My last day in Nyaungshwe was spent running errands and trying to update the website. Using the internet in Burma has proven increasingly frustrating. Something I could do within half an hour in Thailand, such as uploading photos, takes days here!

I am toying with the idea of cutting my stay short (3 weeks instead of 4) if I can change my flight back to Bangkok without incurring too much of a penalty. Other than the bad internet, the dirt and dust is really getting to me. I’ve had a runny and stuffy nose for a week now. And a bit of a cough and dry throat. It’s worse in the morning and evening. The symptoms are similar to a cold (without the sore throat) but I’m pretty sure it’s not.

Well, you’re not here to hear me complain, so on to Bagan.

Bus ride to Nyaung U

I woke up at 5:45 am on Tuesday morning for my pick up to take me to the bus terminal in order to catch the 7:00 am bus to Nyaung U (gateway town to the temples of Bagan). I had plenty of time to worry because I didn’t get picked up until 7:10 am! My hotel owner kept calling them and telling me not to worry, that they were on their way, and that the bus wouldn’t leave until we were all there. Really? I was only half-convinced. But what do you know… The bus and all the tourists rolled in around 7:20 am and the bus left at 7:30 am. I’m trying to imagine a bunch of Burmese travelling in Canada. I think they would have a rude awakening to this little thing we call “punctuality”.

Yes, I know, it’s the same all over South-East Asia and other parts of the world. I should relax. Why do I feel so high-strung on this trip? I’ll blame it on the lack of internet connectivity!

The bus was a “normal” bus, somewhere between the VIP bus and sardine can I have experienced previously. I was surprised when the woman at the hotel told me the bus would arrive in Nyaung U at 2:30 PM. It was earlier than I was expecting… because it was false. The bus arrived at 5 PM. Fortunately, I booked myself a room in a hotel with my cell phone while I was on the bus. At least that’s one thing that works pretty well here. They even told me they would pick me up at the bus station.

Indeed, when I got off the bus in the dusty lot, there was a man holding a sign with my name. Even if it was misspelled, it’s always a treat to have someone waiting for you when you disembark in yet another strange town. This time, my ride turned out to be a horse cart! My hotel, the New Park Hotel was nearby. I had booked the cheapest room, which was still overpriced at $30. I have travelled in the third world and this room was not worth that much money. It looked like it hadn’t been painted or plastered in 50 years, and the shower head looked about 100 years old. Stains everywhere. Hard to say what is dirt and what is just a stain. $10-15 OK, but $30??! So I decided to stay 2 nights and look for something cheaper.

Food

Nyaung U I discovered has crappy overpriced budget hotels, but great Burmese food. After my bad experience in Yangon I had been avoiding Burmese curries, but right next to the New Park Hotel I discovered the restaurant of the brand new Hotel Blazing. The cheapest room is $55 (for one person) but you can get a four-course set meal for $3.50! And it’s delicious too. I went back two nights in a row.

There is also a French-owned place called The Black Bamboo where you can get decent cappuccinos (not great but decent) set in a nice peaceful garden away from the honking cars.

Wednesday I spent the day getting my bearings, pricing information, and looking for a new hotel. I found a slightly nicer room at the May Kah Lar guesthouse, with a wood floor and wood panelling. It’s on the second floor an it’s warmer than at New Park. I was surprised to discover that even Bagan, which is near sea level, has coolish nights. This isn’t southern Thailand anymore. We’re a lot further north here. I sleep with blankets. Days are hot but not uncomfortably so.

The Bagan temples by horse cart

Finally on Thursday, I set out on exploring the temples that have put Burma on the traveller’s map. It’s a very large area and there are thousands of temples and stupas scattered about. Most were built between the 11th and 13th century and some have been partially restored (and occupied by handicraft vendors) while others are still original. The locals still use them to worship at many of the large Buddha statues inside.

For my first outing I decided to hire a horse cart and driver for the day even though it was a little pricey at $20. The guy who came to pick me up turned out to be the 20-year old nephew of the original guy, and his English wasn’t as good. I felt a little cheated already. (And the fact that he tried to get more money from me at the end of the day because my $20 would go to the “owner” was just damn funny!)

We made 12 stops in total, on top of the lunch stop at a nice vegetarian restaurant called “The Moon”. Horse carts go even slower than bicycles, and much slower than those electric bicycles that they rent here. The best thing is that you don’t have to keep searching for temples, taking wrong tracks, etc. The temples and stupas are scattered around, and many are along small dirt paths. The pictures (if I manage to upload them) show some of the sights.

At the largest and most popular temples, handicraft vendors were selling their wares and could be a little annoying at times. A few of the places even had whole walkways lined with handicraft stalls.

Rules for all temples involve taking off your shoes and socks, which didn’t sit well with me at all because I hate having dirty feet. You’re walking over grit, bird poo stains, and who knows what else. I had wet wipes with me and cleaned my feet religiously after each site.

Some temples had large golden Buddhas inside, some had one or two levels you could climb for views over the plains studded with pagodas of all shapes and sizes. Some had original murals or ornamental work. And of course you had to find an appropriate perch to watch the sunset from!

Chocolate saves Burma from the wrath of BigTravelNut

Friday morning I became so frustrated with the inability to download my email that I almost lost it. It was the second day in a row. I was in a foul mood, mumbling to myself and insulting the country. The internet at my hotel was too slow. Same story at the restaurant next door. I walked all the way to the French-owner cafe thinking that surely they must have a good connection, but no such luck. Fortunately I was able to order not only a cappuccino but.. gasp… a Toblerone bar! Chocolate is almost impossible to find in Burma. This chocolate tasted so delicious (the first I’ve had since November) I was swooning. And then my “hummm” and “haaaa” turned into a coughing fit when a little piece of nut got caught in my (already dry) throat. But still, I was in a much better mood after that.

The Bagan temples by bicycle

In the afternoon, I rented a bicycle and visited a few more temples on my own. I took a couple of wrong paths and was accosted by children asking for money. Huh huh. The bad side of tourism is already starting to rear its head in Burma: begging kids, adults trying to trick you into their store. This seems worse in Bagan than in other places in Burma, probably because it is the top tourist destination of the country. This also explains the overpriced hotels.

I was considering staying an extra day, but given my need for decent internet connections, I decided to push on to Mandalay on Saturday. This story coming soon, as well as why I’ve changed my ticket out of the country to January 14 instead of 22!

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