12 – 16 March 2016
I got up at 5am, packed and had a quick breakfast before biking the few kilometres to the boat just after sunrise. Steep stairs down to the river but some of the boat guys helped me with the bike so it worked out. We left on time at 7 and slowly drifted slowly down the river. It was supposed to be the fast boat, so the slow boat must be really slow. The water was low here in the dry/hot season, so we constantly zigzagged between the riverbanks – and though we often got very close, we only had a view the first hour after which it became hazy. Already mid morning it was very warm and since we were going slow there wasn’t much of a breeze to cool me down. The boat trip is quite expensive so only foreign tourists on board – luckily they all sat in the back while I found a quiet spot in the front where only a few people came to take pictures. We arrived in Nyaung-U on time around 17. They had told me it was only a little hill up to the road, so I had packed the bike ready to leave the boat as the first. However, they had forgotten to tell me that to get off the boat, we had to walk down a narrow, 45 degrees plank to the beach. So I had to wait for everybody else to leave, take the luggage off the bike, carry it down on the beach and then put everything back on the bike. After paying the steep USD 20 entry fee to the area, I biked to 12k to my hotel in New Bagan. I had booked a 3-person dorm but they had given my space to somebody else, so they tried to put me in a 6-person dorm – it didn’t look particularly appealing with just 4 empty walls and 6 mattresses lying close together on the floor. They suggested getting a 2-person dorm for one night and then moving to the 3-person dorm the following 3 nights. I argued it was a lot of hassle to unpack, pack, move room and then unpack again and after some minutes of internal discussions, they let me stay all 4 nights in the 2-person dorm, which turned out to be a very nice double room. The first 3 nights I shared the room with English Curan, while I had the room to myself the last night.
Curan already knew German Antonia and Jonas (staying in the same hotel) from Yangon, so we spent some time together the first days until they went to Inle Lake. There are at least 3,300 temples, stupas and monasteries in the Bagan area (most built around year 1000 – 1250), so finding one to see was not the challenge – however, finding the particular one I wanted to see was sometimes a challenge as only the most popular ones were signposted in English. After visiting around 20 sites the first two days (and passing by hundreds of others), they began to look fairly similar also because there was more often little to see either inside or outside. Only a few structures has remains of the initial stucco carvings and frescos and most of the 2,000 structures that have been restored, have not been done properly. Consequently, there’s much international criticism for poor workmanship and historically inaccurate methods, materials and styles. Add to that the countless vendors at the most popular sites and you have something resembling an amusement park more than peaceful, historical and religious sites. For this reason, I spent half the second day visiting less popular sites – just biking around and randomly picking some sites to explore; quite nice to have the sites all to myself.
My initial plan had been to relax the last day (day 4), before taking the night bus to Yangon – not much fun rooming around all day being all sweaty/dirty and then sitting on a bus for 10 hours without having a shower. However, on the third day I didn’t really feel like seeing more sites, so I ended up having two days relaxing, reading and updating my blog.