Monday, February 28, 2011

The alarm went off early as seems to be the case most of the time these days. Quick shower and time to check out. Before leaving the Governor’s Residence we had time to grab a chocolate croissant and a cup of tea. Even though it was 4.30 am in the morning, the hotel already had its full breakfast set up for the morning - guess people are early risers here!

We arrived at the Yangon Airport domestic terminal and checked in for our flight. Things went smoothly enough even if it seemed a little unconventional. They did not bother to weigh our bags - a good thing since they are probably on the heavy side. The security screening was not a big deal. We took water through and no-one seemed to care. Once we were in the departure lounge it was a little confusing as to which gate the plane would leave from but everything fell into place when a guy walked around with a placard announcing the flight number and the fact that it was ready to board.

We took a bus to our plane and climbed on board. Our back packs would not fit in the overhead bins but this was not a big deal. Each bag was given its own seat and secured with the seatbelt! The flight was just over an hour and we were served an unexpected breakfast. Something you don’t get in North America these days.

We landed in Bagan and it was gloriously hot for 7.30 am. As we entered the terminal, we bought our passes for the Bagan Archaeological Zone and picked up a copy of George Orwell’s “Burmese Days” to read when we get a moment. Waiting for our bags was quite different. There was no signage as to where to go so we just stood around with all the other passengers. Eventually, various guys would bring out each passenger’s bag one by one. Once you identified your bag and the baggage tag matched, you could take it. We retrieved our two bags and then headed outside to find our driver.

The guy that met us turned out to be the guide we would use for our visit here. U Bo Ni was his name. Turns out he is a history buff from the University of Mandalay that makes a living as a tour guide. He led us to our car and then off we went to the hotel - the Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Hotel. On the way, U Bo Ni explained the services he could offer us as a guide and we decided to give him a try. Turned out to be a great decision.

We arrived at our hotel well before the scheduled check-in time and our room was not ready. The hotel was very accommodating and gave us a day room to use while we waited. We tried to get an internet connection but were not successful. It’s been a week now since we were last connected properly! We phoned home to say hi to Devon and Logan but at US$8 a minute, the call was pretty short! They called us back and we were able to chat a little bit longer.

While we waited for our room, we lay by the pool. The weather here is hot and the pool setting very scenic. We escaped the heat for some lunch - the spring rolls and the clear vegetable soup turned out to be the highlight. After lunch, we were informed that our room was ready. This turned out to be quite a big deal. We were escorted to our river side room in a procession with three hotel employees carrying our bags and two others escorting the two of us under umbrellas like the king and queen! Once we were cleaned out of small change for tips, we started to get settled in.

The room is very comfortable and split into three rooms - a living room, bedroom and bathroom. We also have a very nice patio overlooking the Ayeyarwady River. Catherine settled in for a nap and I went exploring. After leaving the hotel grounds to visit some temples, I was quickly befriended by a young man riding a bike. He took me to one of the temples and we climbed to the top where the views of the surrounding area with all the many temples was spectacular. This is definitely the New York City of temples. After taking in the sights, I tipped my “guide” and headed back to the hotel. It was time for the sunset pagoda tour we had arranged with U Bo Ni earlier in the day.

The first temple we visited was Dhammayangyi Pahto, Bagan’s biggest temple in terms of foundation size. While I listened to some impressive stories about the temple, Catherine was set upon by scores of little vendors eager to make a sale. A few things were purchased to oblige the crowd and then we made our escape. Next up was Sulamani Pahto temple, famous for its well preserved internal frescos. This temple was more relaxing to visit as the vendors largely kept to their stalls. We visited two young artists whose work was very impressive.

As the sun was starting to set, we headed off to watch the sunset from the Shwesandaw Paya temple along with hundreds of other tourists. Despite the large of number of people gathered on top of the temple, the experience was still magical and one of the highlights of our trip.

Once the sun had set, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and the best sleep we have had in days.

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