Bagan
After another early morning wake up from our driver Aung, we were in route to Bagan.

The drive would be a total of about 8 hours with a few stops along the way.  First off we stopped at the Snake Head Pagoda. We were all pretty Pagoda’ed out at this point, but it was a good chance to stretch our legs. Upon entering a rather boring exterior, we made our way near the seated Gold Buddha were without exception someone was asking for “Donation”. Our driver complied and the person requesting the donation started chanting and moving the money all over the Golden Buddha, it was interesting in it own way, but it wasn’t until our driver asked us to move forward that we got to see the real show.

Snake Head Temple on road to Bagan from Mandallay, Myanmar

Lying around the base of the Buddha were three snakes ranging from about 6-10 feet in length, flicking there tongues at us, slowly crawling over one another.

We were then invited to hold a snake. I don’t have a fear of snakes at all, but Matt, who is probably about 6’2” and is built like a linebacker, was a little bit more hesitant. After his wife and I both did our duty of holding these mammoth beasts for photos, it was time for Matt to man up, and hesitantly, with sweat on his brow and hands shaking, he managed to touch the snake in the way someone would dab their finger into freezing water to test the temperature.  A touch with the tip of one finger, a pause, as if counting in his head what an acceptable time limit is, only to quickly retract his hand and shake it as if to get some kind of snake residue off his hand. After Matt had proven his “manliness“, we made it over to the next room where we saw the snakes “bath” and photos of the many visitors to the pagoda.

The one that amused me the most was the one of a 6 month old infant in the “bath” with the ten foot snake wrapped around it. Parenting in South East Asia is a bit different than the in the United States.
We then cruised for quite a few more hours until we reach Mount Popa, which if it wasn’t for seeing the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan last year, would have been far more impressive. The pagoda sat perched on top of a steep monolith of stone that had remained as the rest of the earth had eroded away. In keeping with the safari theme of the day, this pagoda was completely over run with Monkey. I have never seen such a high concentration of monkey in my life. They had completely taken over the town, and looking down from the top of the hill to the buildings below you can see the hundreds of monkeys, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, running down alleyways, stealing food, and causing havoc. It just didn’t seem to be Matt’s day after having a near panic attack with the snakes, it was time to test his heart again as one of the larger monkeys decided it would be fun to jump on his back and attack his backpack. After a few of the natives chased it off, they donated a monkey clobbering stick to Matt which he held on to, white knuckled, like a security blanket. After the attack we all took wide berths around even the most unassuming monkeys.
That evening we arrived in Bagan, just in time for sunset over the 3,000+ temples.  As I laid down for sleep that night the power cut out. Something that happens often in Myanmar. Without A/C it was going to be a long night. Before to long the power slowly started to flicker back on, at the point there was a loud pop from the 10 inch black and white tv just a foot away from the right side of my bed. Smoke and sparks started billowing out of it as I jumped up in a dash for the door. I was torn, either run outside like a mad man in my underwear or pull the plug on the tv, which continued to spark and pour smoke into the room. I envisioned myself attempting to pull the plug and electrocuting myself with 210 volts only to be found the next morning half naked, hands blackened, sprawled out on the floor. Luckily, using my rubber sandals, I was able to pull the plug, after which I went around my room unplugging every light and the mini fridge. Now in completely darkness, with only the rattle and hum of the now questionable A/C unit,  I was able to put my head down and have a restless night thinking I was certainly going to wake up in a blazing inferno.
The next morning was early, again, so that we could catch sunrise, but the weather didn’t work out as it was overcast. After getting back to our hotel we hopped on our bikes to ride around to all the temples. Along the way we picked up a young Burmese guy who wanted to practice his English and wasn’t looking for anything else other than for us to “see“ his paintings. He spent the better part of the day with us and was a pretty helpful guide. All the children at the temples were amazing, very polite, and their sales pitch was that they would follow you around the temple, being a very helpful guide in whatever language you like, as most of them spoke 5 or 6, and on exit they would ask you to see there store, usually a mish mash of local handicrafts. They were beautiful children, with Thanaka designs painted on their faces, with smiles that were white and wide, you wanted to help everyone of them. I helped out a few, I am pretty sure Brooke, Matt’s wife, helped out the rest. I am lucky my wife wasn’t with me as we would have needed another piece of luggage for just what we picked up in Bagan and would have never made it past the first temple.
At one of the temples we were cornered by some villagers who we can only guess, have not seen or rarely see white people. They first asked for pictures with Brooke, what first started as one or two, seemed to grow into a few hundred. The men would put their arm around Brooke and the crowd would cheer, showing their mostly toothless mouths. The older ladies wanted their picture with Matt and they would grab his rear end and the crowd would cheer again. I of course was an oddity where most of the people would just stare at me with their mouth agape. It made their day just to watch me have to duck through doorways that they could only touch with their arms and fingers outstretched.
That evening we saw another wonderful sunset and quickly passed out after dinner.  The next morning we were up nice and early again to make our way to Inle Lake in the Shan State of Myanmar. The road from Yangon to Mandalay was in pretty good shape, this one was not, most of the road was completely washed out in many places and was steep and winding as it climbed into the mountains to Inle Lake. The Shan state houses many of the rebel groups and is heavily mined and restricted to foreign travelers. Apparently the most aggressive, is a group of rebel Shan Women. Like in many third world countries domestic abuse is high, but unless you want to wake up in the morning as a eunuch, you wont touch your wife in the Shan State. They protect their own and are one of the few rebel groups that continue to have expanding borders against the government on the land they control.
After getting there after sunset and a quick dinner of more oily Burmese cuisine we went to bed early. The next morning, surprise, surprise, was early as we went to our boat to see the local villages get going for the day. Inle lake is Myanmars version of Venice, just bigger and with very little built on actual land. Most of the homes and businesses are built on stilts and there are many villages some having populations exceeding 20,000. They are also famous of the leg paddling, which the person on the back of the boat balances on one foot while the other leg curls around the oar to paddle. I am sure the learning curve is high, but we saw people for 5 years old on up paddling their boats this way. The most interesting thing about the lake was not any one structure but instead the culture and how these people choose to continue to live this way. Seems like an odd and difficult lifestyle choice but I’ve seen worse. There was a festival going on and that afternoon we were able to see the procession of leg paddling locals drag some holy relic from one village to another. It was like a traditional parade, but instead of people sitting on the street side, they were hanging out of windows, sitting on there docks, or in boats watching the line of rowers go by.
We found a great little restaurant for dinner, where we had fresh pesto and gnocchi, which was impressively good and a nice break from Myanmar Cuisine. To be honest none of us are sure if the food was any good at all but the rest of the food in Myanmar was just so bad. Most dishes were just a bowl of oil with a little bit of chicken cartilage, bone, and a little bit meat, with whatever seasoning you want, served, upon request, with white rice. I tried fried noodles, fried rice, curry dishes, fish dishes, all with the same amount of oil, poured like gravy,  over everything. Without a doubt the worst meals I had in South East Asia. I don’t think the locals liked it either as their diet consisted mostly of Myanmar Beer and Betel Nut.
Tomorrow I begin my long journey home, 3 full days of traveling. Yipee…

We then cruised for quite a few more hours until we reached Mount Popa, which if it wasn’t for seeing the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan last year, would have been far more impressive. The pagoda sat perched on top of a steep monolith of stone that had remained as the rest of the earth had eroded away. In keeping with the safari theme of the day, this pagoda was completely overrun with Monkey.

I have never seen such a high concentration of monkey in my life.

They had completely taken over the town, and looking down from the top of the hill to the buildings below you can see the hundreds of monkeys, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, running down alleyways, stealing food, and causing havoc. It just didn’t seem to be Matt’s day after having a near panic attack with the snakes, it was time to test his heart again as one of the larger monkeys decided it would be fun to jump on his back and attack his backpack. After a few of the natives chased it off, they donated a monkey clobbering stick to Matt which he held on to, white knuckled, like a security blanket. After the attack we all took wide berths around even the most unassuming monkeys.

Looking over 3000 Stupas in Bagan at Sunset

That evening we arrived in Bagan, just in time for sunset over the 3,000+ temples.

As I laid down for sleep that night the power cut out. Something that happens often in Myanmar. Without A/C it was going to be a long night.  Before to long, the power slowly started to flicker back on. At the point there was a loud pop from the 10 inch black and white tv just a foot away from the right side of my bed. Smoke and sparks started billowing out of it as I jumped up in a dash for the door. I was torn, either run outside like a mad man in my underwear or pull the plug on the tv, which continued to spark and pour smoke into the room. I envisioned myself attempting to pull the plug and electrocuting myself with 210 volts only to be found the next morning half naked, hands blackened, sprawled out on the floor. Luckily, using my rubber sandals, I was able to pull the plug, after which I went around my room unplugging every light and the mini fridge. Now in completely darkness, with only the rattle and hum of the now questionable A/C unit,  I was able to put my head down and have a restless night thinking I was certainly going to wake up in a blazing inferno.

The next morning was early, again, so that we could catch sunrise, but the weather didn’t work out as it was overcast.

After getting back to our hotel we hopped on our bikes to ride around to all the temples. Along the way we picked up a young Burmese guy who wanted to practice his English and wasn’t looking for anything else other than for us to “see“ his paintings. He spent the better part of the day with us and was a pretty helpful guide. All the children at the temples were amazing, very polite, and their sales pitch was that they would follow you around the temple, being a very helpful guide in whatever language you like, as most of them spoke 5 or 6, and on exit they would ask you to see there store, usually a mish mash of local handicrafts. They were beautiful children, with Thanaka designs painted on their faces, their smiles that were white and wide, you wanted to help everyone of them. I helped out a few, I am pretty sure Brooke, Matt’s wife, helped out the rest. I am lucky my wife wasn’t with me as we would have needed another piece of luggage for just what we picked up in Bagan and would have never made it past the first temple.

At one of the temples we were cornered by some villagers who we can only guess, have not seen or rarely see white people.

They first asked for pictures with Brooke, what first started as one or two, seemed to grow into a few hundred. The men would put their arm around Brooke and the crowd would cheer, showing their mostly toothless mouths. The older ladies wanted their picture with Matt and they would grab his rear end and the crowd would cheer again. I of course was an oddity where most of the people would just stare at me with their mouth agape. It made their day just to watch me have to duck through doorways that they could only touch with their arms and fingers outstretched.

That evening we saw another wonderful sunset and quickly passed out after dinner. Off to Inle Lake tomorrow…
Written by The Restless Giant
Ryan is a traveler who works just long enough to get to his next trip. He usually has numerous trips in the pipeline and, when possible, brings his family along with him.