Probably the best way to appreciate the sheer scale of Ancient Bagan is a sunrise hot-air balloon ride. This sounded great but unfortunately it was a bit out of my price range at £230. My roommate Jamie did it this morning and said that it was fantastic. For £228 less (although without the champagne and croissant breakfast) I was able to hire a bike from the hotel, ride along a bumpy road in the pitch dark, climb up a temple and join a fair few other people assembled at 6am to enjoy the sunrise. Someone said that the climbing of temples is to be outlawed next month. I’m not sure if this is to help preserve the structures or is on health and safety grounds, with the uneven steps and big drops not being ideal for the masses straddling.
I managed to obtain a great spot on a ledge that provided lovely panoramic views. As it became light a nice hazy pagoda silhouette view emerged on the horizon. This was soon enhanced by a rising red sun. The amazing views were made even more spectacular when the hot-air balloons floated across the landscape. While the scenery looks good on camera it was even more spectacular to view in three dimensions with your own eyes. By 7 o’clock I was back at the hotel breakfast following what was a great start to the day.
I think that I’ve already mentioned that I’m not a big fan of selfie sticks or iPad photographers, particularly at tourists sites. Perhaps an even bigger scourge on modern life is the drone. Some plank had one today and it was getting on my nerves. The buzzing noise was incredibly irritating, especially during what was supposed to be a peaceful and tranquil sunrise. Without wishing to sound like a boring old fart it’s only a matter of time before one of these things flies into a temple or drops out of the sky and whacks someone (such as me) on the head!
With the rest of the day ahead we had another day out with That, yesterday’s tour guide. For $10 he arranged a minibus to drive us around some of the local sights. The first stop was as close to a tourist trap as you’ll find in Myanmar. As with seemingly everywhere else in the underdeveloped tourism sector here there was no hard or even mild sell. It’s been refreshing to visit a place where you’re not constantly harassed as a potential cash source. This was a place at the side of the road and contained a few craft stalls. A bull was also walking around in circles in order to grind peanut oil. We were provided with samples of fermented alcohol from palm trees as well as some overwhelmingly sweet delicacies. One of the employees asked us if we wanted to try something. I didn’t really understand the question so politely said OK. He then shot up an extremely tall tree without the aid of any safety equipment. It was some sort of liquid pulp that didn’t taste great to me. I’d have felt bad if the poor fellow had fallen out of the tree while obtaining it.
Today’s main event was Mount Popa. All I’d heard about Mt Popa is that it’s some sort of dormant volcano. After the mud volcano episode in Colombia I wasn’t sure what to expect. Perhaps a bit of a hill with a view? When Mt Popa came into view it was was greeted with a few wows. It’s essentially a huge stand-alone rock with a temple at the peak. The minibus dropped us off at the bottom. Walking up the 777 steps to the summit wasn’t as bad as it perhaps it sounds despite been barefooted due to being technically inside a temple. As would be expected the views were nice.
There were monkeys all over the place on and around Mt Popa and they certainly weren’t shy. That said they’ll steal anything off you except for maybe water, which they don’t tend to fancy. Amazingly some people were even encouraging the monkeys with food. While they can be quite cute a lot of them are nasty buggers who will have it away with your belongings or worse still, bite you. I certainly wouldn’t fancy testing the rabies treatments in Myanmar.