South East Asia 2017 - Day 9: Mandalay to Bagan


13 August 2017 - cloudy, humid, 33°

We got up at 6am, packing bags again and then up to breakfast. I went for a quick walk around the block to capture a bit of early morning life then back to the hotel in time for the pickup truck bus to arrive at 8am, and for our friendly security guards at the hotel to say goodbye. 

There was just the 2 of us on board, but we stopped 100m down the road for the driver to pop into a travel agent and pick up another passenger.  We headed off again at 8:15am but now we were running late to meet the 8:30am bus at the bus depot south of town.  We stopped to make a couple of other pick ups on the way and arrived at the bus depot at 8:40am.  The rest of the people on the minibus were waiting for us, so we chucked our bags in and on we got. Got a free bottle of water and off we went.  This could be a long 5 hour trip with no leg room.  At least the a/c works.

We headed south through the city then east through the outskirts of town, making a couple more pickups on the way.  Our bus crew consists of the driver ( who doesn't interact with us at all, just drives ) and the 'conductor'; a betel chewing young fella who chats away to the locals on the bus, and if he needs us to know he is talking to us he says "Hello" first.

After turning onto the 'expressway' we head west across towards the airport then south on the new Mandalay - Yangon expressway.   I measured the time between mile markers and for most of the time on the expressway we were doing about 50km/h.  At one point there was a bit of a commotion from the driver and we pulled off to the side of the road, a bottle of hydraulic fluid was found, and it's contents poured into the engine.  With that done we carried on our way.

After a while we turned off at Pyinsi and headed west on a local, windy and narrow road.  Again we had a couple of pickups to do on the way; some tourists off other buses and some locals with bags of shopping.  After a toilet stop in the town of Natogyi we carried on through to Myingyan ( quite a big town ) and then on the outskirts of town stopped for a lunch break at 12:30pm.

After 20 minutes standing in the carpark of a shop / cafe eating the fruit we had brought with us we jumped back on the bus and headed to Bagan.  Just after leaving Myingyan we passed a massive steel mill ( which is still partly under construction ) and a road / rail bridge.  After another hour of driving we turned off the main road just before Nyaung U and headed south to the Bagan Bus Deport at 2pm ( the Bagan area consists of 3 main towns: Old Bagan, which is where the riverside resorts and some old temples are located, Nyaung U where most of the transport hubs, bars, backpackers and nightlife is located, and New Bagan ( where we are staying ) which is where they built a new town for the residents, in the 1990's, that they kicked out of Old Bagan to make way for the resorts mentioned above ( apparently they were given 2 weeks notice to leave ) ) . The Bus Station, whilst being near the airport and railway station, is miles from anywhere in relation to the towns.

After dropping a couple of people at the bus depot we headed north back towards Nyaung U, stopping briefly for the foreigners to pay for their archaeological ticket ( Ky25,000 ea, and lasts for a week ) we carried on into Nyaung U, dropped a couple of people off then went to a carpark for some people ( us included ) to transfer to a smaller pickup  truck bus to take us to our hotel.  After a couple of false starts ( a bag got put on our pickup that belonged to someone still on the main bus, and some confusion about the locations that people were going ) we headed out of town and then south to New Bagan, dropped the last other person on our bus off, and then dropped us at Hotel Yadanarbon (Ky 104,000 for 3 nights, a/c, pool and b/fast included) at 3pm. If we had turned left at the bus depot we could have been at our hotel in about 10 minutes.

We checked in etc and went up to our room.  I had a look later and if we had wanted to get a taxi from Mandalay to Bagan it would cost Ky150,000, not the Ky9,000 we paid; so I guess you get what you pay for. But Ky9,000 seemed expensive in comparison to the train that we took back to Bagan ( more on that in a later post: Day 12 )

We out for a quick walk around New Bagan and found a little cafe ( New Moon II ) a couple of hundred metres off the main street, down a dirt road ( all roads in New Bagan except the main one are dirt ) in amongst a collection of small stupa.  They had left the stupa as they were ( about 20 of them ) but just carried the streets and houses on around them.  

Just as an aside; the terms stupa, pagoda and temple get used interchangeably when referring to the structures in Bagan.  I think technically a stupa is a mound shaped temple, and a pagoda is a multilevelled temple.  But when you have a pagoda that has a stupa on top...well I don't know.    I use all three terms; temple generally , stupa for a small temple and pagoda for the bigger ones.

And also the purpose for all of these temples is to house an icon relating to Buddha, most commonly a stature of the fella himself ( or often in the bigger temples 4 statues , one facing each entry to the building ), but also sometimes items attributed to Buddha, like part of a tooth or a hair.

After a nice cool drink we grabbed some supplies from a grocery shop and walked back to the hotel.

At 5pm we hired a couple of ebikes ( mopeds but with electric motors ) to go shoot the sunset.  The hotel hires them out and for 2 1/2 hours we paid Ky2,000 ea.  No helmets were offered so off we set along a short section of main road, then off into the dirt tracks that criss-cross the plains of Bagan.  Within the first 5 minutes we had seen literally hundred's of stupa, some small, some big, dotting the landscape on both sides of the road.  As someone explained to us later the area around Bagan is technically a desert, with very little rainfall, so nothing much grows on the plains other than scattered trees and low scrub.  It reminded of photos that I have seen of the savannah in Africa.  So the stupa tend to stand out amongst the sparse vegetation.

We kept riding until, about 20 minutes later, we came to Shwesandaw Pagoda, which is one of the bigger pagoda, and also one of the most popular for sunset and sunrise, due to it's location near to the main road and it's height.  So we presented our archaeological ticket and were allowed to enter.  Shwesandaw has steps up on all 4 sides of the exterior of a terraced pagoda ( most have internal steps ) which also makes it easier for people to get up and down, and have some space to spread out a bit.  At the moment few of the pagoda have bamboo scaffolding on them as they are doing the repairs in the 'off' season.

We left before the sunset as we could see it wasn't to come to much ( again too much cloud ) and we rode down a different track back towards the hotel, stopping for a couple of bottles of water on the way ( 700ml bottles for Ky800 ea ) then back to the hotel just as it was getting dark at 7pm. 

Wow, on such a short ride we have already seen so many amazing pagoda scattered across the plains.

We grabbed our swimming gear and hit the pool of a quick dip, then back to the room and then down for dinner at the hotel ( a mixture of Chinese, Thai and Myanmar ( as well as Western ) dishes ) for dinner and a couple of beers.  

Then it was back to the room and into bed, ready for an early start in the morning to get the sunrise; the alarm is set for 4am