“It is good people who make good places,” says Anna Sewell. Indeed, a good part of Bagan’s magic springs from its locals. Come to think of it—temples, sunrise/sunsets, rural sceneries, the laid back lifestyle—these can all be found elsewhere. In fact, we have our own versions of those here in the Philippines, some even better than in Bagan.
When I posted photos of our trip, a lot have been asking me for the itinerary. But when I tried to recall, I realized there really wasn’t anything special that we did except ride our bikes and eat. There were no theme parks. We didn’t go to any cultural shows or museums. Our 3 days were spent just roaming around in the midst of normal, daily Burmese lives. It was the most relaxed, unplanned trip I have ever been in, but it was by far the best one in my book.
WHERE WE STAYED
Prior to our trip, we have already been exchanging emails with Ei, one of the managers of MOTEL ZEIN. Bernard, who was supposed to come with us, had a friend who has been to Bagan, and she recommended this hotel to us. All of Motel Zein’s reviews were above average, but I could tell from Ei’s replies that they were also very much polite and willing to help. When they could not accommodate us in the room that we requested, it was almost as if they felt guilty. They did book us the next best room—with a discount at that—and arranged for us to be picked up at the bus station.
The Warm Welcome
It was still early (before 7AM) when we arrived at the hotel (we went to see the sunrise straight from the bus station, but more on that later). Ei couldn’t assure that we’d be able to check-in early (to which she apologized for), so we expected we would have to wait until the 2PM check-in time. But when we arrived, Ei and her manager Cho greeted us with bright smiles and told us we can now move into our room! Imagine our delight. We have not slept in a proper bed the night before, and also…let’s just say the freshness from the quick wash up at the waiting area in Yangon was about to expire…so a nice, proper bath in a real, legitimate bathroom was very much needed.
|Us finally settled in our room!|
But Ei and Cho’s kindness didn’t end there. They even invited us to get breakfast after we’ve freshened up. You guys realize that makes it a FREE MEAL, right? We were supposed to check-in at 2PM, so that means the breakfast we paid for would not be until the next day. It felt like we were rewarded just for coming to Bagan. (NOTE: the following photos are grabbed from Motel Zein's website)
A Touching Farewell
From time to time we’d enjoy little chitchats with Ei and Cho whenever we would chance upon them at the reception area. It seemed like they were really happy to talk with their guests, and they would even share tips about certain places. Ei was very good in English and even had a thick British (or was it Australian?) accent. She gave us some backgrounder on Mt. Popa—one of the most sacred monasteries in Myanmar—while helping us get slots in a group tour. Cho on the other hand, was always smiling and very soft-spoken. She seemed to want to offer us anything she possibly could give. One morning she even lent Jedi her hairdryer, after spotting Jedi walking around at the lobby with very limp, wet hair that was soaking the back of her shirt. LOL. On our last day, they kept our luggage for us while we squeezed in one more tour, and allowed us to use their bathroom so we could wash up before we leave for Yangon. Cho even walked us to the hotel gate where the JJ Express bus was waiting. It’s no wonder Bernard’s friend recommended this place.
If you’re going to Bagan, do consider their hotel. It’s located at Nyaung U, near the restaurant row, and is just a few steps (oo, steps lang talaga) from the highway (Anawrahta Road). You can email them at [email protected] (NOTE: the following photos are grabbed from Motel Zein's website)
THE ACCIDENTAL TOUR GUIDE
No offense to tour guides but I would always prefer to plan my own trips if I can. It gives me more flexibility in terms of time and allows me to explore alternate routes. In Bagan, Jedi and I were confident we’d be able to ride our bikes to the temples on our own. What we didn’t expect, were the swarm of tourists with whom we had to elbow and push to see the sunrise/sunset. This is where Pauk Kyi comes in, and with impeccable timing.
Meeting Pauk Kyi
It was almost 5PM. We were near the Ananda Temple, figuring out our map when he approached us out of nowhere. I’m usually cautious with strangers when traveling (what with news of human trafficking and all), but I thought mine and Jedi’s combined strengths could take him down if we had to. LOL. He was on his scooter (also called e-bike) and offered to lead us to a less crowded temple where we can view the sunset. We followed him on our bicycles, and he was kind enough to drive awfully slowly so we could catch up. Pauk Kyi was literally pointing the wrong way to other people who were trying to get to the same temple (lol), so when we got to the venue, there were only about 4 others watching the sunset with us.
IMPORTANT NOTE: All the temples will require a bit (or maybe a lot) of climbing steep stairs—some will actually require you to climb on its walls (think Spiderman). So keep your fear of heights in check. Pauk Kyi had to assist Jedi because she was so pabebe. LOL! (love you Jedi J)
|Meet Pauk Kyi|
The Way Home
We asked Pauk Kyi to guide us to this restaurant in the Old Bagan area and invited him to join us for dinner as a thank-you gesture. We also bought some of his sand paintings, which were one of the popular souvenirs from Bagan. After dinner, we expected him to leave us to fend for ourselves since his house was on the opposite way. But being the angel that he is, he insisted on accompanying us to our hotel. The Bagan streets get dark as soon as the sun sets, and there were very few working street lamps. So him making sure we got back safely was truly a nice gesture it almost made us cry.
|Pauk Kyi with his own sand paintings. You guys should get one of these when you're in Bagan!|
The Dangerous Ride
Pauk Kyi offered the taxi service of his friend who could drive us to another less crowded temple to see the sunrise the next day for Kyat 10,000, to which we agreed—rather hastily. At around 5AM the next day, Pauk Kyi and his friend picked us up at the hotel. It was at this time that we realized 5AM was still as dark as night…kasi nga, di pa nagsunrise. 😔 Jedi and I were suddenly consumed by nervous silence, as the danger of the situation finally dawned on us. We realized we just put our lives in the hands of two men we barely knew, as they drove us in the darkness to God knows where. The following thoughts ran through my mind:
- If they tried to kill us here, no one will know. We were going to a supposedly less crowded place…our bodies will rot before anyone finds us.
- What will Jedi’s mom say, when she entrusted her only daughter to me?
- Shoot, I didn’t bring an umbrella or anything I could whack their heads with.
- I can probably grab some sand from the ground and throw it to their faces. That will buy us some time to run.
Jedi was more or less thinking the same things. LOL! Thankfully, we arrived at Shwe Nan Yin Taw safely…and alive. JImagine how relieved we were to see a tour bus and a few e-bikes parked there, too. I felt guilty for doubting Pauk Kyi and his friend though. Hahaha.
Thanks to Pauk Kyi, we were able to enjoy the glorious sunrise without having to fight a crowd of tourists for a spot. He kind of served as our photographer, too, and he was really good at it! Except in those times when he would make us face the sun directly to “light our photos properly” without caring that we could go blind or whatever. LOL. Here are some of his great shots:
Here are some of his "trying to blind us" shots. Lels:
I think my experience in Bagan gave me what I was looking for in my travels. Bagan allowed us to fully enjoy a place without the fancy touristy stuff. Instead, the fun was in experiencing their culture through its locals. That is what separates travel from vacation. That is why you should visit Bagan.
MYANMAR Part 1: A Series of Firsts