We arrive in Bagan at 8am. Which makes the bus journey 17 hours. I have no idea how Vicky and Mat ever did 24 hour bus rides...that to me would be one of my ultimate nightmares. Anyways we arrive and straight away we are acosted. Every cycle rickshaw and horse cart driver wants to ask for our business. So in the short 10 minute walk to the guesthouse we must say no thank you at least 100 times. Its stupid if you ask me why they crowd round us. If we say no to one, then why would we say yes to the 50th person down the line??? My patience is wearing thin and luckily we find a nice guesthouse before anymore people can ask us. It is quite plain to see that times are hard round here. Anyone who is reliant on tourists is feeling the pinch. The guesthouse gives us a $2 discount and the best room they have just to secure our business. We are the only ones staying here and they have been empty for weeks.
We freshen up and go for a walk to get our bearings. The constant requests for cyclos and horse and carts is ever constant but Lesh deals with them while I walk on. He eventually secures a horse for tomorrow at a good price and the guy seems nice. He has a white and brown horse which makes him easy to spot since everyone else just has brown horses. We walk round and find a nice posh restaurant on the riverside for brunch. Again it is empty and they seem surprised that a customer has walked in. The place is expensive but we treat ourselves since it is 2 meals in one and since we just came off a nightmare bus ride. We sit on a balcony overlooking the Irrawady river and the boats and fishermen and we have a breeze around us...and finally I can start to relax.
After food we walk to the market but it is closed so we make a long loop back to the hotel. As we reach the hotel we see a massage place and decide to stop. The woman gets out her testimonial book and it looks like an ok place. Only problem is her hut has no fan and deffo no aircon...so it is one sweaty massage. Lesh has the main woman and I get the assistant. Shes not as good but I just want to sleep so I'm not bothered. Its all going good till the end. Lesh is finished so the main woman takes over on me. The last 5 minutes is not massaging as such but pinching. First she takes the muscle inbetween my thumb and forefinger and she pinches and pulls it so hard that I instantly wake up out of my sleepy state and start screaming in pain. Lesh laughs and says...ooh you felt that didn't you...wait till she does your head. I am wide awake now and panicing at what she will do next. I am yelling and screaming out as she digs her knuckles and finger into my head and neck...but no amount of shouting stops her. I am worried when she is near my temples...you can kill people round this area. Luckily I survive but I vow never to have a massge by her again. For an hour afterwards that bit between my thumb and finger is tingling and sore.
We go back to the room for a rest before we go out and see some temples at sunset. When we get to the room and shower, we rest for a bit but then the power goes off, so sleeping is out of the question. So we go off to hire 2 bikes and make our way to the temples. The bikes are hilarious one speed contraptions. It feels so funny compared to Kit. Luckily the roads round here are flat! We set off for Old Bagan which is where many of the temples are based. One is known as sunset temple and so we think we should head there. It is breathtaking cycling down to the temples. As far as the eye can see there are pagodas and stupas all around. No one is sure exactly how many there are but the guess is way over 4000. Newer temples are being built all the time which is why the number is always growing. We stop at a few temples along the way but don't go inside. When we stop 2 young boys come and attack us to buy postacrds and paintings. The paintings are actually quite nice but we tell he boy to come find us tomorrow since we don't have any money on us. We keep heading towards the sunset and are looking for the correct temple when a local guy on a bike asks us which one we are looking for. He shows us the way asking lots of questions as we cycle. His english is good. When he drops us off at the right place he invites us to his home tomorrow to come and see him making laquerware, which has been his families business for hundreds of years. He writes down directions and we agreed to meet him either tomorrow or the day after.
The sunset pagoda looks nothing close up. However you have to climb up 5 flights of mega steep steps and then once at the top is where the view is. Its a panoramic view of bagan and it is spectacular. I can see thousands of pagodas, from huge to small dotted all around. Some are so grand in scale that they look like pyramids. The only thing that spoils it is the incessant will you buy a postcard from one pesky little girl. She is way annoying and even one boy who is trying to sell paintings tells her to jigger off. The sunset is actually not that good as it is cloudy which is a bummer. The top of the pagoda is quite busy in the end with about 20 people on it....but we are the only foreign tourists. In fact I think we are the only foreign tourists in town as we have not seen anyone else the whole day.
We cycle back and go for dinner in an indian restaurant nearby. It is voted as one of the top 5 restaurants in Burma by Lonely Planet. It is run by a Burmese family who's family originated from Darjeeling. The father of the family is a nice man who speaks perfect english. He tells us that business has been non existant since September. In times gone by his restaurant has has 70 paying customers at a time eating. Now he feels lucky if he has 1 person a day. You can tell by his voice that times are hard. The food is not cheap but it is excellent and we feel worth the splurge. For them their market is only tourists. Locals would not pay their prices. Its not like in Yangon where you get the rich locals who can afford to splash out on good expensive food. So he just prays that the tourists will have faith again soon and come back.
I've enjoyed my first day in Bagan and I can't wait for the full day of seeing the temples tomorrow. This place might as well be a different universe from Yangon. Round here it feels more like South East Asia. Walking down the road we could be in a small Malaysia Kampung or in a small village in Laos...but in Yangon you don't get that vibe. Yangon has a pure South Asia vibe....ie India. The smells, the look of the streets and the city, the noise, the dirt...yep deffo India. I must say I do love India....but give me the choice of Yangon over Bagan and it is Bagan hands down.