I arrived at Bagan around 2am. This time I pre-searched hostels and their prices, although I was still unable to make a reservation in advance. I ended up staying at Paan Cherry in Nyaung-U, sharing a double room with an Australian freelance writer I met on the bus. Our room was just two twin metal beds again but the beds were comfortable and it only cost $14 between two of us.
I woke up the next morning and rented a bicycle from the hostel. Worst mistake. I didn’t notice until I pulled out into the road that the bicycle was designed for small Asians. My knees and back were in terrible pain the entire time I rode it- it felt like a children’s bike. Nonetheless I rented it and therefore I rode it.
In Bagan pagodas are scattered throughout the city, or rather the city is now scattered throughout the old pagodas. The city consists of Nyaung-U, Old Bagan in the middle, and New Bagan. Nyaung-U is cheaper accommodation, Old Bagan is the heart of the pagodas, and New Bagan is more expensive hotels and resorts.
I biked through Old Bagan and into New Bagan to have lunch at Be Kind The Animals The Moon. A bizarre name but recommended by a friend and written up about. I however was not impressed. I ordered the Garden Veg curry and not only was the portion almost non-existent but the curry had absolutely not flavor. The restaurant was Western in a nice garden in the middle of dusty brown Bagan so I knew it would be overpriced, but I at least expected it to be good.
For sunset I walked to Shwezigon Paya, the big temple near my hostel. I spent an hour wandering the temple then walked down to the river for the sunset. There were locals playing in the water and fishermen floating about. I walked closer towards the sun and stopped where a bunch of young boys were playing soccer. Their mom was preparing dinner at their house on top of the hill. The sunset was spectacular. The sun was a solid ball of deep orange and the colors reflected evenly onto the river below. In the distance there were mountains on the right and pagodas on the left. A perfect sunset before spending the whole next day looking at the pagodas throughout the city.
I went to dinner at the local spot next door to my motel. Perfect Cafe with the big Jewish star in front. The menu was Chinese and cheap, which was perfect. I ordered a noodle soup and then saw that they had dim sum (can you believe it?) so I ordered steamed shrimp dumplings as well. They weren’t as good as home but I can’t be choosy here when finding dumplings.
The next day I hired an ebike and set out for a day of pagodas. I got to Hti-lo-min-lo and a guard asked me to show my ticket. I didn’t have it on me and freaked out so the guy let me in anyway. Afterwards I scooted back home and ripped apart my room and discovered I lost the ticket already. I wasn’t about to buy another $20 entrance ticket so I set out for a second time this time planning to cry my way through all the entrances. Right away on the road I ran into a guy I met on the bus to Bagan, he’s Italian now living in Spain. We ended up spending the whole day together. First we went to Gaw-daw-palin, then
Bu Paya on the water, then Manuha with the big Buddha and largest sleeping Buddha, then Shin-bin-tha-hylaung with the oldest sleeping Buddha in Bagan (and second largest sleeping one at 18m.) Finally before lunch we went to Dhamma-yan-gyi Pahto, the biggest and oldest temple in Bagan. The temple was dark inside, the ceilings filled with bats.
We then headed to a local restaurant. Before ordering we went out back to the toilet, which ended up being a raised shack with a floor hole toilet. The bathroom even had a security guard who kept it locked when not in use. On my short walk back a local girl painted my face with the natural bark sunscreen that all the locals wear.
For lunch we ordered as the locals did and we each ended up with a bunch of little dishes (chicken curry, rice, lentils, eggplant, soup) for $2. We also got coconuts which they later cut up for us and we ended up snacking on for the next day. After eating we moved to bamboo lounge chairs and rested up avoiding the afternoon heat. We watched them repeatedly make sugar cane juice, which Italy eventually ordered and it was surprisingly refreshing and not too sweet. We also observed a local tour group arrive in a 1960s retro bus.
After a three hour siesta (do as the Europeans do) we headed back to the pagoda’s. We went to Ananda, the only active pagoda. We then ebiked off road and checked out a few others before heading back to Shin-bin-tha-hylaung for sunset. It’s the most touristy temple for sunset because it’s the tallest, which made it worth it. We got their relatively early (45min to wait) and got great spots sitting on stones on the top level facing the sun. The sunset was incredible. Another massive orange ball in the sky, this time with a massive pagoda in the forefront.
While we waited the 45min we started chatting to a local sitting next to us. He’s 25 years old from Yangon now living in Bagan and owns Hotel Blazing, a three star hotel in Nyaung-U. We hit it off and decided to go to dinner after. He picked us each up in his modern minivan and we ate BBQ at Shwe Yar Su Restaurant. We had grilled quail eggs, okra and pork, and of course Myanmar beer served with complimentary soup. After dinner we went back to his hotel to check it out and use the wifi.
The next day the local picked us up at 8am to take us to breakfast at his hotel, and then to drive us to Mandalay where he was also going. We took the new private highway road which apparently is less bumpy than the old one- it was practically one rough lane and I cannot imagine what the old road is like. We learned that the locals father is heavily involved in politics even though he’s a businessman, and his mother’s father was once mayor of Yangon. His family owns 5 companies in Myanmar including the hotel and the new private highway, and the local is planning to open at least one more establishment, a social hostel in Bagan.
The ride was three hours, two hours less than the bus.