Bagan, A Mystical Land of Temples.... and e-bikes.... / by Mark Boyd

The bus arrived in Bagan at around 4.30am.

I decided to share a ride with a couple of girls who were headed in the same direction as I had planned. On arrival at the hostel (they had booked a room) I was told there was nothing for the next two nights. Damn 'supermoon' had seen to that..... Even the Burmese like being in Bagan at times of the full moon, through the word 'super' in the place of 'full' and BOOOOOOM!!!! Population explosion. The chap behind reception offered me a fold out bed in the corner of a room. Though his price for this was unappealing to say the least. I nodded and agreed (for now), there was a long day ahead. So having no place to rest I asked if I could hire an e-bike. These little electric mopeds are the main mode of transport around Bagan, and to be honest, they are superb! Quiet and nippy, and at 6,000 Myanmar Kyat, around £4.00, until 7pm what more could I ask?  Perfect!  I left my main backpack at reception and transferred what I needed in to my daypack.  I was off to catch my first Bagan sunrise.

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I arrived at the main sunrise temple. I was one of the first there. I climbed the steps to the top step, then decided to drop one floor down. It was only 5.15am. The sun wouldn't appear for at least another hour. During this time the top two ridges got busier. Not too busy. Although the one above me did look more crowded.

As the sun gathered strength below the horizon light escaped across the land revealing temples hidden within the whispy ground mist. This was going to be stunning. Even half an hour before sunrise this was a spectacular treat for the eyes.

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Every couple of minutes the light would change.... more colours, more illumination over what lay in front of us all hidden in the low light.

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The next 45 minutes were incredible.

Just ahead of sunrise those tourists willing to pay the pricey $350 dollars for a hot air balloon ride over the temples of Bagan were set free in to the air. They became beautiful drifting back lit shapes, bringing a focal point to the sky. Wow, wow, WOW!!!!

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My aim was to be selective. I didn't want 200 images of Bagan at sunrise.... I wanted a handful of differently lit images to show off this wonderful and mystical landscape.

Once the sun became too bright I descended the steep steps, jumped on my e-bike and began exploring the little roads and sandy tracks. By 9am I needed breakfast. I dropped in to a very busy local cafe. I ordered something from the menu. Then I ate something from the menu. It wasn't what I expected it to be. But it was food.

An old guy from the US was chatting to me as he awkwardly mounted his electric-bike.... He was telling me he was struggling to get to grips with.  Basically you pull back on the throttle and it goes forward.  To slow down apply the brake.... Pretty simple.... As he disappeared in to the bushes in front of where we were parked I realised his e-bike struggles weren't going to end soon....

I was hoping to meet Yael, the girl I'd met in Colombia the year before, and travelled briefly with in Myanmar this time. It was her final day in Bagan. She may even be staying somewhere that has spare beds. I continued to explore until just before midday. I'd covered a lot of ground and seen a lot of temples inside and out. I'd also checked out the actual town areas of Old & New Bagan.

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 Whiplash treatment in Bagan leaves a lot to be desired....

Whiplash treatment in Bagan leaves a lot to be desired....

 Long neck tribeswoman carrying out textile work.

Long neck tribeswoman carrying out textile work.

Yael had messaged me. I'd asked if there was room at the place she was staying. There was! Lot's of room! Yay! I dropped by, booked my bed in the lovely, clean, air conditioned dormitory (10 mosquito net covered mattresses) and we went for lunch. We caught up with what each other had been up to over the past 10 days then headed to the 'sunset' temple area.

I set my tripod up in a prime position, as the temple slowly became more and more busy. Yael had another little temple she wanted to try. More goodbye hugs and she was off. Ten minutes ahead of sunset I could feel it was going to be nothing special. I wanted to be somewhere more peaceful. The people around me seemed 'pie eyed' as I removed my camera from the tripod and began folding it down.... Where is he going? Why is he going? What does he know that we don't? It's the prime spot!!!?? Weirdo!!! Tiredness had also caught up. I hadn't slept so much on the overnight bus from Nyuang Shwe mainly because I was chatting to a smashing guy from the US called George. We traded stories and laughed a lot! George was staying in Bagan too. I'd have to catch up with him tomorrow. For now I just needed my bed..... But before I did that I had to drop the bike off and pick up my backpack to the village outside town where I'd arrived at 4.30am this morning.

As the last energy bar on my e-bike flickered I wondered how far I'd end up having to push it back to the drop off point. Luckily after 10 minutes of riding carefully, then another 10 minutes of asking where the hell I was in relation to the place I found it with a enough power to light a 10 watt bulb for 3 whole minutes.

I explained that I now had a room, and the fold out bed wouldn't be necessary. I grabbed my backpack and started walking back towards New Bagan. It wasn't far.

 The Bagan night time foot-volley ball league..... Flexible... Impressive!!

The Bagan night time foot-volley ball league..... Flexible... Impressive!!

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Well, that's what I thought. After half an hour of walking, and being unable to attract the attention of the local little bus drivers I became a little disheartened. I knew now that the distance was far more than I first anticipated. A man on a horse and cart stopped. He said he could drop me half way at Old Bagan. We bartered and eventually settled on a price that suited me for half way and him for being on his way home. The twenty minute horse and cart ride was fun, and far less tiring and far faster then walking. After being dropped off I walked another half hour in the darkness reaching a village that I recognised. Oh no.... I was at least another 40 minutes walk away. It was hot, humid and pitch black. After 10 minutes a motorcycle pulled in to the side just up ahead of me. On his high vis vest was written 'Tourist Police'. He patted the seat and asked where I needed to go.... I could have kissed him! Ten minutes later I was arriving in my dormitory absolutely knackered. George had hoped to meet for some food, but I was shattered..... Raincheck. And rearranged for tomorrow.

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 Everyone was selling the same pictures... Everyone had apparently painted them themselves...

Everyone was selling the same pictures... Everyone had apparently painted them themselves...

The following morning I once again rose before dawn and headed to the temples. It was addictive. Once again I watched the sunrise, took more images of the incredible scenes that folded out in front of my very eyes, then explored more sandy paths. This time I decided to chill for an hour in the morning sun. I clambered up the ridges on to a big ridge on one of the smaller temples. There was no one. Just the birds singing. I lay back and let the sun warm my body and face until 10.30am. I dropped back for a bit of breakfast and arranged to meet George for a late lunch. I decided that another Bagan sunset and sunrise session was unnecessary and booked my bus to Yangon for that evening at 8pm. My Mum would say I was burning the candle at both ends.... and over recent days maybe I was.... But my body and mind were holding up. George was a big guy. A big fun guy at that. When I came out of my dormitory he was there holding his e-bike trying to get the back wheel to spin against the road, burnout style. We headed for lunch and enjoyed a beer. And George? Would he let me foot my side of the bill? No. Of course not. And this already felt like the George I'd become very fond of over a period of 48 hours. Kind, fun and generous to a tee.

 Scaffolding Bagan Style....

Scaffolding Bagan Style....

With my bus leaving until 8pm we still had time for a sunset. We headed to another temple that I'd seen during my second day of exploration. As we reached the top a beautiful local lady was showing a couple of tourists around the top of the temple, whilst a Chinese couple attempted a selfie. I moved in to position for the perfect comedy pose 'photo bomb'. It was only thirty seconds later when they were reviewing their images I could hear them laughing. They pointed at me smiling. George approached them and asked them would they like a picture to make up for my photo-bombing. They nodded appreciatively. George took their phone stood in front of them and took a selfie with them in the background.... I folded up! What a plonker! He then turned around smiled at them, whilst they stood looking at him, wondering whether to thank him or push him from the temple roof. Of course George then took a proper picture for them.... Then they wanted a photo of the four of us! This is how memories are created, and in my experience fun and mischief create the best ones! For those of you who really know me, I can tell you, and I know you won't believe it, but George was way cheekier than me! Ha ha! True! We laughed a lot that evening, our senses of humour combining dangerously to the point where tears often streamed down our faces. Wow, it's great to laugh!

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As I boarded the bus to Yangon I pondered on heading to Koh Lipe to meet Laura.... Well it had been over 48 hours..... Hmmmmmmm.... We'll see....