“20 dollars for an entry?”. No way. Knowing we were entering the most touristy place in Myanmar -Bagan- we had to have a plan. And we did. Hitchhiking from Nyaung Shwe was long but helped us avoid paying for expensive bus tickets and… for the entry. Our driver understood our situation so he didn’t mind us hiding like a couple of criminals on the back seat. 3 minutes of suspense and the gate was behind. $40 more in the pocket! As it was already dark there was no time for being picky with a place to sleep. A hotel was out of question, the cheapest room would be probably $25… We put our mats next to an ancient pagoda in the city center and hoped dogs would leave us alone.
In the morning a local family welcomed us with a smile offering a water and breakfast. We didn’t want to act like homeless and use their good heart so we refused but the man offered us money instead. You can imagine how uncomfortable it made us feel. Pure, innocent Burmese people, helping some spoiled foreigners who know nothing about poverty… I felt bad cuz I thought I didn’t deserve all this generosity and warmth they offered us. These people are just amazing. We planned 2 days in Bagan and we definitely had to find a better spot to sleep. It wasn’t easy though, Burmese weather wanted to terminate us. As we hired 2 bicycles we rode from the center to the complex of temples where we hoped to find some empty spot. After pedaling in 40°C with our big backpacks and finally finding a place next to some empty pagoda we wanted anything but not visiting. I’ve never experienced such heat for so long, where was the rainforest and wide rivers I imagined coming here?
Bagan looked like a mix of a desert and a savanna. The temples were spread all over the place but few giants stood out in the horizon. Firstly we got to New Bagan where we found an interesting Lacquerware workshop and Bu pagoda that gathered lots of local people praying and selling food by Ayeyarwaddy river. When the heat decreased we came to the old town to see the temples that dated around 9 centuries. The most impressive for me was white Thatbyinnyu and brick Dhammayangyi temple where we watched sunset from. Both colossal and both having some mystery around them.
We survived the night in the tent and bloodthirsty mosquitoes so the next day, after having a “shower” in an empty public bathroom we were fresh and ready for more. Early in the morning we managed to visit few more temples with Shwezigon Pagoda at the top where we burnt our feet on the red-hot temple’s floor. Enough pagodas. Since we came to Burma we’ve seen probably hundreds of them and, honestly, all of them looked exactly the same to me. I respect every religion but I can’t stop myself from asking one question: “Why is there so much gold needed?”. Anyway, that night the Internet was our god. Tired of traveling and endless heat we spent the whole afternoon in local cafes, chatting and skyping with our families. In the evening we left the city in order to find some bus to Ngapali Beach.
As we thought, there was none. At least not a direct one. We decided to take a night bus to the next town, having a nap before on the top floor of travel agency’s building. It was a tough night and tough day. Hitchhiking was really slow because of terrible roads where you could see 1 car per hour. In Ann we lost hope waiting for about 2 hours for a ride. At least the local people at the petrol station took care of us, clearly feeling sorry for some idiots wanting to die of thirst in the middle of the road. Well, pity helps as in this unbearable heat someone finally stopped. The West of Myanmar was totally different than the other parts of the country. Rakhine state was beautiful but really desolate. Area full of hills and forests seemed forgotten by the rest of the world. Roads were mostly unpaved and from time to time we could see people (including women) who worked hard crushing stones and building new roads. When I looked at them I thought of all the people under the oppressive military regime who only few years ago were forced to work hard for the government… It made me feel sad. These people deserve so much more and even if the situation is not perfect right now I hope the country will slowly rebuild itself afresh. We spent the night in a monastery in Ma-Ei where helpful soldiers brought us after seeing us wandering around the army base. What would we do without monks?
The next day we got to Ngapali. Another posh place, full of tourists with a German accent and thick wallets, occupying the best resorts of Ngapali. Although I would happily change the place with them for these 3 days we couldn’t afford their luxuries. Instead of this, we found a cozy hotel that was still being built. There was no one there so we made ourselves comfortable on the first floor that overlooked the sea, surrounded by nails, wooden boards and concrete walls. Maybe not a Sheraton but at least the location was excellent. We had a golden beach outside, shower and sunbeds right next to our place and an amazing restaurant that served the best sea food in the world. Fuck Sheraton, we were in a paradise. The first day we did nothing, reading, enjoying the beach and a clear water of Bay of Bengal.
Ngapali was really unique. Comparing to the other beaches I’ve seen in my life this one was completely untouched and filled with a local spirit. We visited Jake Taw fishing village, passing thousands of sardines being dried on the sun and fish skeletons, covering the beach. The time stopped there and even though 1 km further new European resorts were rising, the place seemed not to be affected by tourism at all. While we were consuming our lunch on some old stairs by the main street, suddenly we saw a smiley face of a monk in the window, inviting us to his monastery for lunch. Good timing! The monks were so hospitable, generous and genuinely happy about our visit, I just can’t describe how these people inspired me every day I was in Burma. The last day we went for a boat trip with a local guy Mr Chit. I tried snorkeling for the first time and even though the coral wasn’t that impressive it was definitely worth it. Together with Mr Chit we did some fishing so when we got to the Paradise Beach we helped him to cook our preys. This place was exactly what we needed. The beach was surrounded by palm trees where a lovely family lived, doing fishing and building a huge houseboat nearby. If I just had the Internet, I could live there (I’m a slave, I won’t deny). We had an amazing afternoon enjoying the azure sea and snorkeling around the Pearl island. I wouldn’t mind staying in Ngapali for another…year? But our visa was ticking so the next day we had to leave our lovely construction site and head to the capital.