First off I’ve had to change the style of my blog a bit because the internet in Myanmar is soooooo bad I can’t get onto the website to edit it properly, such as centralising the text etc, Oh well, here we go…
Because of the Shwezigon Pagoda Festival taking place in Myanmar, we only spent one night in Yangon as we were heading back at the end of our loop to apply for an Indian Visa. We got told buses and accommodation were selling out fast across the country so we hastily booked a bus ticket for the following evening so not to get stuck in Yangon, at least we thought we did. We could have stayed for 3 days in Yangon but the Indian Embassy was shut due to the festival, so it didn’t make sense. It turns out the hostel receptionist hadn’t reserved us a ticket so we didn’t have a bus to Bagan and there were not any available. The receptionist the following morning rang round all the bus companies he knew but to no avail. This put us in a tricky situation. Because we thought we had the bus reserved we had booked accommodation in Bagan, the only problem with this was that all the cheap accommodation had sold out. There were not any hostels left on hostelworld and 18 hotels had sold out on booking.com that day. The cheapest one available was for £14.50 a night each, so £29 for the room, it was like being back in Japan. If we were to cancel the room the full amount of the 3 day stay would be charged to my card.
We decided to head over towards the train station as we had no choice but to get to Bagan. The train was the last resort as the tracks are not in good condition and its a lot more dangerous then using the road. We managed to find a travel office round the back of the train station and they had 2 bus seats left, reserved for locals, for 15000 Kyat (£9.30). The lady had a chat with her boss and they decided to give us the tickets. The bus was due to leave at 18:30 from the International Bus Station, travelling overnight to Bagan. We were in!
There are two ways to get to the bus station, the local bus or a taxi. From where we were staying we would have to catch a taxi to the bus stop, than a bus to our overnight bus. This would have been cheaper for us, but after a 5 mile walk in the morning trying to sort everything out, I decided I’d pay 10000 Kyat (£6.20) for a taxi to the Bus Station. The traffic in Yangon is crazy, our bus was due to leave at 18:30, but we had to jump in the taxi at 15:15 to guarantee we would be there on time. In the end I’m glad we got the taxi, the bus station is absolutely huge and it would be very difficult to find the bus on your own. There are no signs in English but there would be some friendly locals to help you out, if i hadn’t had such a stressful morning and the taxi was too expensive I would have attempted it. In the end our taxi driver dropped us off at the correct bus at 17:15, two hours after we had left our hostel, 15km away.
Our bus wasn’t great. We knew it wasn’t going to be a sleeper bus, but were not expecting there to be fold down seats all the way down the middle, making rows of 5 seats all the way down the bus. It was a tight squeeze. The bus left at 19:00 and for the first 2 hours we hadn’t moved more than 3 miles. I can’t imagine its always like that, its just they had scheduled every single bus in Yangon to leave at the same time. There were people walking down the side of the road from bus to bus trying to find a spare seat, which of course there wasn’t. It was than I realised how lucky we were to get these 2 seats. The bus took a 30 minute break at 23:15 and eventually arrived at Bagan Bus Station at 06.40, nearly 12 hours later. One thing to note is the music they were playing on the bus until 02:00, I can’t imagine anyone was enjoying it at that time of morning, but none of the sardines complained.
Upon entry to Bagan every foreign visitor must pay 25000 Kyat (£15.60), I’m not sure why but they don’t let you in if you don’t pay, I only got asked for the ticket once but it was legitimate. Our £29 hotel, the most expensive one we’ve had to stay in so far wasn’t great. I don’t know if they put the prices up because of the festival but it didn’t really matter, we hardly spent any time there anyway. We had the choice of renting an electric scooter for 6000 Kyat (£3.75) for half a day, or 12000 Kyat (£7.50) for a full day. I don’t like motorbikes at all but I thought I better rent one this time. The other option was a bicycle but I imagine that would be very hard work and you wouldn’t get to see as much. For 2 of the days we rented an electric scooter for the half day and this was long enough. You get the scooter at midday, spend your day riding around the magnitude of temples, find a lovely one for sunset then bike back to your hotel for a shower. You can then head out on your bike again for dinner and hand the keys back as late as you like. I was originally going to try and tell you a route you should take and name the different temples, then I realised this was pointless. No one will ever be able to follow it, I’m not even sure I can remember properly. As we were there for 3 days we decided to split the days and temples up into left, middle and right and this seemed to work pretty well. There are over 1000 temples and pagoda’s around Bagan so it’s not like you won’t see at least 500! We stayed in New Bagan which I really liked. It wasn’t as touristy as Old Bagan where there are plenty of western restsurants, it was more local restaurants and friendly locals which to me made it feel like the real Bagan experience. The Green Elephant River View Restaurant is lovely, if not a little bit more pricey. By a little bit more pricey I paid under £10 for three dishes and two beers, I treated myself a bit.
On the second day we took a ride out to the Minnanthu Village, not before stopping at a fair few temple along the way of course. The village was a great experience. We rocked up on our scooters and were greeted by some friendly smiling face and then shown around by one lovely lady. Over 125 people still live in the village which dates back hundreds of years (she did tell me how long but I can’t remember!) She shows you how they go about living their lives the old way, and of course you get the sob story on how she is poor, has an empty house and no money to raise her children. I was going to pay her anyway and it was a little bit annoying how she tries to make you feel bad, but I fully expected this to happen, however it was still a great experience. We gave her 5000 Kyat (£3.10) each for an hour of her time. There is also a little ‘cafe’ where you can enjoy an ice cold can of coke zero.
On our third and final day, the day of the Shwezigon Festival, we rented scooters for the whole day. It turns out everything was so busy and sold out due to the full moon on November 14th. It wasn’t just any full moon, it was a super moon! The festival lasted from 07:00-10:00 and consisted of thousands of monks queuing round the Shwezigon Pagoda and collecting food, clothing and money from the generous onlookers. It wasn’t the kind of festival I expected, but then again I didn’t really know what to expect. I suppose I thought it would go on for longer and have a bit more of a celebration. However how many foreigners can say they’ve been in Bagan for the Shwezigon Pagoda Festival. From there we continued our exploration and found the Balloons Over Bagan booking office. This is something I thought would be great to do but I knew there was a next to no chance of getting a hot air balloon for the following morning, due to the busyness of Bagan. I was correct. However just so you are aware, a balloon ride in an 8 person balloon costs $390. You are picked up from your hotel around 06:00, spend around 45 minutes in the air seeing the majestic sunrise over the temples and then arrive back at your hotel around 09:00. With a bit more planning this could have been possible for me, way over my backpackers budget, but definitely worth it, maybe next time hey. From here we are catching a bus to the former capital of Myanmar, Mandalay, to continue through this fascinating country.