Why You Shouldn’t Visit Myanmar in 2018

Myanmar is one of those “up and coming” hotspots where everyone who wants to be adventurous is heading. It’s somewhere where your friends probably haven’t gone, and you can be the intrepid person ahead of the curve. It’s a gorgeous country, filled with history and fascinating things to do.

But you shouldn’t go to Myanmar in 2018.

In fact, if I look at my 2017 regrets, the fact that I went to Myanmar is near the top of the list. I saw gorgeous pictures of Bagan, and the amazing sides of Mandalay, Yangon, and Inle Lake, so I went. But I failed to look at the bigger picture.

What is happening with the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is ethnic cleansing, and just last week, Nick Kristof of the New York Times wrote about it becoming quite close to the “genocide” line. Read more

Spreadsheeting: What I Spent in Myanmar

Everything I read online said that Myanmar was far more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia and to budget accordingly. I think I might have mistook that and went a bit far… but luckily, it was a bit far the better way!

Overall, for 10 days in Myanmar, I spent $616.84. Seriously. I was pretty shocked, especially because I felt like, on the whole, I lived well!

How did that work out?

Read more

Backpacker Moments: Adventure Outtakes Part 2

A collection of the moments that make you cringe. And help you remember everything in travel is not Instagram-ready.

Electric Motorbikes
The motorbikes in Bagan are more much more powerful than the ones in Siem Reap. I feel like we’ve already covered what an excellent driver I am, so naturally, nothing could possibly go wrong.

Driving the motorbike through Bagan was amazing – going down the roads at 40 km/h with the sun out was fantastic. And then you go off the main road and onto the dirt paths. By dirt paths, what they really mean is sand paths.

Deep sand paths.

Driving over them was always an adventure. There were some well-trodden paths that were quite packed down, but a significant number of the roads had deep sand that could send you fishtailing in a matter of seconds. Even the packed-down roads could have a spot of sand. And then there were the rocks. Those could also pop up from anywhere and make you lose control.

We’ve also already gone over how the main attraction in Bagan is watching the sun rise. So every morning, about 4:45, I hopped on my bike to go find my sunrise spot. The best sunrise spots aren’t packed with other people, so you want one off the road well-traveled.

It was pitch black and I had my motorbike’s weak light to guide my path. When suddenly, I went sideways. Yes, friends, I did indeed crash my motorbike. Luckily (very lucky) I was going slowly and so was not hurt, picked myself up and kept going.

The motorbike’s weak light continued to not be great in the pre-dawn hours, and as I was heading down the path after picking myself and my bike up from the spill, a rock appeared out of nowhere.

And why yes, I did actually crash my motorbike twice in the space of 15 minutes.

I was lucky both times and ended up with some great bruises to show for it, but otherwise I was intact!

Night Bus
I took my first-ever night bus to get to Inle Lake from Bagan. I booked the VIP bus (at the very VIP cost of about $9) and had a nice reclining seat, and I was the only one in my row. I didn’t think it would be too bad, though I didn’t know how well I’d sleep on the bus. I was also a bit concerned about my stomach – this was, after all, the night bus of the morning of the bush.

I was pleased because come about 11pm, I was able to get some shut-eye, and I was feeling confident about my ability to get more. And, I was feeling pretty good overall. Even though the driver was honking the horn quite loudly and out of the blue every 15 minutes.

Also, if you’re ever in Myanmar: don’t sit in the front seat of the VIP bus. It’s great because there’s no one to recline on you. But then you have to see how the bus is being driven. And you see the oncoming lights the bus is honking at.

So I’m in and out of consciousness, trying to sleep as much as possible. We make it to about 1am.

And then someone on the bus started retching with the loudest vomiting sounds I have ever heard. For not one, but two and a half hours. I felt so bad for whoever it was, but can’t say it was doing great things for my own stomach.

Apparently other people felt the same way. Because by about 3am, there were probably four people puking on the bus.

I made it through without incident, thank goodness. The whole time, because it was my first night bus, I didn’t know whether or not this frequently happens. I was thinking that just for the sounds, I might take my risks with Myanmar Air and fly the next leg.

Once I got to Inle Lake, I shared this with a few of my friends. You guessed it – this is NOT a normal occurrence on the night bus. In fact, they had all been taking night busses while traveling for years and never had the luck to have a situation like mine on the bus.

Go figure.

Also, I did take the night bus from Inle to Yangon. No retching.

Compensation
The men wear skirts here. Only they’re called longyi, and they’re traditional dress. I can certainly understand why – it’s so hot in the summer, and wearing something that isn’t pants is definitely nice.

However, one of the things that makes me laugh is that for men, the longyi is tied in the front with a knot. For some men, the knot is small and tight, for others it’s loose and large, and for still others it’s long and skinny. I have no personal experience with any correlation between longyi knotting and compensation for other factors, but I’m opening the speculation.

I Left a Bit of My Heart in Rangoon

Is it possible to have a bad time in a city that used to be called Rangoon? I think not.

Not to say my time there was perfect, but there’s something about a city with so much history that spoke to me. I loved the city vibe – it was nice to be back in a big city (and thank goodness – they even had my brand of contact solution in travel size! Now to find my toothpaste…).

Yangon is a city in evolution. There is a ton of development and building going on, with many things being westernized. The food scene is pretty good and definitely growing fast. In fact, in so many ways, Yangon reminded me of Charleston. If Charleston had not been pressure washed since the British left.

Truthfully, Yangon has beautiful architecture and so much possibility, but the city is hidden under a layer of grime. After removing the grime, it feels like the kind of city that would be ready to take its place on the world stage. Right now, it’s raw. It’s a city in transition and the people there know that they’re on the cusp. But maybe the grime is what makes it great?

But I think they also know that with that transition, some of the character of the city is being ceded to Western thoughts and concepts. For instance – a mall called Junction City just opened, complete with a Coach store and many other brands you’d find right at home. They’re also advertising for a development called “The Central” which promises to be the Rodeo Drive of Yangon.

It’s a fun city. They have two main pagodas of interest – the Sule Pagoda is downtown, right near the river. The Shwedogan Pagoda is on a hill in the middle of the city with a park surrounding it. It’s covered in gold and has incredible detailing. Both were fun to visit in the two days I had there. But the magic of Yangon is not at all in sightseeing. Pagodas are nice… food is better.

When I’m at home, I can’t tell you how often I have pancakes. It’s maybe 6 times a year? Maybe? I don’t know what happened the minute I left the US, but I started craving pancakes like crazy. Hot, fluffy, wonderful, sweet pancakes. Here, you see “pancake” everywhere, but what they call a “pancake” we would call a “crepe.” Not the same thing.

I was feeling a bit homesick in Yangon, so I did what any normal person would do. I Googled “American Pancakes in Yangon.” Y’all – there was a restaurant that served American-style pancakes. And because God is so good, it was incredibly close to my hotel. I think the wait staff was somewhat appalled at how quickly I destroyed the amazing stack of pancakes they brought out. I almost ordered a second round (there were only three small ones! American pancakes but not American portions), but decided to restrain myself. Still, those pancakes were the perfect medicine for being homesick.

The city called Rangoon has other attractions, too. There’s something about Rangoon that makes it irresponsible to not get at least a bit tipsy. So I took myself on a bit of a pub crawl through some highlights.

The Strand Hotel was referred to as the “finest hostelry east of Suez” once upon a time, and they recently did renovations to restore the colonial character of the hotel – it’s really quite stunning. They were also celebrating America Week! How could I not stop in for a cheeseburger and fries?!

But the drinks were the star. I’m a nerd, so there’s something so fun about sitting and drinking where Orwell and Kipling once sat. I was thinking about the city when they were there, and their interpretations of Rangoon, Burma, and the locals. The drinks were also top notch!

I also went to Rangoon Tea House. It’s a tea house that has basically no original character of Rangoon, but serves some great Myanmar cuisine and also has excellent cocktails. I’m not sure which had better drinks. I’m glad to have tried them both.

So that was really my time in Yangon – shopping, two pagodas, and drinking. It was an excellent few days.

Inle-Disney: It’s a Small World After All

After our biking adventure, Meleny, Chris and I enjoyed each other, so we decided to take a tour of Inle Lake by boat together the next day. We were joined by Vilma, Felipe, and Alex to make a total of six.

At the start of the day, we got the gringo treatment. And by that, I mean that they split us into two groups of three rather than one group of six. Why? Because tours are priced by the boat, not by the person. So splitting us into two groups made sure they got double the income they would have otherwise. We did see other groups of six on the lake, so we were a bit annoyed by this.

However, it’s still hard to get too bent out of shape about it – it is the low season, and two boats meant that two boat drivers had work for the day. I’m trying to keep a good perspective on the parts of travel that are getting conned and then the bright side of whatever con has been pulled. And the bright side of the boats was that two drivers were employed.

The whole day, I had a hard time escaping the feeling that I was on a ride at Disney World. Especially being in the boats, it felt a bit like It’s a Small World – just with one country rather than many!

Inle Lake has a rich heritage of fishing and agriculture, some of which has been lost due to “progress” and tourism.

Once upon a time, Inle Lake was the only place in the world where the boatmen used a technique of paddling the boat by wrapping their foot around the oar and then using the foot to pull the paddle. It’s honestly ingenious, and as I watched it, I imagined it starting by some teenager hundreds of years ago with tired arms but who still hard to get home. And then he decided to use his foot and leg to take some of the work off his arms. And then, as teenagers do, others copied him and the rest was history. (To note, this is my own made-up version of history. Not the real one. I have no clue the real origination of the technique.)

They also were/are the only place that uses a specific type of drum fishing nets/cages. These days, both the old fishing nets and foot-paddling are not as needed. But, because they are part of the heritage, they persist. Like with the guy paddling with his foot, posing with the fishing cage. I’m fairly positive his job is to stand there, looking like an old time fisherman while posing for pictures for tourists.

That was a bit hard to see, just because it made me question things and the corruption of a place for the benefit of tourism. But on the flip side, the guy had a job, and the more I thought about it, the more it feels a bit like colonial Williamsburg – it’s just preserving an old way of life.

The day progressed in much the same way. Like many tourism-centric destinations, our tour of the lake consisted of being shuttled from workshop to workshop. We saw how Myanmar fans are made; how lotus is made into thread and then woven; how longyis are woven; how cigarettes are rolled; and I can’t remember what else. At each destination, there were people employed to give tourists the overview of what used to be done there.

And just like Disney World, each one ended with a themed and overpriced gift shop. I’m being a bit cynical today, but it’s just funny. Some things are consistent wherever you are – and selling souvenirs to tourists is one of them!

As a tour of two boats, none of us bought anything. (Actually, Alex bought a fan, but that was it for the group.) Knowing that there has to be a whole system of kickbacks based on commissions, us not buying anything made me feel a bit better about paying for two boats. The people who needed work got it.

We also stopped at a temple with hundreds of pagodas, all perched overlooking the lake. I have to admit to being a bit over-pagoda’d at this point, so I didn’t properly appreciate them. But the view was great!

The day was fun – riding around the lake on the boat was the absolute highlight of it! We got to see so much of the lake. One other thing that’s unique to Inle, but also still in existence is the “water gardens.” Inle Lake is a bit more of a marsh, but it’s allowed them to create these extensive gardens that sit on top of the water. It’s incredible to see!

The weeds throughout the lake were also a sight to behold. There were people whose jobs it was to pull them out of the lake. I’m pretty certain these were not being paid just to pose for tourists! You can see why they have to keep up with the weeds – on our way back to the main jetty at the end of the day, our boat got stuck because the propeller got so congested with weeds!

And the other thing persisted – I think this is the greenest place I have ever seen!

Myanmar Has Vineyards?

As we biked around Inle Lake, we chose the direction of our route so that on our way back to the hostel, we would pass Red Mountain Winery – a vineyard and winery, right in Myanmar. I had no clue Myanmar had any vineyards.

But they do! This felt like the perfect opportunity to start drinking again and test whether or not it’s causing headaches. (Spoiler: I was fine the next day. The trip might be about to get more interesting.)

Getting to the vineyard, our wolves were absolutely howling – and being a good vineyard, Red Mountain is perched on the side of a hill with sweeping views of the lake below. That’s another way of saying there was a very steep hill to ride/climb before getting to wine!

As we approached, I think we all had an “Oh, crap” moment when we saw that hill – luckily, they had bike parking at the bottom (apparently we weren’t the only ones who felt that way). So we parked the bikes and walked up the hill.

As we walked, I felt every kilometer of biking. But I knew wine was at the top! And not just any wine – wine made in Myanmar! My first wine in a bit more than a month! Wine!!

We found a table on the patio and started to order our wine. The ordering process was somewhat unique in and of itself, because it wasn’t labeled quite like a normal menu in the US. For instance, I decided to try the “Late Harvest.” It did not specify a late harvest of what. (But did specify it was a white wine.)

The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were, if I remember right, the only two that made it apparent which varietal you were consuming. Well, wine tasting is always an adventure!

This was an adventure that makes me quite sure Myanmar is not the world’s best wine region. Or really even up close to the top. I have lots more wine regions to explore, but…

I couldn’t quite get the top notes of my Late Harvest – it was somewhere between dirt and an unknown oak, perhaps? Typically I would have expected something fruity or floral, but no can do. The dirt notes were fairly overwhelming.

I then decided to try the rosé (while vineyards have emerged in Myanmar, frosé has not). It was much more “rouge” than “rosé,” but did have some sweeter notes in it. By sweeter, it was a bit on the syrup-y side.

I tried the Chardonnay Meleny got and the Cabernet Sauvignon Chris got, and while the Cabernet Sauvignon was the best of the lot, I’m not going to be pining away for Myanmar wines when I return to the US.

But even though the wine wasn’t the best, the experience was wonderful. It was so relaxing to sit outside (where it wasn’t crazy hot!), with a glass of wine, looking out over the vineyard and lake. And then remembering I was in Myanmar. I don’t think I’ll ever forget my Myanmar vineyard experience.

Biking Inle Lake: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

When I was planning my trip through Myanmar, I knew I wanted to see Bagan, and I knew I wanted to go to Rangoon (sorry, Yangon). I kept reading about Inle Lake also being on the “backpacker” circuit of Myanmar, so I tentatively added it. Though I mentally had it on the list of things that could be scratched off if I needed time for something else.

I am so glad I decided to go to Inle! It’s up in the hills and the weather is much more tame than anywhere else in Myanmar. It was cool – to the point where in the evening I was happy to have my pullover on! And it was a bit cloudy while I was there, but a wonderful change from the heat of Bagan.

I was hanging out at the hostel Tuesday morning after getting in on the night bus from Bagan. (Don’t worry… that’s a story coming in a later blog post!) I was a bit tired and was generally waiting to be able to check into my room. As I was hanging out on the couch checking email or catching up on the Internet, a guy named Chris asked me what I was doing for the day. I said nothing, and he wanted to know if I wanted to join on a biking expedition around the lake. He’d met another girl on the bus and they were planning to go, but would love a third person too.

So of course I said yes. Chris, Melena, and I went next door and rented some Trek mountain bikes (slightly more expensive but being the brand snob I am, I felt better going on Trek bikes than the random super old ones the other place had… We are also talking about a 75 cent difference). And I asked to rent a helmet. (cue embarrassed face)

The lady had not one clue what I was asking to rent. And I never saw anyone with one there. So apparently helmets are not a thing.

We started our way around the lake – the hostel had a map of the typical route and said it was about a 4-6 hour loop.

I feel like this is a good time to mention it’s been a LONG time since I’ve been on a bike.

As we were riding, Chris mentioned that at the end of the day it was likely his bum would be sore (though he used a phrase that is not republishable here). Melena, from Austria, mentioned that they referred to that particular area (the specific one that’s in pain after riding a bike) as “the wolf.”

Chris and I started laughing so hard, but let me tell you – the wolf is a perfect name for it! And of course, it became the joke of the day. Any time we went over a particularly bumpy and painful stretch, one of us would howl like a wolf.

I can only imagine what the locals thought of us.

If you like the color green, Inle Lake is the perfect place for you. I have never seen so many shades of green in my life. It’s so lush and gorgeous! Everywhere you turned while biking, it was expansive views of the lake and surrounding farmland.

We rode about 15 km (I think… we didn’t have GPS, that’s an estimate based on using the scale of a map), and then stopped for lunch. The lake is big enough that you really can’t go all the way around it – but it’s normal and typical to have a boat ferry you to the other side.

We asked the restaurant owner from lunch where the boat was (whoops, rookie move), and of course, he said “right here” and pointed downhill and immediately went to go get his friend. People here are nothing if not good at trying to get as much business as possible for their friends – and at the highest rate of tourist extortion possible. But alas… they do need the money, and it’s a good way to get money closest to the people who need it.

So we got in this guy’s boat that had no chairs (it was all of our first ride on the lake… so we didn’t realize chairs were the norm). It also had no life jackets. We loaded the bikes in, and these boats are super long and thin. I constantly thought the boat was about to tip over. It did not, and we successfully made it across the lake!

But we did find out later that was definitely not the normal ferry and we definitely overpaid. (Again, “overpaid” nets out at about $4 USD.)

We continued on around the lake, stopping at the winery (come back tomorrow for that post) and then moving along back to the hotel.

All told, we biked about 30-40 km.

My wolf was definitely howling.

The Blonde ATM

Being blonde is like wearing a sign that says “I’m an ATM.”

One thing I love about Bagan over Siem Reap is that the vendors here are not nearly as aggressive and they also do not appear to be trying to rip you off quite like the Cambodians. It’s so refreshing, and in some ways I’ve been letting my guard down around some people.

As I’ve traveled and been targeted as a money-making opportunity, I realize that I’m becoming quite jaded and guarded around local people. Whenever a local comes up to me and asks where I’m from, I immediately assume that they’re trying to sell me something I don’t need or con me into something, so I walk away quickly or immediately reply to a question like “Where are you from?” with something like “No, I don’t need a tour guide.” I don’t try to connect, and I’m so suspicious of anyone coming up to me – not that they’ll do me harm, but that they’ll use any of polite answers against me in asking for money.

As I realized that, I’m working on being less suspicious of everyone I meet and enjoying some of the conversations – especially here in Myanmar. Here, generally speaking, a polite but firm “no” tends to make them go away quickly if they are trying to sell something.

But every day, everywhere I go, I am targeted because of the way I look. There’s no hiding that I’m not from around here, and they equate blondes with rich movie stars (or so they tell you as they’re selling you things).

As I was wandering the temples of Bagan on my motorbike, I was looking at one temple when a guy nearby asked if I wanted to go up on top of another one. I decided that he wasn’t carrying anything it looked like he could sell and decided to follow him – I decided to take a chance that he was just a nice person even though I was wondering how he wanted to part my money from me. (While also chastising myself for originally assuming poorly of him.)

(Spoiler: I was totally fine, this is a story about money, not assault. 🙂 )

I followed him up the stairs of the temple, and he was telling me that he was at university, studying to learn English and be a tour guide. It was at that moment that I thought to myself “Crap, this is definitely going to be a money required situation.” I absolutely hate the deceptiveness that is offering to show someone something small and then expecting money. I wish they were more up front with offering, but of course, the con is part of the game.

It’s funny culturally how when visitors come to the US (or even visit within the US), I’m generally happy to help them and show them around as long as I’m not crazy busy with something else. Even for something as simple as a lost tourist, I expect no remuneration from giving directions or suggesting a good place to go. I feel like the US is a lot like that – I can’t think of anyone I know who would expect or accept money for general help or anything short of having to take a day off work to drive strangers around or something of a similar magnitude.

So this guy, “Lin Lin” tells me he’s from Bagan, and is enjoying college. Then he asks whether or not I paid for university where I live and I told him, “Yes, we do pay for university.” He told me all about paying for school, sharing an apartment with seven roommates, having to pay for meals. I just empathized and said I remembered all of that stuff from college – it’s a definite learning and growing time. All the while I was quite annoyed with myself for not brushing him off early and let myself get into this. I was also mentally calculating the least amount of money to get out of the situation.

And we were on the top of a temple at this point, so it was extremely difficult to get away quickly, for those of you wondering why I didn’t just leave.

So he (of course) continues to tell me that in his free time he loves art. And asks if I’d look at his art. I knew he wanted me to buy something, but thought that maybe if I just looked at his art and then said no, I wouldn’t have to pay him anything else. Or, I was secretly hoping maybe he was half decent at landscapes because I do collect paintings from my travels, and thought that maybe he’d have a good one to add to my collection.

So he shows me his “art” which is done with sand and “is only done here in Bagan! Not in Yangon or Inle or anywhere else! It’s durable and packable and hand-done.” It was all horrifically ugly in my opinion – I’m just not into Buddhist symbols to put on my wall. Also, I don’t understand how they decide on the dimensions – they were all about the same aspect ratio as a panoramic photo, so framing it and then finding a place to put it would be quite difficult. If it were even nice.

I let him finish and tell him that “No, thank you, none of this art matches my house decorations, but thank you for showing it to me.” Stupid me, I still try to be polite.

It’s interesting how they anticipate the objections and then try to head them off – like describing the packability of these, and then he also told me that because they’re so durable I could make them into pillows for my couch! Then he knew that guilt works on foreigners because he told me about how he hadn’t had a sale in two days and needed one and that it’s lucky money.

The internet is an interesting thing. As it gives tips to tourists like “go to the market early because in many Asian cultures, the first sale of the day is considered ‘lucky money’ and so you are likely to get a better deal,” the people in these countries are reading the same tip and exploiting it. By telling customers it’s “lucky money” the tourist will have heard that that means a better deal – and thus be more inclined to buy whatever is on offer.

The sob story continued of how expensive college is, etc, and I held firm that no, I was not going to be buying any art. Another interesting cultural thing is that I considered it nice of me to allow him the opportunity to sell me something because it does take up my time. I think in general, people here are a bit different – it’s not just about giving time, but they definitely are upset if you do not part with money.

Which, again, just breeds my suspicions!

Finally, I kept saying no enough that he realized I would not buy, and then asked for a tip because he wants to be a guide and showed me this place. At that point, I wanted to get away from him as quickly as I could, so I gave him 1,000 Kyat and then walked away. He was probably less than impressed with my tip. It works out to about $.73USD.

I was less than impressed with him not being up front with what he wanted from me.

Where the Wind Comes Sweeping Down the Plains: Bagan

Bagan is the most magical place to get lost in. There are miles and miles of dirt paths, and the general way you get around is by renting an electric motorbike and just exploring.

Bagan is simultaneously incredibly easy to get lost in and incredibly hard to get lost in. When you’re going through the paths, there are always secret temples that you feel like you discover. But then, when you’re trying to go back to your hotel, it’s always pretty easy to find the main roads to get you home.

There are three types of temples here – temples, pagodas, and stupas. My understanding of the difference (someone please correct me if you know better) is that temples have an inside and generally have multiple statues of Buddha, and they have an inside that you can move around in.

Stupas have just one entrance and exit and they typically have just one statue of Buddha.

Pagodas have no entrances or exits and are merely monuments pointing up to the sky.

There are just hundreds of each type here! Each one is a little different and has its own uniqueness. Some are placed incredibly close together, and some are isolated in their own area. It’s hard to imagine all the work that went into building all of these.

One other thing that makes Bagan unique among many of the ancient sites is that it is still an active religious site. So it’s crucial to be respectful of their rules – which is why you see no pictures of me with Buddha. It’s bad form to take photos, even though the statues are amazing!

You also have to take your shoes off for entering. This isn’t so bad for the temples themselves, but gosh it’s painful on your feet for climbing stupas and pagodas! Not to mention if you’re climbing up stairs in a temple, there are likely to be loose stones along your path. So you have to watch both your head and your feet.

The weather here reminds me of Oklahoma – it is so windy! It’s been like a really windy day in Oklahoma every day I’ve been here. The landscape is also similar – rolling hills, some scrub brush, trees not too tall. And of course there’s a lot in common between the sunrises and sunsets in both places.

One difference here is that the paths are not yet paved – so with it being loose sand, it kicks up with the wind and with your motorbike. No matter how much I shower or how much I scrub, I feel like I’m constantly surrounded by a layer of sand and dirt!

I’m happy I made it here now – I can see it changing dramatically for tourism in the next few years, and I’m glad I got to experience it while it was still relatively free and open.

Sunrises and Sunsets in Bagan

One of the highlights I’d planned for this trip was getting to see sunrise and sunset in Bagan. Bagan is a place in Myanmar where there are over 4,000 pagodas, stupas, and temples dotting the landscape. The pictures other people took were breathtaking, and so I decided I wanted to go.

One highlight is climbing up these ancient stupas or temples to get a great vantage point for watching the sun. There’s something so incredible about getting to sit there, in silence, and watch the sun come up or down.

I’m lucky I came right now – starting in September (the start of their next high season), people will no longer be allowed to climb the temples. Long-term, this is definitely a good thing for the preservation of Bagan – on the temples you can see the effects of people constantly traipsing up and down them. There are loose bricks, and some areas that almost cave with all of the tourists.

Not to mention, it’s honestly quite dangerous. The temples have these tiny staircases that have ceilings around 5 feet – I am constantly hitting my head. These are also pitch black, even in daytime! It’s worth it to carry your headlamp with you, because you never know when you might need it.

And there’s the part where you navigate your electric motorbike over rock-filled extremely sandy paths. The bikes will frequently fishtail, and when you’re trying to navigate in the pitch black before sunrise or after sunset, it’s honestly quite difficult. The bikes have a headlamp on them, but that tends to not be quite enough. I made it through two sunrises uneventfully, and then on my third (my last), I accidentally crashed the motorbike not once but twice!

The good thing about the sand is that it is very forgiving, so I’m completely fine. But it did rattle me more than a bit!

It’s sad to sit watching sunset knowing that I’m among the last people to have the opportunity. I’m so glad I came, and so thankful for the opportunity. And I think this will end up being like climbing the Pyramids in Egypt – people today barely remember that you used to be able to.

When the sun comes up in Bagan, it puts on a show. The fiery reds and oranges remind me a lot of Oklahoma (in fact, a lot of this landscape reminds me of Oklahoma. More on that in tomorrow’s post. 🙂 ). Then there’s always a bit of mist rising up and as the sun reveals spires as far as the eye can see, there’s nothing like it in the world. It took my breath away every morning I saw it.

One funny thing with Bagan is that it tends to be a very sleepy and chill town – sunrise and sunset are the main attractions, so you have a ton of people waking up early, going to sunrise, seeing a few temples, and then heading back to their hotels to nap or lay by the pool for most of the day.

Then, come sunset, everyone comes back out. It’s an amazing and relaxing feeling because I feel so wonderfully lazy all day long but then I’ve also done so much by the time all is said and done.