We had an early start this morning as we decided to see the sunrise over Bagan and see the balloons. We arranged to hire an e-bike for the day which would get us to the temple a bit quicker and would allow us to explore some of the further pagodas and temples later in the afternoon once we came back from Mount Popa.
We decided we would return to Shwe Leik Too Pagoda that we visited yesterday as it had a good view east and we knew it wouldn’t be as busy as some of the main temples. We set off in the dark and ended up riding around for over half an hour in the pitch black darkness. It was very hard to tell which pagoda was which so we stopped for directions and eventually found it just as the sun began to rise. We were right there was just a handful of people here and the atmosphere was great. No one spoke, they just watched.
Once the balloons began to descend we got back on our rather uncomfortable e-bike and rode back to our hotel for a quick breakfast before heading out to Mount Popa for the morning. It took just under two hours to reach it by a privately rented car. We paid 35,000Kyats for the private trip for two people but it was the same amount regardless of how many people went in the car. We could of shared with others but we wanted to go at our own pace and not have to wait around for others.
Just before reaching Mount Popa our driver made a stop at a road side tourist trap which allows you to take a distant picture of the mountain. You have to pay 200kyats for the privilege and you also get a ton of women trying to sell you fruit and handcrafts.
From there it was a short five minute drive downhill to the entrance of the stairs where you begin your climb. The driver points out where he was going to wait and then we were free to spend as much time here as we wanted. Most people advised that it takes 45 minutes to an hour to reach the top. For the first half you are able to wear your shoes. About 200 steps in you reach a platform where you leave your shoes and pay a donation. The rest you walk barefoot, being super careful of the monkey poop smeared over the steps. We were quite lucky that the majority were clean, as there were step cleaners almost on every stair case washing them as you go. They will all ask for donation but it’s impossible to donate to all of them as there are so many. We tipped a few on our way down but only 100 or 200 each, depending on what small notes we had left.
There are plenty of souvenir stalls on the way up, but they weren’t pushy in trying to sell us anything. I guess they have plenty of tourists walk past every day that they don’t feel the need to push sales like the women at the temples in Bagan. There are also plenty of places to makes larger donations which entitle you to a plaque with your name and country of origin on the wall. Minimum donation of €$50.
I was a little disappointed when we reached the top. The shrines are nothing special and the view wasn’t as spectacular as people had said. Maybe we were unlucky, all we could see were the surrounding villages and a few pagodas. There were some hills in the distance but it was quite hazy and almost impossible to get any decent pictures. There are various viewing platforms around the top however we didn’t stick around them too long as they were covered in litter and monkey poop. I was a little surprised that they didn’t try to keep this place better kept. It was after all a religious site and place of pilgrimage but the place was covered in litter. Worst of all there are kids selling monkey food that is rolled up in small newspaper tubes. The monkeys take them from you, tip the contents on the floor and throw the paper off the sides of the walkways, resulting in the entire mountain covered in torn up newspaper tubes.
I had read that the monkeys can be quite violent and that on a few occasions had attacked tourists and their rucksacks and taken off with anything they could grab from you. But we found the monkeys were scared of us and ran away when we approached them. Some were a little brave and came close to tourists that had food but they were in no way dangerous or violent as I had read from previous tourists.
When we reached the bottom we didn’t stick around for very long. There is a bustling market but we were hot and just wanted to return to Bagan. We had planned to explore some of the less visited temples in the afternoon and watch the sunset from a different pagoda, hopefully one that wasn’t as busy as the one from yesterday.
We went straight to lunch when we returned to Bagan. We drove to the center of Nyaung U near the jetty and the market as we had yet to have a real look around. It was much busier than the small area of Nyaung U that our hotel was located in, and the restaurants were also cheaper. We found a small place called Pyinsa Rupa that was decent. I wasn’t too hungry so I just stuck with French fries, I have been a little worried about falling sick here. So many people have had bad experiences with food in Myanmar that I was sure I’d be unfortunate at some point during our 3 week vacation, so a little western food wouldn’t hurt every now and again. Our doctor in Prague advised us that a shot of vodka every morning would ensure we wouldn’t fall sick, but we haven’t taken her advice. Vodka isn’t widely available here and the Myanmar Rum isn’t meant to be very nice so we are risking it instead.
The bill came to 7100 which included my fries, a lime juice, coffee, bottle of water, and a Myanmar Curry and then we jumped back on our rather uncomfortable ebike and head south down the main road towards the station to explore some more temples.
The first we came to was Iza-gaw-na, a quiet temple with no tourists around but us, just a few dogs wandering around and a couple of kids playing in the temple grounds. In almost every temple where there have been children all of them had taken immediate notice of us, followed us around and or tried to sell us something. But these children were so occupied in their play that we went completely unnoticed.
Following the road we came across the Wi-ni-do Group. Although they don’t look like anything special one of the temples hold inside a beautiful gem. Across three walls are ancient 13th Century frescoes depicting the life of the Buddha. These intricate and fragile pieces of art are by far the best we have seen in any of the interiors of pagodas in Bagan and yet to our surprise we were the only tourists around!
Another short cycle brings your to another complex of temples and a small village called Min-nan-thu. All the people waved and smiled at us as we cycled through, but it was getting late and we needed to head to our sunset temple in order to get a good spot! Since we hadn’t been to this temple before we wanted to allow enough time incase we got lost finding it.
Lucky we did as we got lost almost immediately. We were trying to head to Pya-tha-da Pagoda, but its a very difficult and very sandy path and our poor e-bike kept getting stuck. I was getting frustrated as the sun was beginning to get low and I was afraid we would miss it. But in the distance we saw a car! So we followed it and found a dirt path to the temple just in time!
This temple was much bigger than the temple we sat and watched sunset from yesterday. This meant there was more space for everyone to spread out a bit so it doesn’t feel so cramped. It was probably just as busy as yesterday with many people coming by coaches and tour buses, so it must be another famous sunset spot! Shame as our hotel had said there would be far less people but I imagine the word has spread!
After watching another beautiful sunset we packed up our cameras and joined the never ending line to climb down from the temple. I must warn you that this temple only has one way up and one way down. The last sunset temple had access from all four sides so getting down didn’t take anywhere near as long as it took today! We were getting a bit worried as we would be riding back in the dark again and we didn’t want to get lost! In the end we decided to follow all the buses and cars to the main road and navigate back to our hotel from there. I had always laughed at the people riding around with surgical face masks on, but it was during our ride back that I finally understood why! With a mouthful of sand and a kilo of dust up our noses we got back to our hotel in the pitch black darkness…and with a flat bike battery! A shower was needed!
Tonight we ate at Aroma 2, Indian Place. It was another restaurant that has been recommended in “the lonely planet bible” so we thought we would give it a go. A chicken Marsala with rice, a mint chapati, another curry with lamb, a pineapple juice and 3 beers came to 19500K. The owner says “No Good No Pay” but I guess you’d have to be a real ass to not pay for your meal. Ours was quite nice. A little spicy but nice! Made a change from all the sweet and sour chicken I have been eating!
Tomorrow we are leaving for Mandalay. We had originally planned to go by boat arriving in Mandalay in the late afternoon but we had heard from other travelers that their journey had taken over 31 hours due to the boat being stuck due to lack of water. Since we didn’t want to loose another day to broken transport we have decided to take the bus. It takes 5 hours and would arrive in Mandalay around 2pm. We booked it on our way back to the hotel with another local agent called Green, Green & Green Travels & Tours. A single ticket was 7500K per person. Our hotel quoted us 8000K each so its worth going around and asking each agent to try and save a little money!
Anyway long day tomorrow so better get some rest!