Just having arrived in Bagan with the night bus, we had the first challenge ahead of us: taxi bargaining. Taxi drivers lurk around like hungry wolves, ready to jump on unsuspecting tired tourists coming out of the bus. A massive sign indicates “Taxi: 7000 Kyats”, but the drivers argue this is per person. The price is obviously exaggerated but we quickly realize all taxi drivers have agreed on a common stance. After some intense bargaining we manage to get a “50% discount” because we find two very nice dutchies to hop on with us.
In Bagan we stay at Ostello Bello, which had been recommended to us by several persons. It’s the backpackers’ hostel by excellence: happy hours, free pasta, rooftop, etc. After barely seeing any tourists in Yangon, we are a bit overwhelmed by the massive amount of backpackers hanging around. Bagan is really the place nobody misses when visiting Myanmar.
After a little break we decide to get on the road – that means with supercool silent electric bikes through little sandy roads dotted with thousands (not exaggerating) temples. It’s a lot of fun, and we feel a bit like Indiana Jones uncovering some mystical places (except that we weren’t being chased by some enlightened Nazis… and we were riding electric bikes…and we didn’t have a whip…)! Anyway, Bagan is famous for its thousands of old temples and pagodas (beween than 2200 and 3000!), most dating back from the 11th to 13th centuries and covering an area of over 50 sqkm. Some are renovated but many façades are crumbling away, revealing the red bricks that were used for their construction. Inside each temple you usually find at least one Buddha statue, sometimes covered in gold paint.
The challenge for every tourist visiting the area is to find the best spot to watch sunrise and sunset. Until a few months ago, the bigger temples had viewing platforms and it was still allowed to climb them to enjoy the beautiful view, but there was apparently an accident with a tourist and now climbing is not longer allowed. Of course, this just means you have to find your own secret spot off the beaten tracks. We wouldn’t have thought that during this “vacation” we would so often get up even earlier than if going to work, but it was well worth it! Some friends shared their secret sunrise/sunset locations and we discovered some by ourselves. It was fun getting to remote temples with electric bikes, but we got a bit carried away: the second morning, Quentin’s bike died after less than 10 minutes, and the front wheel of the second one exploded 200m later. Luckily, we met a crazy Australian dude that had bought a Tuk-tuk to roam through Myanmar, so we got a ride back to the hostel.
Food-wise, we did not make any particular discoveries, but we did have a delicious “pickled tea leaf salad”. Fermented tea leaves are mixed with some tomatoes, cabbage, fried beans and peas, peanuts, onion, garlic, etc. The result is a slightly sour, crunchy and very tasty salad!
One evening, a friend of Quentin was around with his family so we joined them for dinner. It was at the only 5-star hotel of the region, and the setting was just amazing. We had dinner next to the infinity pool with lit-up pagodas in the background. One simple fried-noodles dish cost more than our half-day budget, but it was great to see a different way of traveling 😀
Off to Kalaw, starting village of our 3-day trek to Lake Inle!