Bagan to Mandalay

So I took another night bus on 17th from Nangshwe by Inle Lake to Nuang U by Bagan, This time the ratio of locals to foreigners was reversed – it was very much the tourist bus to the temples. I sat next to a nice guy from Poland called Cuba who is a travel agent who seems to get more vacation that is humanly possible. And that’s the quartergapyear queen talking.

Nuang U is a pretty non-discript town – dusty (like evrerywhere in Burma) and not really that much going on. I stayed in an ok guest house at one end of the town, actually slightly away from where the ‘backpacker’ scene is apparently happening. It’s all relative, though. Hilariously, there was a small cafe called ‘Weatherspoons’ – in case you were wondering, no it didn’t bear any resemblance! But it did serve a very tasty Thai curry, which I had for lunch two days running.

There are 3 ways to see the temples of Bagan and I ticked all of them off my list. Day one I took a horse-drawn cart out to old Bagan and new Bagan, around which most of the 2000 or so temples are located. My driver was a lovely young Burmese guy who took me to some amazing sights and spoke pretty good English so we had a nice chat as we travelled. He pretty quickly realised I wasn’t interested in the big fancy temples (cue tour buses and the chatter of photos being taken) and took me to some amazing spots off the usual track. The best temple was a really tall one that you could climb to the top of and the view from the roof was breathtaking. I know I keep using that word, but really, seeing is believing.

Day 2 I switched to bicycle, which was slightly more work but lovely to get some exercise and have the sun on my back and the wind rushing through my hair. I ambled along, stopped a few times and took a leisurely lunch in old Bagan. When I asked to use the toilet in the restaurant, the slightly precocious daughter of the owner took a 50 note from her dad and personally escorted me to the small town’s wash house. There I found a toilet, and saw the locals washing and preening themselves. There was no blank face and pointing me vaguely in the right direction – no, it was important to the restaurant owners that I find my way there safely, and the little girl waited for me to take me back again. The Burmese are such kind and hospitable hosts,

Day 3 I made a mental shift from scruffy cheap skate backpacker to international jet setter as I took the (rather expensive, but hell it’s only money) third travel option of hot air balloon. Naturally, we set off first thing so we could see the sun rise en route. It was quite literally one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. Only thing missing was a romantic companion… But there is always the danger that hot air balloon + boyfriend = cheese-tastic. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! I took it easy for the rest of the day, busying myself only for the purpose of playing hours of guitar, learning to pick, and learning a couple of new songs (Rain City by Turin Shakes – really pretty song, and Homesick Lullaby by Sam Forrest – usual greatness from the god of song writing. Anyone who doesn’t own his album Papercrown should not call themselves a music fan).

Yesterday I took the 12 hour boat from Nuang U to Mandalay. Not really because I wanted to come to Mandalay (I’m flying out after only a night and morning here) but because I wanted to sail in a boat up the Ayerwady River. It didn’t disappoint. I caught both sunrise and sunset, got some rays on the deck, jammed with a couple of guys from Sheffield and played a lot more guitar myself. I was also joined by the Slovakian guy I shared a basket with in the balloon yesterday, an interesting man who works as a chef in Norway now and told me about his life in both countries. The boat also served cool beers, so I kicked back and enjoyed the view.

The guys from Sheffield were staying in the same hotel as me, so we caught a taxi there together and then headed out for dinner and beers. Really sweet guys – Laurie has just finished working as an English teacher in Cambodia so gave me some tipas for the next leg of the quartergapyear and his friend (who I think was called Hobo) works in a small community in northern Scotland. We breakfasted together this morning and said our goodbyes.

I’ve met such a lot of nice people on this trip, and it’s amazing how you keep bumping into the same people from place to place. You think you are being independent and creative, but it turns out we have basically all chosen the same itinerary. We’ve probably all have just about the same photos, too!

So, this afternoon I fly to Yangon for a brief night there before taking an early bus tomorrow to Ngwe Saung and a few days of beach r&r on the Bay of Bengal. Apparently there is great snorkelling so I will finally get to use the gear I bought in Australia and have dragged around Burma with me. So can’t wait. And now I have a decent internet connection I’m going to see if I can upload some photos… Watch this space…

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