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Exploring the Ancient World

On ancient bikes!

View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

Our bus to Bagan was quite nice in comparison to the last few trips we'd had. The only probably was the a/c which often leaves people's teeth chattering. Regulating the temperature seems to be a fine art which in most instances has not been mastered. We did meet a very smiley and chatty man though, he approached us at one of the rest stops when we were shovelling some tea and cake into our hungry mouths. He asked where we were going but the conversation got cut short as it was time to reboard the bus. We'd meet him again though.

A little later than expected we arrived in Bagan and once again Adam had the unenviable task of figuring out where we were in the dark. With me as his over tired and slightly grumpy sidekick it wasn't easy and in the end we decided to see whether the guest house a rickshaw driver kept going on about was up to scratch. We made our way through the deserted, middle of the night streets and had to wake somebody up to open the gate. Thankfully the room was nice and fairly priced so we could happily call it a night.

In the morning we got up as early as we could manage. Our time in Myanmar seemed to be running out and we still had places we wanted to go so we could only afford one day in Bagan. Now is probably a good time to explain a little about Bagan, or rather Old Bagan. It is the ruins of an ancient city which is spread out over about 42 square kms of sandy wasteland covered in scratchy plants and grass. Almost all of the ruins are pagodas, some made of red brick, some stone and the most extravagant are embellished with gold. They range in size from 10 feet to massive structures which stand as proud testaments to a prosperous past.

Adam had been before and had told me what a magical place it was, better in his opinion than Angkor Wat and so I was really excited to get on with our explorations. First we ate our complimentary breakfast and then we went out to rent bikes from the hotel. It seems we were left with the scraps, i.e. the ones which were slowly beginning to fall apart. My handlebars were in the habit of rotating forward if I applied too much pressure on them which would prove pretty frustrating as the day continued. Both of them were incredibly hard to peddle and it felt like we were having to exert an enormous amount of energy just to ride along a flat surface, but it would definitely be quicker than walking. So off we set.

We made a quick stop at the bus station to try and book tickets to Naypyidaw, which is the new capital of Myanmar. A couple of people had told us that tourists were allowed to visit during the day as long as they didn't take any pictures and were gone by six o'clock. Intrigued about what this new city would be like in comparison to the rest of the country we decided we wanted to go take a look. No one really seemed to know why it had been built apart from suggestions that it was considered better if it was inland and away from the sea. The bus ticket sellers seemed a little bemused by our desire to go to Napyitaw and told us it was quite difficult. We would need to transfer in Meiktila and it would take about eight hours, so we knew we had to start really early in the morning if we wanted to have any chance of seeing anything before we were kicked at out 6pm. We decided to think on it throughout the day.

We started cycling off down the dusty roads and more and more little pagodas began to sprout up around us. There are over 6000 of them that have been recorded in the whole site, some of them are clustered together, and others stand alone.
As we were travelling along a man and a woman went by on a motorbike. They waved and we realised it was the man we had briefly spoken to on the bus the night before. We all stopped and he explained that he had a restaurant in a town a little further on and said we should stop in for lunch. We told him we would try and off they sped, his wife's arms full of fresh produce which definitely made us more interested.

There weren't very many tourists, just a few other couples on bikes and we spotted some small groups on buses. This meant that most of the time it felt as though we had the place to ourselves, that we alone were discovering and exploring these crumbling monuments to a great past. The tourists may have been few in number but round the larger pagodas the local people were there, eager to sell their wares. This was really the only downside to the day, as it is a double edged sword. On the one hand you find it annoying that you are being harassed and just want them to leave you be. On the other hand I always begin to feel really guilty because the items really cost nothing and there are so few people to sell things to. I think they sense my weakness and start telling me about their families, I caved a few times.

We climbed up one the largest pagodas and there was a great view out across the baron land.
There are people farming here but it seems like it would be very hard, even though this is the wet season the land seemed too arid for anything to thrive. We sat for a little while our legs dangling over the edge and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Everything felt so rushed in Myanmar, we were both hoping that we would make it to the beach for a little relaxation before we had to head back to Yangon. Once we had descended and avoided anyone looking to make us buy something we cycled off through the shrubby land, often having to dismount because the paths became too sandy and all friction disappeared as our wheels began to sink. These were the times when my handlebars would slip forwards and I would have to fight to keep from plummeting head first over them.

We rode through some narrow village streets until we came out on to a larger road. There was another pagoda here and we decided to have a look round and have a bit of a rest. As we wandered around the back we went through a little doorway and there was a massive gold Buddha lying down, it must have been more than 30 feet long. As we were gazing at it this woman entered and told us that if you looked at the face from different angles it looked as though it was smiling and not smiling. This softened us a little bit and then she asked if she could show us some paintings. We decided to take a look and ended up buying one, although I don't think she ripped us off, which is always nice.

Afterwards we got back on the bikes and cycled down the road a little until we came to what we presumed was the man's restaurant. It was near enough lunchtime so we decided to head in, it was definitely a good decision. They were really pleased to see us and we served by their son who was on his school lunch break and spoke very good English. The food was really nice and they brought out extras for us, including some fruit for desert. The man sat with us and recommended a few pagodas he thought were really impressive and where he thought would be a good, quiet spot to see the sunset. The whole atmosphere was lovely and we really appreciated the special attention they were giving us. For that reason we gave them a larger tip than we normally would and they ended up bringing out another bottle of water and the lady gave me a lovely wooden bangle. Full of warm fuzziness from their kindness we waved goodbye.

We then stopped at a couple of lacquer ware workshops. At one we saw how the items were made from start to finish, which can take months for the real top quality items. They have to be painted and then left to dry a number of times to build up the layers before the intricate designs are painted on them. We bought a nice little pot at one of them but had to reign ourselves in a bit as we were on a restricted budget with only a certain number of dollars at our disposal.

Having spent enough money, at least for a little while we headed back out in amongst the ruins. We left the bikes and walked out to some which weren't so accessible. Even walking over the soft ground was hard work and we were both beginning to feel quite tired. Still we pushed on and visited two of the largest and most impressive pagodas.
They are both made of stone and are great feats of ancient architecture, with the intricate designs carved into them. The tops are then finished with gold which gleams in the sun. One of them has four separate entrances and at each one you are presented with a large, golden Buddha whose hands are in placed in different positions, each having an individual meaning.
All doorways are linked by a dark inner passageway which is interspersed with little peep hole windows that offer glimpses of the gold statues until finally you are presented with the whole image.

The day was now getting on and sunset was not too far off so we went in search of the perfect spot. There is a popular large pagoda that you can easily climb but we were hoping for somewhere a little quieter. We cycled around trying to decipher the map we had but everything is very similar, including the pagodas themselves which although vary in size all retain a fairly standard shape.
The restaurant owner had told us of a place and we did manage to find it but we couldn't climb the pagodas and we really wanted a raised view.

A man on a motorbike had passed by a little while before and told us there was a good one which we could climb, at the time we thanked him and moved on but now we decided maybe it was a good bet. As we were searching he found us again and we let him take us to it. It was a bit of a precarious route up to the top as in a few places the bricks had fallen away but in the end we found a good place to perch. Unfortunately our quiet sunset never really happened as as soon as we were settled the sales pitch began and it was relentless. Another man then climbed up to join in with the badgering. We ended up buying a couple of items after first repeatedly saying no and then bargaining as hard as we could. There were of course the usual pleadings of 'for my family' and the looks of desperation, how can you say no?

The sunset didn't rival some of the others we had seen so in some ways that was a small conciliation being as we couldn't really enjoy it. We climbed back down, jumped on our bikes and rode back to the town. All in all it had been a good day and the magic of Bagan was obvious; a quiet place with modest glory and a wonderful example of ancient history that has stood the test of time.

As we were both absolutely exhausted the thought of getting up at 3am to catch the first bus towards the capital didn't really fill either of us with much joy but we knew we were going to do it anyway. To that end it was a quick stop at the bus station, a bite to eat and then bed to catch as many zzz's as possible.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 04:00 Archived in Myanmar Tagged round_the_world

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