With three full days to spend in Bagan, we needed a day trip out of the area to break up the monotony of temple hopping. So we booked a driver and a guide with the hotel that we were staying at to take us to Mount Popa, for a total of 70,000k (USD73).
During the drowsy late morning car ride towards the site, Lyn our guide dished out trivia about Myanmar in pretty good English, while the taciturn driver simply looked straight ahead and drove with an unshakable concentration. Lyn told us how he rides on the top of an overcrowded truck for three hours every day to get home: “Very dangerous. Ha ha.” And we just can’t help but love the Burmese’s laidback attitude.
He also mentioned how Bagan’s tourism only lasts for about 6 months every year during the dry season, and ceases as tourists avoid the area during the wet months. We also quizzed him about the lack of electricity in Myanmar, and he told us frankly how he thinks it’s ridiculous how the government continues selling electricity to China and proclaims publicly that most homes do have access to it. I still find it unbelievable that something as basic as electricity is only accessible to 30% of the population, as reported by the the International Business Times.
Anyway, we soon arrived at our first stop, a made-for-tourist village where they showcased how the locals lived off palm trees. They made use of every inch of it — leaves for thatched roofs, trunks for pillars, and palm sugar for candy and toddy (potent alcohol).
After disembarking at the foot of Mount Popa, Lyn led us into a Nat shrine. Nats are spirits that some Burmese worship, and each character came with an elaborate tale that Lyn proceeded to explain in great detail to Ade and Priya while I wandered around to take photos.
And then we began scaling the 777 steps up towards Taung Kalat, the Buddhist monastery that sits at Mount Popa’s peak. We were very pleasantly surprised that the entire way up is sheltered, making the journey way easier than we anticipated.
We were back on ground level just in time for lunch, and we asked Lyn to recommend a place where the Burmese would eat. So we made the winding way back down the mountain, and made a stop halfway down at a little village market.
And I just love the colours of local markets…
Then we ate at a place called Yangon Restaurant, which is a short drive away from the village. It’s run by an elegant lady boss, and we had a local feast.
The heat has sapped away most of our consciousness by the time we arrived back at the hotel, and we drowsily picked up our backpacks and headed to our next hotel. We wanted to try staying in the Nyaung-U region of Bagan since many forums and sites recommend it, so we decided to spend our last night in Bagan at Hotel Blazing (USD80/night for a 3-bedder).
It was 2pm by the time we settled into the new room, and the prospect of heading out into the merciless sun paralysed all of us. So we just stayed in to watch some mindless TV and enjoyed the room, which was far cleaner and nicer smelling than the last one.
When the heat abated, we ventured out and realised that the hotel’s just a walking distance from a whole stretch of restaurants. So we popped into one that had local beers with a local view, before heading off on bicycles to do more sightseeing.
Without throngs of tourists circling the pagoda, I had the privilege of soaking up the shimmering splendour in its full glory. With just a few locals milling about and a few of them meditating around the temple grounds, it was really quite a lovely scene. I felt like a fly on the wall, trying to observe the country’s sacred beauty with as much respect as I can muster.
Hungry for a different view of the sunset, we were drawn to The Beach Bagan Restaurant & Bar. The entrance is tucked away in a very quiet street away from the hustle and bustle of Old Bagan, and we had to walk past abandoned houses and cars before reaching the eerily quiet restaurant.
Well, it was worth it because the restaurant was perched on the banks of the dry river bed, giving us a panoramic view of yet another spectacular sunset.
After the sun set, we made the dark journey back towards our hotel, had a quick dinner at a very mediocre restaurant, and was in bed by 9pm. Scenic walks, siestas, sunset watching, and early nights… Yes, we’re old folks like that.
The next morning, we had really bad luck with the electric bikes that the hotel rented us, which resulted in poor Adeline making multiple trips back to the hotel as 2 of the bicycles ran out of battery too quickly. The kicker was when we settled the battery problem, and the tyres of both the new bikes busted while we were navigating the rocky dirt paths of Old Bagan’s temple grounds. So for half of the way back, we had to control our bikes so painfully slowly as it fishtailed in the sand, while getting our asses assaulted simultaneously by the bumpy road.
But here are some really lovely pictures of that shitty afternoon to make us forget about the incident.
We go back to Yangon next (where another surprise awaits), before hopping over to Ngapali Beach!