PART VIII: THE BIG BAGO TOUR MAKES THREE FOR THREE
1/29/13–Hpa-An: Amazingly, Snowy wakes me up at 6:30 am. I have not slept well as I have woke coughing several times during the night. I decide to rest and send them on the monastery summit hike. I hate to miss it but it’s the right choice. I organize, get coffee and now I will look for some internet. They should be back by noon or 12:30 in time to catch our bus to Bago (rhymes with flu).
The internet is useless as usual. I give up; no big deal. Walking around town I see a shop with an old sewing machine in front. The shopkeeper comes out and I show him my daypack coming apart at a seam and motion if he can repair it. He speaks some English and quickly motions for me to follow. We get into a fairly new Nissan Sentra he has parked outside his shop and maneuver down a couple of very crowded streets for awhile.
After a bit we pull up in front of another shop which makes tarps and banners and has a couple of industrial sewing machines. I sit beside one while the shopkeeper quickly repairs my daypack. The cost is 200 kyat or 25 US cents. Everyone is so nice and we exchange ‘mingalabas’ and laugh and smile. The first shop owner drives me back and asks me if I am staying at Soi Bros which I am. What a wonderful experience! I cross the alley for some lunch and then hook up with Ryan and Snowy. We grab packs and walk to the bus stop. We’re off on a 6 hour trip to Bago!
Getting off the bus around 6:30 pm onto a very busy highway is noisy and a bit disorienting. We are about to walk over to where we have made a reservation (a LP listing with shared BR and no hot water which at $35 seems a bit expensive for here). A guy stops us and tells us the hotel across the street is really nice and clean. We decide we have nothing to lose by checking it out. It’s a real winner with private bath and hot water! We check in for what will be our last triple ($8 each) and meet the night manager who turns out to be a fountain of information and very willing to talk about the government, Bago, etc. He arranges a tour that he will personally lead tomorrow. We walk around the corner and have the best meal we have had in Burma to date. Ryan and I share a duck with fresh stir-fried snow peas and cauliflower–al dente! Yum.
The following morning we meet our guide at 7:30. We are off making four stops before returning for breakfast. We each ride on the back of a motorbike. Our drivers are really good and effortlessly weave through the crazy traffic. We are paying $10 for the day each and we will not have to pay the government entrance fee at any of the attractions. They take us in back ways and up dirt alleys. It is really a slice of life unseen by most tourists. A couple of the temples have not even opened yet. We have them to ourselves.
Several temples n Myanmar speak of having the largest reclining Buddha (so does Thailand come to think of it). Although the reclining Buddha to which this foot attaches is over 100 meters long, it is not the largest that we wil see today.
After breakfast we are off again. It is a very full day which includes several pagoda sites. At stop number six, I am impressed by the largest reclining Buddha I have seen.
Right on schedule, we hit the main monastery when the monks are returning from collecting alms and about to eat. We are given permission to photograph them.
Next, our guide takes us to visit some friends of his who have a cigar rolling operation. They are the cutest little girls. On average one person can make 900-1,000 cigars a day. A slow worker might make 800 and a really fast one might make 1,200+. They earn US$2/day on average.
Later we visit a rural family farming operation, also friends of our guide. Sometimes he sleeps there to get away from the tourists and cell phones. We get to really see what Burmese farm life is like (it’s hard work but folks seem genuinely happy).
One more afternoon temple stop. Appropriately, these statues are ready for the major downpour (my first) which hits after we arrive.
Heading back to the hotel we see a climbing competition. Teams consist of three young men who attempt to climb a bamboo pole that has been set in the ground. No one makes it all the way up. (Anyone remember the county fair greased pig chases?)
We’re back to the hotel around 3:30 pm. We change some money and grab a late lunch. Following an hour’s snooze we meet up again at 5:15 pm for a trip to a mountaintop pagoda for the sunset and finally back to the guesthouse.
This has been three amazing ‘off-the-grid’ tours in a row and I have had my concepts of tours challenged as a result. I still love independent travel but the experiences and people of Mawlawyine, Hpa-An and Bago with which we have interacted have been priceless. We have a great dinner at same place as the night before. I edit some photos and crash.
The following morning we travel first to Yangon. We get to Whitehouse around 10:30 stash our packs. After much discussion, Ryan and Snowy decide to go to capital tonight and I will go to Bagan tonight as well by bus, arriving early morning. Perhaps we will hook up the following day.
The bus leaves at 7:10 pm. Not the super luxury bus that was promised but it will do, after all, I survived the 10 hour train ride to Mawlaymine. Around 10:00 pm we stop and everybody gets off for a 30 minute dinner stop. The scene is totally surreal. We are out in the middle of nowhere. There are restaurants and stalls packed side by side all selling the same crappie food. Looks like turds that have been in chafing dishes too many hours. For some reason I am not hungry. There are colored flashing lights everywhere…even some neon. It looks like a scene out of Rhinestone Cowboy or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but without the fancy stuff. Think Fellini dream sequence.