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Asia » Burma » Mandalay Region » Bagan
January 17th 2018
Published: January 20th 2018
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Wednesday 17th January 2018

Alarm goes off at 5:30am and by 6:15am we were sat in the breakfast room having some tea and toast whilst awaiting our transport to the bus station. At exactly 6:30am our taxi arrived and we loaded up and headed off out of the city to the Aung Mingalar Bus Station. It’s rush hour so you can never tell how long a journey may take, fortunately it was a traffic flowing day. Arriving at the bus station we were so pleased we asked to be dropped off at our bus companies office....it is a massive place and we would never have found it on our own. Retrieved our tickets and went to the check in counter - that’s when things got a little bit concerning. 😮 It seems that our company JJ Express (Known as Joyous Journey Express.....with the slogan; We are the way, the truth, the life) had rebooked us to travel with another company. Hmmmm.....not best pleased but not a lot we could do, there were lots of Myanmar smiling and sorry hand gestures plus they handed us back a rebate of 50%!o(MISSING)f our fare. The trip takes about 10hrs and cost £12 in total......we have ended up paying £6 for the two of us. Maybe they felt embarrassed who knows. So the young lad grabbed our bags and we walked 100yds around the corner to in there own word the most famous Elite Express Company. Went to check in, all was fine and we were told to wait until it was time to board. At 7:45am we clambered aboard and took our seats. Have to say it was an impressive coach, wide reclining seats with headrests, foot rests and a flip up under seat extension to raise your legs so as you could have a good snooze. Add to this the in coach entertainment with mini screen plus film and music selection. Suddenly we were not to concerned. At exactly 8am the coach headed on its journey with a total of only 5 of us, all foreigners on this 36 seater. 😊 As we left Yangon the coach attendant came round with free coffee, a breakfast snack from the bakery and bottles of water. Shortly after he also issued out blankets...the coach air con was at full power which apparently is the way the locals like it. Wrapped up in our blankets with a coffee, snack and a film we were very cosy and comfortable. After about 30mins we reached the main highway up to Bagan and onwards to Mandalay. It was a toll road and once we were on our way we have to say it strangely resembled a highway in North Korea.....there were very few vehicles on it! Just over 2.5hrs into the journey and we called in for our first break....30mins, so time to stretch the legs, go to the loo and buy a bag of mandarins. John checked out the loos, Sarah wasn’t brave enough 😄. They were surprisingly clean which was a bonus. Back on board the coach we continued on our journey. Most people when travelling by coach around Myanmar tend to use the night service, however we are to old for that, plus we would never sleep anyway. This daytime trip means that we can at least see the countryside which made the time pass quickly. Two thirds of the way into the journey and we pulled off the highway and time for a 10 minute comfort break. We then continued along normal roads thro the countryside and we really got to see local life as we drove thro many small towns and villages. Carts being pulled by oxen were a regular feature, roadside shacks, wooden huts on stilts with the roof made of palm leaves, rice paddies and water buffalo grazing by the roadside. Given there were so few on the bus the stops were shorter and we pulled into Bagan bus station at 4:30pm, an hour and a half early. Great. After collecting our luggage there were the usual taxi drivers trying to pick up a fare but we had made arrangements with our guesthouse for them to do the pick up....but they were expecting us at 6pm and whilst Bagan bus depot isn’t that big we had been dropped at the Elite Express bus offices. A wander round the corner and we found the JJ Express offices and thought best we move round and sit outside and await our driver. Just as we were about to settle for an hours wait a driver walked across and asked where we were going......we were just about to tell him he wasn’t needed when it turns out he is our pick up driver....excellent service. Loaded up and set off calling into the booth on the outskirts of town to pay our 50000 Kyats as foreigners to enter the historical zone. You need to show your ticket if asked at each temple you visit. Just 10mins later we were checking into the Saw Nyein San Guesthouse in Nyaung U. Hot tea on arrival and some sweets whilst the formalities were done......there was an offer for us to pay an extra $5 to upgrade our room....we weren’t sure but in the end said ok. Room was big, nicely furnished and had a small balcony. Just started to unpack and the guesthouse owner came running up full of apologies and so very embarrassed, she had checked her booking register and forgotten that she had accepted a reservation on booking.com..........so out we came and into another room at our original price. To be honest we were not at all bothered, the only real difference between the rooms was the more expensive one had a balcony and was just a little bigger. Unpacked and by now it was time to get our bearings.

Sat downstairs for about 10mins whilst we were given a map, shown local places to eat etc and also all the close by temples. We were also given the soft sell about hiring an e bike.....which we will and also help available to book onward coach or flights. Also asked if the guesthouse was busy but they said it is quieter than last year.....the locals believe the Rohinger problem in North West Myanmar has put off some travellIng. We also had a brief chat about the democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and whilst she is free and a government minister, the locals know that the military still has a strong grip on power. Time for a stroll thro town which if we are honest had a kind of frontier/Wild West feel about it but in a nice way. Eventually found restaurant street and wandered around checking out the various eateries. We had done some research so knew which ones were the best. Found a place doing 2 for 1 cocktails which we decided we would save until another evening and also sussed out a good Indian, oven baked pizza place plus a good all rounder as well, aptly named Weatherspoons.....tables were nearly all full with punters. Having eaten nothing but Asian/Myanmar food since we arrived we thought it was time to give it a miss for a few days so Weatherspoons it was! This place whilst ripping off the name was a million miles away from what we have in the U.K. Mojito for John and beer for Sarah was followed by burger for Sarah and battered butter fish and chips for John, rounded off with chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream plus coffee. Blooming good it was as well. We managed to get a table straight away but just after we sat down people were queueing to get in. Bagan area is definitely hotter by day but cooler than Yangon by night, it would be cardigan time by about 8pm. After a nice meal we decided to head back to our lodgings and off to bed.

Tomorrow is a chill day, a wander around town, maybe watch the sunset at a close by temple....there are so many to choose from, plus a sundowner and then decide where to eat. Then Friday it’s serious temple exploring.....maybe a bit more Saturday before afternoon chilling as on Sunday we head to Inle Lake. However that’s all in the future, time for a snooze.

Thursday 18th January 2018

Headed up to the rooftop which doubles as the breakfast area with views over the town of Nyaung U. There was the usual folder with pictures of different types of breakfast both western and local style. Having had an earlier touch of the Burmese belly picked up in Yangon and a meal last night we decided to stick with just fruit juice, toast and tea this morning whilst contemplating what the day had ahead. The owner of the guesthouse picked up that we were not really eating and kindly offered some tablets if we wanted them. After a full on few days in Yangon we had already decided to just relax and wander around at our leisure exploring the town. Plus we had a couple of admin tasks to do....sorting out the next leg of our journey to Inle Lake.

Set off around 9:30am heading up the Main Street for the short walk to the daily market. All undercover and as well as fruit, veg, meat, fish there was hardware, souvenirs clothing, tailoring and stalls selling all sorts of unidentifiable supposedly food items. After wandering around just looking at what was on offer, Sarah decided it was time to hunt down the material stalls so she could buy a longyi, the typical long skirts worn by all the girls here in Myanmar. Plenty to choose from! First stall it was initially 3 for 33,000 Kyat, which then reduced down to 30,000kyat. The lady running the stall asked if John knew Queen Elizabeth to which he replied of course. Keeping this stall in mind we wandered around a little more, John headed to the “fresh”......well that might be stretching it a bit far, fish and meat area. Everything was on display and clearly everything is eaten! Do you want additional flies with your meat sir!! Standards of hygiene do not exist, the Myanmar people must really have the strongest digestive systems going. 😝 Meanwhile Sarah had escaped down one of the many maze of alleys in the market - as is typical she was wandering around aimlessly and could not be found! Eventually we bumped into each other and she pronounced I have found my longyi stall, 3 for 27,000kyat. John muttered something about being cheaper in Yangon but clearly that never registered! Apparently the ones here in Nyaung U are silk....hmm really? Next it was the big decision of what colours to buy and after turning the place upside down it was green, orange and purple. Just as we were walking away there was the “special”price offer for a mans longyi.....only 4,000kyat as they are a lot more plain looking. The girls on the stall were very pleasant and had some good sales patter so a mens longyi in a subtle shade of military army green was purchased. John will be fashioning it in our local pub on return to the U.K. After about 30mins all the sales were done!

Heading out of the market we took a track that lead down thro the backstreets to the Ayeyarwady River - caught a glimpse of the local accommodation, huts on stilts with the animals living underneath or close by. River itself is very wide and apart from a few long tail boats and women washing clothing in the distance not a lot happening so it was back into town and stroll along Main Street. Called in at the local school where there was loud music playing and a stage set up, seems like it was a dance competition with different age groups taking part. Grabbed ourselves a seat and enjoyed the atmosphere for 20mins. It was good fun and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Onwards and back down restaurant street, time for tea and a coke. Stayed for about an hour just watching the world go by with a French couple sat on the next table with two little girls aged 1 and 3 years, very brave we thought. Then back to the guesthouse and investigate our onward travel to Nyaung Schwe in Shan state the closest town to Inle Lake. A couple of options of either fly or take the coach/minibus. We kept our options open because we thought if our coach trip up to Bagan wasn’t good, we would fly but if it was fine then maybe we would look at doing it again. Seems like there is the option of the day bus again taking around 9hrs with pick up available from guesthouse and after further checking with our guesthouse owner we decide that we will let the bus take the strain. Wonder if it will be as empty again this time round. Spent a couple of hours just lounging around in reception watching the world go by outside before getting showered and changed, making sure we were prepared for when the temperature drops when the sun begins to go down. Then it was back down to restaurant street where we found the 2 for 1 cocktail bar and sat ourselves down to try what they had on offer.Two Mandalay Mojitos please for the princely sun of £1. Spent a pleasant hour or so just people watching as the sun began to set. Directly opposite the bar was a wood carving shop with the beginnings of a 3 foot Buddha being made plus the apprentice was making an impressive longbow....not sure what for. Cocktails done we had a stroll around and spent some time watching the lady make a scarf, all again handomatic. Then it was time to eat and tonight we went Italian and it was a pizza each, all hand made and cooked on an authentic wood oven. Very good it was as well. A slow walk back to the guesthouse and an early night for both of us.

Friday 19th January 2018

After a good nights sleep we both woke up feeling much more refreshed. First stop was rooftop for breakfast, today omelette, toast and tea. The guesthouse owner also offers a few other selections which you get whether you want or not and today it was some samosas, fresh fruit and a rice porridge soup. The soup is to help digestion! Breakfast done we gathered up our backpack, cameras and went downstairs to be introduced to our e bike 🏍 basically a battery powered scooter. A quick demo on how it worked, crash hats issued and John had a quick wiz down the main drag to make sure knew what he was doing! 😮 Time for Sarah to jump onboard and at a sedate speed we set off down the road to visit the temples. The whole Bagan area is covered with temples so you don’t have to try very hard to find them, they are everywhere. We wobbled along calling in at any temples that took our fancy, some right on the roadside and others off down dirt tracks. The e bike was performing well, however it’s always good to look ahead when on the dirt tracks....if it looks a bit sandy stern away as the bike will get stuck or you find yourself veering off into the bushes. At the larger temples the usual hawkers were outside trying to sell things but they weren’t to pushy and if you said no they got the message. Apparently the temples were often built to gain merit; something very important in Myanmar culture, in order that in the next life you would be favoured. No wonder there are thousands of them, large and small. The larger temples are very much in the same vein with usually a little walk up to the entrance.....this is a good area for locals to set up stalls selling the usual souvenirs. As you enter the temple ( There are large impressive entrances on four sides) your first sight is of a large floor to ceiling Buddha often surrounded by flowers, offerings of food or pilgrims praying. Also many were purchasing gold leaf 🍁 which they then press onto the statue of the Buddha itself. By mid afternoon we were all templed out.....it’s difficult to get your head around the vastness of this area and the many temples that are located everywhere you look. We have visited Angkor Wat in Cambodia a couple of years ago and a comparison is often made between the two sites. Templing all done we headed back to Nyaung U, calling in at Weatherspoons for a refreshing cup of tea, then the money changer and finally back at our guesthouse at 4:30pm. We had done it.......hired an ebike for about £5 for the day and managed to negotiate the roads and tracks without to much of a problem but hasn’t made us want a motorbike!

Back at the guesthouse Sarah grabbed the laundry bag and was going to pop across the road to get it washed......but ever the businesswoman the guesthouse owner does a similar service for 400kyats per item - that’s just over 20p so we just handed it to her. Time now to relax for an hour or so taking in all we had done today. Around 6:30pm we strolled down to restaurant street and keeping to the British theme went to the Indian Hut restaurant....it’s curry night and apparently this place is the best in town. Cheap Tuborg beer plus a couple of good curry dishes with rice and naan bread. Then headed back to our bed for deserved snooze!

Saturday 21st January 2018

Normal breakfast routine and afterwards decided to spend the day exploring around the town with a return to the market and then follow any of the little side roads and tracks to wherever they take us. If we were feeling deprived of a temple fix, there were a few very close by we could call in at. First stop was back at the market we love wandering down the maze of alleys looking at all the stalls, often trying to identify what type of food is being sold. Then we wandered along by the riverside via the small side roads.....everyone was so friendly and smiles all round despitethe fact that they have very little whatsoever. Then it was a stop for a drink, lime and ginger for John and coke for Sarah. Mid afternoon and we were back at the guesthouse for a couple of hours chilling downstairs. We have never seen such a happy family....the owners girls were smiling and singing as they did their work and granny whilst not speaking much English was offering tea and sweets for us. Time to head to our room for a shower before heading off out again. A wander down restaurant street where we stumbled across our 2 for 1 cocktail bar.......how convenient. So a gin sour for John and glass of wine for Sarah. They also had a selection of games to play so we decided on Jenga. Sarah won by 3 games to 1. Then enjoyed a Cubre Libre before carrying on down the street for some light retail therapy. Sarah spotted a small wooden puppet which she wanted and then further up the street a stop off at a jewellery stall. Retail done it was Weatherspoons again....this time it was a couple of really nice salads for starters, followed by a burger and there chocolate cake and ice cream to share. Time to head back to the guesthouse. When we got back the owner asked to see our bus ticket and then rang the bus company to make sure all was ok with the booking and also she asked them what time pickup would be from the guesthouse. We then collected our laundry and settled our bill and headed off to bed. Our guesthouse owner said breakfast would be ready for us tomorrow morning and if the pick up was earlier than expected she would make a pack up for us. They really are very kind.

So that’s our few days in Bagan now done and we move on again tomorrow, this time to Inle Lake.



















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This temple had before/after pictures. The before pictures were taken only a few years ago and show it in a state of disrepair and corroded. It has since been restored by an Indian company. Sadly there are so many that they can never all be put back to there former glory.


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