Monday, June 17, 2013

Bagan Bound by Bus

Ugh! Too much beer last night made for a rough start in the morning. I went to the lobby to wait for a taxi ride to the station. After a 45 minute cab ride we arrived at a large bus station. Each bus line has an office where you wait for your bus. I checked in at the small desk, recorded my country of residence and passport number and took a seat to wait for the bus. Once again I was the attraction. I laughed as the Burmese people would do a double take when they saw me and then went and got a friend. They would come over to the bus station and stand and giggle. When I looked at them and smiled or waved, they would laugh and then turn away. A few brave individuals would walk up and want to see my ticket. I realized quickly they wanted to see if they were on the same bus. I wonder if I will ever get use to this.

I had assumed that I would be able to buy something to eat and drink at the bus station. My choices were betel nut chew, tea and fruit. I went for the fruit and then tried to ask about cold bottled water. I was told no. Wow! This could be a long trip without water. I sat back down and young girls came with a small basket of goods. I looked in it. She had wet wipes, nail clippers, Myanmar books, nasal inhalers (she was really pushing this) and peppermint candies. I told her no thank you and she moved on. Monks were making the rounds for morning alms and I watched quietly. It was different than Laos. Most of the monks were given rice and bananas there but here it seemed to be money offerings.

At 15 minutes before the scheduled departure we were told to place our bags under the bus and find your seat. I went to mine and sat down. Yes! There was a bottle of water, a bag (in case you got sick) and a wet wipe at each seat. The bus left the station at 14 seconds after the scheduled time! That was prompt! I can't wait to see if this is the way it will be the remainder of the trip. As the bus left the station, I watched out the window. When people saw a foreigner, they would wave and smile. I was excited to see the countryside outside of the city. I knew it would take some time to get out of the city and decided it was the perfect time for a little nap. When I awoke we were on the freeway headed north. The country was green and beautiful. I watched as farmers were sitting in wagons pulled by 2 large ox. Right down the side of the road! I felt like I had gone back in time. The bus stopped at lunch time for 30 minutes. I sat down and ordered a chicken fried rice. It was what the locals were eating so I figured it was turned over quickly. Then, I was back on the bus for a few more hours. We left the freeway and turned onto dirt roads. People started yelling out which I assumed was the locations where they wanted to be left off the bus. As we entered the small towns, I saw pickup trucks and horse carts shuttling people around town. The pickup truck beds had bench seats along the sides of the bed and a cover over the top. The bed of the trucks were packed full of people. Sometimes the people overfilled onto the back of the truck and the roof of the truck. They calmly road cross-legged on top as the trucks swerved down the roads. I am open to trying most means of transportation but I am not sitting on top of a truck that is traveling down a road!
As we entered one town, there were 4 tanks and army personnel sitting on the side of the road. This caught my attention because there have been some fights breaking out in towns around Myanmar but I had not read about anything near Bagan. As we entered a small town, we passed about 8 police officers with machine guns standing armed. I am not sure what was going on but it made me realize this country was still an emerging tourist destination. After 50 years of military junta, they were trying to become more democratic and to bring in investments and tourism. It has been said that as a tourist you are always watched and only allowed to go to areas allowed by the government. I had several places I had wanted to go but that had been closed due to the low tourist season or political instability. I was disappointed but there was plenty of the country for me to explore.

At 5:00 PM, I arrived in Nyaung-U. The girl sitting next to me told me this was not my stop. I needed to stay on the bus for 2 more stops. So I sat down and waited. Then, a young man got on the bus with 5 guys behind him. They walked up and wanted to know where I was going. He told me this was my stop. As I exited the bus, all 5 of the guys wanted to take me in their horse carts to my hotel. I gave the guy that spoke English my hotel information and he gave it to one of the men. They grabbed my backpack and I followed him. I crawled up on the back of the horse cart with my two backpacks and introduced myself to the driver. As the horse cart headed towards New Bagan where I was staying, I had time to take in the sites. We passed the first temples and I smiled. I had seen so many pictures of Bagan and was not disappointed.
We passed through the gates of Old Bagan and by small temples on the side of the road. My driver offered to take me to see sunset at the temples but I really wanted to get my things to the hotel and relax. It had been a long bus ride and I wanted to wait for tomorrow. I negotiated a rate with the driver for the next day (20,000 kyat) for the day. He pulled over to the side of the road a few times so I could get a quick look at what tomorrow would bring. I was happy when we arrived at my hotel an hour later. I forget how slow horse travel is!
I checked into Mya Thirda and was pleased with the small room. It was a bargain for $20 when most rooms were starting at $65 and up. The owner looked at the clock and asked if I wanted to see sunset. I told him I just wanted to relax. He said that sunset was not going to be great tonight (rainy season) but he really wanted to show me the plain. For 3,000 kyat ($3 USD) he would take me to a small pagoda with no other people and a great view of the Bagan plain. Oh, why not?!?!? We drove outside of New Bagan and parked. He grabbed a flashlight and took me to a small pagoda. We walked up 2 flights of stairs and looked out across the plains. It was a beautiful sight that I will never forget. I have traveled for many years, there are some sights that you remember seeing for the first time. The plains of Bagan is one I will always remember and cherish. I was so happy he insisted that I did it on my first night. Now, I was excited and anticipating my exploration of the pagodas in the morning!

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