Tuesday, January 1, 2013


The following installments of this traveler's tale are posted with photos:

Inle Lake and Bagan be edited and posted shortly (but not today :-(so, stay tuned :-)

So to make a long story short, I arrived at the bus station in Bagan at 3:00 am and got off the bus with a dozen other foreigners.  I got straight onto a motorcycle and had the driver take me to Pyinsa Rupa guest house, a rather dingy noisy place, but any port in a storm pip pip and all that (noisy even at 3 a.m, on the main road, all the buses arriving). But at least they let me in and gave me a narrow bench in the lobby to scrunch myself up on.  My name was written on the whiteboard behind the desk. Meanwhile fellow travelers were arriving from the bus station, progressing from hotel to hotel.  The nightshift guy shouted at them through the door, they were full.  They asked if they could leave their bags.  He said no. Good thing I had made this tenuous reservation.

I didn't get much sleep, and just now had a cup of tea while waiting for my room to be ready, but at least i'm here for two nights.  On the third night I'm planning to take the night bus to Yangon which should arrive by 6 a.m. and I should be able to grab a cab to the airport for a 10 am flight and make it home without further incident.

Meanwhile, back in Bagan

Ya, just got back from a prodigious bike ride ending on the the Shwesandaw pagoda that everyone goes to at sunset. Frankly, if you've been to Angor Wat, Bagan is a little disappointing if you're expecting time to be resurrecting itself from the jungle. The restoration here has led to a lot of temples looking pretty much the same as the next. One temple has a photographic record on it. BEFORE pretty much rubble, AFTER resurrected pretty much the same as the next temple over which, now that you mention it, looks pretty much the same as the one beyond that. On the other hand there are some 3000 stupas and pagodas here, which means if you are atop Shwesandaw at any time of day, and assuming 120 degrees periferal vision, and assuming a clear day (all clear the last two weeks) you should theoretically see 1000 stupas or pagodas no matter which direction you look, and i think if you want to see Bagan, just go there and you know, like, see it :-)

After a second day's perspective I realize that it's not exactly like that. There are many temples with unique artifacts inside. Some have original frescos that gate keepers will show you with the torches they keep handy. They don't really charge for this but appreciate it if you give them something. One gate keeper at a temple with frescoes with a sign saying “no photos allowed” turned the sign down for me and told me I could take pictures without flash. Some temples had stairways leading to higher platforms affording fantastic views of the other temples in the region.

Meanwhile after first day at Bagan, and now that it's dark, chilling out in a beer station with wifi. First draft went down so smooth, I was sooo thirsty. About to order my third, send this, and contemplate dinner, wherever I can get to on a bicycle,

After writing that I did move to an alternative place. By the time I moved the place was filling up with diners and I think I'll eat there tomorrow. But I wanted to check out Bagan's restaurant road. The descriptions in LPG all had $$ signs next to them, suggesting they were more expensive than they needed to be, and one specialized in Italian, and another was owned by a French / Burmese couple and you could get a good steak there, and in others the Chinese was good, or the Thai.

I found the road, not easy with Main St. traffic and the dark. There were no landmarks, but I turned instinctively where I thought it should be and there was the gaily lit side-street with all the establishments mentioned in LPG. I passed them all with their small clusters of LPG tourists and came to one that was really hopping, a Burmese beer garden. I'd already had three but they were only 5%, not so strong, and there was a free table in the courtyard. The others were all taken by locals seriously enjoying themselves, I was the only tourist. The menu was extensive but it was too dark to read it. The waiter brought me a candle and a beer. The draft was so refreshing after all that bike travel. I couldn't comprehend most of what was on the menu so I ordered a pork curry and a potato. That's what is said on the menu, just “potato”, so I asked the waiter how it was cooked. He didn't understand and brought in a colleague with better English. How is it cooked I asked. “Good? Yes very good.” No, cooked, how do you cook it. What was I saying? He wrote on his hand good and cook, he at least knew it was one or the other. I pointed to cook. “Ah, cook! Barbecue,” he said. So I ordered “barbecue” potato and settled in to my beer. I was basically trying to avoid salad, so any kind of cooking process would do me. When my potato came it was boiled chunks, spiced mildly, and with an accompanying spicy giinger sauce, really delicious. The pork was nice slices of meat cooked in herbs in a great Burmese curry that I poured over rice, went very well with my second refreshing beer. The waiters were very friendly, caring for the tourists, as the ubiquitous signs extolled in Burmese and English. I got my bill, 4300 kyat, about $5. I gave over 5 1000 kyat notes and was finishing my beer as the change came back. I put it on the table as a tip, not at all expected in Burma. I was about to go when the waiter asked if I wanted one more. One more, I said, how much are they? 650 kyat, about what was on the table. Go on then, I said, bring us another. The waiter seemed more delighted in the smile on my face when he brought the beer than he would have been with the change on the table, less than a dollar's worth, that it consumed.

Next day after a second day in the stupas and pagodas I returned to the same place and ordered exactly the same thing, it was so delicious.

But first day I went home and tried to get on wifi but it was grindingly slow in the lobby and the oriental tourists there were lighting up their cigarettes so I went upstairs to bed around ten pm. Good thing. I awoke at night chilled again and did some blanket rearrangement. I had been using one of the blankets as a pillow with the real pillow over my head. But in the dead of night it was quiet as a tomb in the room. I knew the street noise would pick up when the buses started arriving before dawn from Inle and Mandalay and Yangon, and the tourists would go through their quaint ritual of early morning rapping on doors, asking if there was space, being told, go away, full, coming back later, all eventually being absorbed as the sleeping guests checked out and got on their day buses.

But the dead of night was quiet and I was sleeping soundly when at 4:00 am there was the loud sound of wind instruments and drums in the street. It sounded like a procession going by in the street outside, probably heading for the paya down the road. We had just passed full moon, it made sense. Dusty and I had been asleep at full moon in Peshkar, Rajistan once, when such a procession formed right outside our door between our room and the gat, making such noise that we simply had to get up, and as long as we couldn't sleep, we might as well walk around to the temples in town and see what was going on in them at dawn. I had that in mind as I pulled on my clothes, expecting to find a parade outside with decorated carts pulled by caparisoned Brahma bulls. Instead the street was empty, but a downstairs shop was firing up its cooking pots and its very loud concert-strength amplifiers to attract the crack of dawn trade. My room was in the back, off the street, but sleep from then on would be impossible, so I sat back dressed on my bed, listened to the unique music, and wrote this.

New Year's Eve, 2012, welcoming in 2013, the town of U Nyaung seems very active, like it's preparing to celebrate something, but to celebrate with the people really meaningful, like with online friends and family welcoming in the NY around the world right now, that doesn't seem it's going to happen. I've tried in two places with wifi and the routers aren't even showing, and other tourists around me having the same problem. So I don't think I'll be able to send out NY messages and this is disappointing, but also it's traveling, can't have all the comforts and reliability of home, but happy new year world, however this msg gets out (ra).