling on our merry way. Within 15 minutes, we were sat on top of Shwesandaw Temple, along with every single other person in Bagan, watching the sunset over the now fading spires of the decaying stupas. It was incredible, but we swore to ourselves, that at sunrise, we would find another stupa that was much quieter and view it from there.
We spent the rest of the evening reading blogs about what Stupa to visit, and after settling on, what we thought was our best option, we went to bed. We woke at 4 am the following morning and rode right past our designated stupa of choice and turned down another path. Three people sat on top of a stupa waved us over to an alternate path, and that is how we came to watch the most magnificent sunrise on an unknown stupa, with four other people. As the sun rose, the faded spires began to light up, one by one, as the gaps between them filled with other early risers enjoying their hot air balloon ride. The best description we can give you as to where to find this stupa for sunrise is this:
The stupa is almost directly west of Shwesandaw Temple, but still on the eastern side of the main road. Access is on a dirt path from the main road. If you take the path adjacent that has a small car park at the end, it is the stupa directly to the North. Go indie the East entrance and take the dark archway to the left. Bring a torch and watch your head on the way out the top as upon exiting, we noticed and enormous bee hive.
We went back to bed for a quick power-nap before jumping on our, insanely cool, electric bikes, for a day of sightseeing in the heat. Now, here is where we get controversial. We allowed only one day of seeing the stupas of Bagan, yet some allow four days to a week. We are extremely glad we gave ourselves one day. We researched and chose six main sites to see, and focused solely on this, which was perfect for us. If you want to spend a week looking at stupas that is up to you and we promise we will not judge, however, just don’t judge us for leaving after one day.
We enjoyed our morning riding around taking photos, while trying to spot the different pagodas that had secret staircases to climb, but by lunch, the sun and heat were intense so we headed to the main town for lunch. We were out of ideas, so stopped at a recommended restaurant for, ahem… pizza. It took awhile, but the pizza was so good, we ordered a second before continuing on our electric bike journey.
The sun proceeded to disappear just as quick, if not quicker, than the battery life disappeared on my electric bike. Why on earth did the person who invented these electric bikes, not leave the pedals in the same position as all previous bikes without batteries. Instead, they set back from the standard position by about 30cm, leaving me with the feeling that I was about to pedal myself over the handlebars, in between the small bouts of nausea, while Sarah rode away with the giggles. Electric bikes are worth the money in Bagan, just check the battery!
We had one last night bus in Myanmar that evening, back to Yangon. The only thing between it and us was a bumpy Ute that arrived 45 minutes early in the middle of our dinner, before filling the seats available for 10 people with the grand total of 22 people. Needless to say, this was actually one of our most enjoyable experiences in Bagan. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it.