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Once again we’re on a bus for a long journey to Bagan, around 10 hours we are told. After our first bus trip, we always add a few hours to the time they tell us because it’s likely to be different. We decided to do the sleeper bus there and on the way back to Yangon to catch our flight to Laos we will do the daytime bus so we get the views. This time we decided to travel in luxury and take the VIP bus which isn’t much more than an average bus. We got on the bus not knowing what to expect but it turned out to be pretty nice! At first, I looked at the back of the bus to see that there was no toilet. Every 3 hours or so the driver stops to get a stretch break and you have the opportunity to get a bite to eat, but being on a 10-hour bus ride it’s not fun waiting to go to the bathroom. Although there was no toilet in the back I turned around and magically a toilet appeared in the middle of the bus on a lower level. I’ve never seen one like it before, directly in the middle. The bus has outlets, blankets, pillows and complimentary water which is a huge step up from our last bus experience. There were quite a few empty seats and they shut the lights off soon after we all sat down. Score!
Once 3 AM came we were tired and fell asleep, we woke to the driver saying we’re here, Bagan. It seemed so quick and I was having some wild dreams so I woke a bit discombobulated. It ended up only being 9 hours instead of 10 which was shorter than we originally thought. We stepped off the bus to a bunch of guys, as usual, trying to get us to take their mode of transportation. This time horse and carriage was an option and cheaper. We decided to try the horse out for the experience. I’m such an animal lover that every time I make a choice like this I instantly regret it. It seems like a lot of weight for a horse to carry. With two heavy pieces of luggage and 3 adults on a wobbly carriage next to cars and buses speeding by it doesn’t sound too pleasant. The horse’s hooves were slamming against the hard pavement and it just sounded terrible. I would say it was more the size of a pony rather than a full grown horse, but I could just be feeling bad so my perception is off. We stopped at a place on the side of the road to pay an entrance fee and then we were off to our hostel. What sounded like a relaxing ride turned out to be a somewhat stressful time because we were both clenching our teeth for the poor horse who clearly was not enjoying the position he was in.
When we arrived it was about 6 AM and we were exhausted. We decided to lay low for the day and not explore much until the following day in order to get our moneys worth out of the e-bikes. In Bagan everything is a distance away so renting an e-bike is essential. The sun is hot during the day and we didn’t wake from our naps till the afternoon, so our first day in Bagan out of 5 we spent sleeping, eating and catching up on the Alien movies Jesse got me into. When you’re traveling it’s necessary to take those days to recharge, shut out the outside world and engage in a good sci-fi film. It was a gentle reminder of how small we really are.
We woke the next day just in time for breakfast, ate and headed next door to rent an e-bike for the day. I’ve never used one before so we got a 2 person bike to share the first time till I got the hang of how it runs. It is really easy and similar to riding a normal bicycle, with your occasional minor wipeout in the thicker soft sand. We marked a few potential sunset destinations and went out searching for them. In Bagan, there are 3 main areas, Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung U where our hostel is. On our first full day, we decided to go toward Old Bagan first, with a few sights in mind but mainly in search of a good sunset spot. We cruised around for about 3 hours weaving in and out and all around some of the 2,000 pagodas and temples that Bagan has to offer. While riding we crossed paths with a young Burmese guy who offered to show us a pagoda that we could climb to see the sunset. There are many great viewing locations that are secluded but some of the popular ones are swarmed by buses full of tourists. We decided to take him up on his offer, but before we followed him on his motorbike I asked if he was trying to charge us for his help. He responded saying he was a local artist and after we see the sunset spot he will show us his art. If we like his work we can purchase a painting, but there is no obligation to do so. He brought us to a dirt path that led further back from the road to a small pagoda. As we took off our shoes and stepped inside there was a small Buddha and a brick staircase winding to the top. This staircase was about 3 foot wide so space was limited and getting to the top required some bending, ducking and twisting, it’s definitely not for people that have back pain. I love when entrances require some irregular movements, it makes it seem more adventurous. We get to the top and you can see pagodas in the distance and when the sun sets there would be nothing blocking the view. After taking a look around we climb back down and walk out of the pagoda over to a bamboo table where the guy laid out his watercolor paintings. He went through one by one telling the history of some of the pagodas in the paintings, there were a few we liked but had no intentions of buying one. He was very kind and genuine and we wanted to support his work so we gave them a second look and negotiated a price. When we saw this black and white one, we had to have it, it is so beautiful. As we exchanged money for the painting I had a little laugh because as you travel from place to place you see the ways people sell their work and the different pitches they have. You can tell who’s genuine and who’s just telling a made up story, some people are really good at what they do. Although he said he doesn’t sell too much, you can tell a lot of time is put into his work and the fact that the table was created in that exact spot shows that he’s done this many times.
Now that we had a nice sunset spot we continued to drive around a little more before heading back to the hostel to eat lunch. After a good nap and some relaxation out of the blazing sun, we headed back out to see the sunset. When we arrived we noticed there were about 6 others on the pagoda. I knew we wouldn’t be alone so it wasn’t a surprise to me. We climbed back up and sat next to the others awaiting the beautiful sunset. It was peaceful and calm and the sunset looked pretty promising but as time went on the sun was engulfed by all the smog and what would have been a stunning sunset turned out to be just a quick fade into what soon would be darkness. We stayed a few minutes after the others left and then we headed back. On our way back to the bike we saw another young guy at the same table selling art. I spoke with him and asked him some questions. It turns out the guys selling them throughout Bagan aren’t the artists and it’s someone’s uncle. It made me laugh, but I’m ok with that. It’s still a locals artwork and it’s very well done, like I said before, they are sometimes really good at what they do.
The next day we planned to wake at 5 AM to catch the sunrise almost in the same location as the sunset. This is a beautiful time when you can see the hot air balloons rising in the distance, something I’ve seen in pictures and was excited to see in person. The alarm went off but we stayed up really late the night before so with 2 hours of sleep, the sunrise just wasn’t in the cards for us. We rolled over and went right back to bed with plans to do it the following morning.
In our near future, our intentions are to soon travel to Australia on a work and holiday visa, which allows us to stay 1 year working any job. We’re running low on money so we need to be working sooner than later. When we woke up I saw an email saying that in order to get my Australian Visa I had to have a medical examination and chest x-ray. I have no insurance and the fact that I’m in Myanmar made me panic a little. We have just a few days left here on our Visa and we planned to spend them in Bagan. The clinic is 10 hours back in Yangon. It was Thursday morning and in order for me to get the exam done before our flight to Laos the following Monday, our only option was Friday afternoon so we had to cut our Bagan trip short by a few days and rush on the long bus ride back to Yangon, just to go to the doctors. Australia has an agreement with certain clinics around the world so you have to go to specific ones in order for them to process your exam. The clinic in Laos would have been an extra $200 to get to not including the exam fee so we needed to make Yangon happen. Since I’d potentially like to teach in Australia I have a more extensive process than Jesse, his Visa was approved overnight. When you work with children just about anywhere it’s a whole medical process before you can be placed in a classroom. I have done this multiple times and I forgot how annoying the process is until now. Sadly, this won’t be the last time either.
We booked our bus back to Yangon that night and had the afternoon to explore a little more. We rented an e-bike and cruised around for about 5 hours. We stumbled upon this amazing vegetarian restaurant called The Moon, it was a hidden gem in a cute little neighborhood in New Bagan with wicker chairs and a relaxed vibe. Bagan as a whole is really a magical place, the vibe is so calm and peaceful. I’m kicking myself now for not waking up at dawn to see the sunrise, I thought I’d have another chance to but plans changed quickly.
If you ever get the chance to travel to Myanmar, Bagan should be at the top of your list. The pagodas and temples were beautifully imperfect which was a nice change from seeing all the golden pagodas in the city. The brick was often crumbling and decaying which somehow made it even more beautiful. Foreigners are only able to rent e-bikes, nothing else, but driving around on the bike weaving through the sand and dirt was so fun. There are many paths, pagodas, and temples, you could have a few specific ones in mind to see but in the end, it’s more fun to just get lost in them. In all my life’s travels so far Bagan is at the top of the list with regards to the beauty of the environment. The pagodas and temples were scattered everywhere with dirt paths leading around them. In most areas, no other buildings were near them just open space. It was nice to only see pagodas in the distance and not 20 story buildings. Each pagoda has some type of Buddha inside, either large or small and majority of them you could go inside.
It was about to be sunset and shortly after we had to catch our bus, so we headed home, returned our e-bike and waited for the bus back to Yangon. The benefit of taking the night bus is you can watch a movie on your laptop then sleep and before you know it you open your eyes and you’re at your destination.
So fast forward 10 hours. We arrived back in Yangon this time closer to the airport since we will be flying to Laos on Monday. Our hostel is also close to the clinic making it an easier process to get the medical exam done. After a whole lot of unnecessary stress, suddenly I was at the clinic, exam finished and paid for and although I haven’t been approved yet, instantly the stress was gone. Thankfully the cost was only $125 U.S. dollars, I thought an x-ray might be a little more but I was happy to be wrong. During the checkup, the doctor checked everything, urine, heart, ears, eyes, reflexes, stomach, chest, blood pressure, height, and weight. It felt so good to know I was 100% healthy! This was a reminder to me that it is important every few years to make sure you get a checkup similar to this. It was really cool seeing the inside of my body and knowing that I’m physically healthy from the inside out.
It’s funny that I needed a checkup because lately I’ve been drinking more sugary drinks and just the other day I had a moment of clarity prior to finding out I needed to go to the doctors. As I sipped my Pepsi I was reminded of the taste of chemicals and all of a sudden in my head I began questioning myself, “what am I doing?”, “what am I drinking?”. I love a sprite once in a while but things were getting out of hand, I believe it’s more the urge of wanting a cold drink more than anything. When you travel you can get filtered water for free from your hostel so you often drink it to save and it’s rarely cool. During the hot afternoons, there’s nothing more refreshing than drinking something cold. Ice isn’t really used here as much, there are places that have it but it just melts too fast to keep up with it. The medical exam was a reminder for me to continue to take care of my body now. Anyone can fall ill at any moment, but it’s important to try your best at living a healthy lifestyle so that you don’t feed any potential sicknesses. Although I was a little upset we didn’t spend more time in Bagan, I am grateful to know that I am healthy.
In a few days, we will be traveling to Laos for a 3-week volunteer opportunity. It’s a mixture of building projects and teaching which is good for both Jesse and myself. We land in Luang Prabang and will spend our time mainly along the banks of the Nam Khan river, but also exploring during our free time. Thankfully this time we chose to fly rather than take a bus or train. Laos here we come!