Upon arriving in Nyuang U,I was still tired from the early morning bus and the first thing I did was catch up on some sleep. I went out to eat lunch after that. The New Heaven guesthouse where I’m staying, is a block away from ‘ Restaurant Row’, a road lined with restuarants, shops and travel agencies geared towards foreigners. Many of the places have the same menu. I just relaxed on my porch for the afternoon until I went out for dinner.
The guidebook mentions a few standout places for dinner so I thought I would try their recommended Aroma 2 for Indian food. This restaurant, like many, has a great atmosphere with tables out under the stars with candles on them. The food was very delicious and probably as close to real Indian food that I will find in Myanmar.
I slept in till 8 and then had the complimentary breakfast. There are many ways to explore the nearby temples and today I decided to rent a bike for $1.50. It was a junky chinese bike but it would do. The temples started just minutes after I left the small village of Nyuang U. Some of the temples are marked and described in the guidebook but there’s just too many to mention them all.
At last count there were 2230 temples and another 1800 brick mounds that used to be something. The temple builders started in 1057 and built relentlessly for the next 230 years before being overrun by the Mongols of Kublai Khan. The temples are crammed onto a small 26sq mile plain. It’s mindblowing to be standing on one of the higher temples and look out over the bagan plain and see an endless vista of stupas, the cylindrical cone that tops the temples. A massive earthquake in 1975 devastated Bagan, but many of the temples have since been restored.
The first few temples I explored were lesser known and I had them all to myself. It wasn’t until I got to one of the more famous ones that I saw how touristy and annoying Bagan can be. Vendors selling souvenirs line the entrances to the pagodas and are relentless with offers to buy or just come have a look. Even just making eye contact can result in constant pestering but I found that most respond to a firm ‘no thank-you’. The only souvenir I bought here was some old Burmese $ for my $ collection back home. I spent the whole day exploring different temples, some were crowded, some I had almost to myself. I only stopped for lunch. I rode back to the guesthouse around 3 and then headed out again for sunset at 4.30 atop buledi temple. Some of the temples are jam packed with foreigners at sunset but Buledi was supposed to be a low key sunset place and it was. There was only about a dozen other people up there. Sunset from third level of the temple, reached by climbing outside stairs, was amazing. The silhouttes of the temples with the vivid colors of dusk was very photogenic. The sun sets very early here. I thought it would be around 6pm but at exactly 5.20, the sun dipped below the horizon. However some of the most intense colors didn’t begin to reveal themselves until long after the sun had set. At around 5.40, the sky was intense. I was the last one to leave the temple and rode back in the dark.
Once back at the guesthouse I met Charlie and Nina, a British couple staying at New Heaven who I had been seeing around during the day. We went out to eat at a restaurant specializing in Thai food. After eating there and the Indian place, I knew I would just divide my time between these 2 places for all my dinner meals.
I hired a bike again today to explore but instead I hired the bike from an outside travel agency as they had newer and better bikes for the same price as the shitty New Heaven bikes. It was so much easier on this bike. I road straight to Old Bagan, a walled city with many famous temples in a small area. I parked my bike at the first temple and then did a circuit on foot.
I ate lunch at Golden Myanmar, a purely Burmese place that was packed. I was the only white face. I ordered chicken curry and rice and this came with 8 side dishes! This is normal for Burmese cuisine, many small side dishes.Some of the side dishes were good, like corn and veggies, while others were bitter and disgusting. They fill up the rice and side dishes as fast as you can empty them. Lunch with a soda averages about $3.
Back at the guesthouse I ran into Charlie and Nina again as I was getting ready to go out for sunset. They had a temple in mind for sunset that they had seen earlier in the day and I joined them. It was far out but reachable along a paved road. There were only 3 other people there. Sunset was great, though not as colorful as the previous night. Charlie,Nina and I went out to eat at Aroma 2. They also love curry. They are on a year long driving trip across Europe and Asia but left their Landcruiser in Thailand while they came to Myanmar. They were short on time and were leaving the next day.
I was a bit sore from the seat of my bike and was looking to hire a horsecart to explore today. It would be a bit pricey for just me so I was hoping to find at least one other person to share. I saw two guys looking over a map at my guesthouse and approached them after I ate breakfast. They were also looking to rent a horsecart and I could join them. They were Rihot and Jaron, both from Singapore. Our driver first took us out to near the place where I had spent sunset the previous night. From there we toured to some temples I had already seen and others I had not. Our driver Min Min spoke some English and was a funny guy. His horse, Rambo, was in good shape and seemed to know the route as well as he did. I wasn’t too picky on where we were going so I ended up back at Buledi for sunset again. Tonight’s sunset was spectacular. Vivid and surreal colors of pink and orangey red that got more intense after the sun set behind the distant hills at 5.20. I have so many sunset pictures!
Back in Nyuang U, the 3 of us went out to eat at the Thai restaurant. Rihot and Jaron weren’t really my type of traveller though. They moved much too fast and left the next day for some other place.
Besides the temples, there were some other sites I wanted to see in the area. The main one being Mount Popa, about 60km away. I would have to hire a car to go there and was only going to do it if I could share the car. I met John, an American, the night before and he was also interested in seeing Mt. Popa. The 2 of us and another older Austrian guy shared the car to Mt. Popa. The mountain is actually a small and freestanding ancient volcanic plug in front of another higher and larger mountain. On top of the 2418′Mt.Popa are numerous monasteries, stupas and shrines. Macaque monkeys are all over the mountain and unafraid of humans. The 25 minute climb to the top has to be done barefoot. The walkway is covered to provide relief from the sun but I had to watch out to avoid monkey feces and urine on the steps. Thankfully some locals spend their days cleaning the steps but not all of them are clean. The bold monkeys have no fear and it’s possible to get very close for a photo, just hold onto your bag and camera! I hung out on the top for a while taking in the views of the surrounding plains. I ran into Paul, an Irish guy I had been seeing all over Bagan but never really spoke to him before. Now I run into him on top of Mt. Popa, it’s a small world!
I ran into him again in Popa village were we had lunch. He came here by public transport but his ride had left before he got down the mountain. We squeezed him into the middle seat in the back of our taxi. On our way back we stopped at a small shack where they make peanut oil. No one was really doing anything when we were there but they sat us down and gave us tea and snacks. I saw bamboo ladders tied up to palm trees nearby which means only one thing – palm wine! I asked our driver about sampling some Toddy, as palm wine is known here, and it was no problem. They brought us out a shot glass each. It wasn’t the best palm wine I’ve had, but it was still good. After that they brought out the heavy stuff. Jaggery wine is crystal clear and 40%. Again we were given a shot glass of that. It was harsh but not as bad as I thought it would be and had an pleasnt aftertaste. After our local liquor sampling, we each gave some small money and then we headed back to Nyuang U.
I hadn’t been online for over a week, so I went to check my email. This internet cafe was able to bypass government restrictions and I went on my blog to update. I had dinner again at Aroma 2. After spending 4 days in Bagan I was ready to move on. I bought a bus ticket for Mandalay to leave the next morning.
Dec 19 2009