After a jam-packed first day on arrival in Bagan, the second was just as busy, but somehow, much more leisurely.

First things first, after a sensational sunset from the North Guni temple looking out over Old Bagan, we had an early start to catch another beautiful phenomenon, it was time to see the sunrise.

For this, we made our way to a different temple, one where we could not only watch the sun climb up into the endless blue sky, but also where we could witness hundreds of hot air balloons rise, float and then gently fall back down to earth. Bags packed with just a few essentials, Min arranged for our early bus pickup and with the help of torches and phone lights we headed up to the top of the temple in complete darkness. There was not as many people here this time (nobody likes to get up this early). The area was much more spacious at the top of this pagoda, I couldn’t wait to see the view unfold in front of us.

As the light started to creep over the hills in the distance, a couple in their wedding attire appeared with a photography crew, a full on pre-wedding photo shoot was about to occur, I couldn’t think of a more fantastic location!

We all sat together, watching the sun rise up as we chatted excitedly about the day ahead. The cool wind started to fade, the glowing morning light cast out over the land, but we still couldn’t see those balloons….???

We got up to explore and then there they were! to the left of where we had been looking this whole time, silently in the distance, floating up one by one, some of them carrying our friends. It really was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

 

 

The lovely Jonathon Phang had actually told me that the balloon ride over Bagan was the one thing I shouldn’t miss. As someone who is petrified of heights I couldn’t begin to imagine being in a basket in the sky. I did pledge to face my fears and as much as it scared me, I did try and book onto a balloon, however many of us found that bookings need to be made well in advance as it’s extremely popular. So, if you are wanting to experience the view from above – Book a balloon flight as soon as you can.

Nevertheless, the view from the top of our temple was just as spectacular (although I have nothing to compare it to haha!) and it was so nice to hear nothing but the occasional burner from a balloon floating past us.

 

 

Top Tip: Torches are essential if you’re heading out to watch the sunrise. There is no light whatsoever when you climb the steps in the temple, you’ll need something to help you see! 

 

After a relaxing morning and an indulgent breakfast at the hotel. It was time to join the group exploring old Bagan… on bikes. When I read ‘bike tour’ on the itinerary I was excited. When I saw the bike in front of me, excitement?? Errr, not so much. Grabbing the handlebars I remembered the last time I was on one of these things was at the Manchester Sky Ride in the city, where within just ten minutes of being on the road, my family and I had been part of a bike pile up which resulted in me falling flat on my back and weeks of agony and my sister suffering a serious knee injury and ending up on crutches.

Fear of breaking my back again aside, I sucked it up and tried my best to deal with it, without being the big baby of the group. Really hard when you’ve never cycled on a road with trucks flying past you every five minutes and the occasional sandy spot which I always happened to be the one to get stuck in.

My childish issues aside…. cycling in Old Bagan is the perfect way to explore the many, many temples. Min had arranged for a kind of guide to show us round, Coco was handy with bike repairs and knew the area. So he was going to lead the way, guiding us to the best temples and saving us the hassle of navigating and worrying about direction.

We stopped off first at the local market, and from there we went to a number of beautiful pagodas. I’m not going to talk you through each and every one, instead I’m going to share some of my snaps, of which there are many.

 

 

Top tip: Pumps make the perfect Bagan cycling shoe – sturdy enough to cycle with, but still a slip on – which comes in handy when you’re visiting so many temples! Also be sure to pack enough water. Cycling in the heat can be extremely dehydrating. 

 

After a spot of lunch, the group then split – half went on to continue exploration, and the other half of us decided to head off to enjoy a Burmese cooking class, where we spent the rest of the evening.. but that I shall save, as the cookery class warrants its own blog post for sure.

I will share a couple of sneaky pics though…

 

 

There you have it. Day 2 done and dusted. Long shower, comfy bed and a good nights rest ready for another early start to day 3…

 

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After a love-hate relationship with the overnight train, we finally reached Bagan. Our guide, Min, had arranged for a coach to take us to our hotel and after a quick check in and freshen up, we were ready to embrace the rest of the day, exploring Bagan temples and local village life in this new part of Myanmar.

Min had organised a visit to a local palm plantation, where Toddy wine is produced, a drink popular amongst the local community, a drink he was most proud of sharing – obviously didn’t appeal much to me, but I was happy to learn and see what they do.

We watched as one of the locals scaled the tall bamboo ladder (which he didn’t seem to use much on the way up) right to the top of the Palm, where he went about collecting the sap. Obviously in these parts of the world health and safety is the last thing on peoples minds, the men scaling these heights with nothing more than the tools they need to get the job done, a knife to ‘tap’ the sap out of the young coconut flowers and a ‘Toddy pot’ to catch it in.

 

 

Tip: Don’t stand directly underneath your Toddy palm climber as usually locals who don the traditional Longhyi attire, don’t tend to wear underwear, so give them a little distance 😉

 

The sap is simply left out in the sun to ferment and the wine is produced. If it’s left out too long, or overheated, it actually becomes highly acidic, turning it into a vinegar rather than wine. Alongside the basking sap, they also had their own mini distillery all set up, where the more potent drinks were created. Ever the host, as well as pointing out what meats were halal, Min also made sure to let me know when things were non-alcoholic so that I, and other non-drinkers, weren’t left out. We all had a taste of the pure sap pre-fermentation, with others then enjoying a tipple of the harder stuff (it smelt pretty toxic!).

 

 

My favourite take-away from this experience was learning about the resourcefulness of this community. Like most developing countries, when it comes to using natural elements – waste is never an option. And the Toddy palm is no exception. Every part of the tree is used in some form or another, ensuring that each tree sacrificed has been utilised to it’s full potential.

Turns out Toddy wine wasn’t the only sight to be seen here, we watched how an ox was used to grind batches of peanut down to create oil – an oil that is used heavily in Myanmar cuisine. We also enjoyed some afternoon tea. No we’re not talking triangle sandwiches and earl grey. We were enjoying our afternoon tea Myanmar style, sat on palm trunk stools, with lakka cups of green tea and a beautifully laid out sharing plate of tea leaf salad.

 

 

Tea leaf salad, Laphet Thoke, is something you will find on nearly every Myanmar menu. You’ll find the look and ingredients of this iconic dish may vary, depending on where you are but the basic principal carries through. The tea leaves are pickled and served alongside a mix of peanuts and dried beans. Each part is served separately, combining it all is down to you, so you can proportion it how you wish. I’ll go through some of the other variations in a separate food post.

After a chat and a snack we headed off to walk through a local village, where hospitality was in abundance, we received countless offers of tea and snacks whilst the inhabitants showed off their local trades and skills. After my favela experience in Rio, I’m always a little apprehensive when it comes to village visits, it always feels like such an imposition. A group of tourists walking around watching you go about your daily life. I suppose the difference here, is the locals actually want us to visit them. The exposure, tip money and the fact that they’re proud of what they do, even if it’s something I may not have chosen to do had I been organising the trip on my own, just to see them going out of their way to interact with us, well its always worth it.

 

 

Our day ended with the piece de resistance…

Off we went to the North Guni temple. There was a decent crowd already gathered as we climbed the stairs to the roof of the temple – this was our first opportunity to witness the view that graces nearly every Myanmar travel guide book going, the view looking out over more than 2000 Bagan temples.

It really was something. There may have been some large group of tourists, but it didn’t distract from how stunning the vista in front of us had turned out to be. During the 11th and 13th centuries, it is said that there were nearly 10,000 pagodas in the Kingdom of Bagan, but the numbers diminished as time went on as the area suffered hundreds of earthquakes.

 

 

Ever the lover of a good sunset, me and a few of the others scoped out the different nooks and levels and settled in the corner to relax and watch the sun disappear for the night.

I never really get bored of a sunset, and luckily for me there was an opportunity to catch many of them on this trip. When I looked back at my photos, well let’s be honest, most sunsets look the same. So why do I keep falling for them?

I think it’s more because when you are sat in that moment, and you are literally waiting for that sun to fall. I love that it’s such a natural scene, something that happens every day in every single corner of the world. I love the colours, I love the descent of darkness and that deep red warning that pops just before it occurs. It doesn’t matter how many of them I see, each one gives me the same peace and heart flutters, enough to make me crave the next.

Tip: Take a torch with you, once the sun has set there are no lights in the temple, so you won’t be able to navigate some of the stairs in the darkness (this actually goes for some of the Bagan temples in the daytime too, as some stairwells have no light coming in at all).

We watched, we chatted, we took snaps… it was a lovely way to end our afternoon and it was enough to ignite our excitement for what was in store the following day, where we would be heading off to explore up close the rest of Old Bagan.

 

Bagan temples

 

Have you been to see the Bagan temples? What are your opinions on sunsets, love, hate or not fussed?

 

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overnight sleeper train to bagan

Mingalaba from Myanmar! I wrote this post the other day but with a jam packed schedule and restricted internet only just managed to get it online. Very much looking forward to sharing more tales and tips over the next few weeks 🙂


“You need to makes sure you buy enough food to cover dinner, snacks and breakfast. But there is no fridge or facilities on the train so make sure it’s something that won’t go bad. We have a long journey ahead.”

Min’s announcement seemed very straight forward as we made our way into the supermarket. A perfect way to save some dosh on meals plus it might be kind of fun to have a little picnic as we travel. A couple of rounds up and down the aisles and my basket was still empty. Maybe this wasn’t as good an idea as I thought. 

Time running out I grabbed whatever I could find on the shelves that looked like it wouldn’t go off and rushed back onto the coach. 

Hmm not so sure about this.

The train whistle echoed as our rickety train pulled in, we were lucky enough to have been given ‘upper class’ carriages. Four to a cabin with our very own toilet, serious luxury! I was immediately excited by the fully open large windows and threw myself into a corner. Above me was the top bunk, which I secretly wanted as it looked fun (not quite sure why but it did) and there was a table too, should we wish to use it. 

Loving this!  

We set off, I was all smiles, I genuinely LOVE train journeys. I love gazing out the window at the passing scenery, day dreaming about all the wonderful things in this world. And for the first time in my life I had the opportunity to be on a train where it was ok to fall asleep. 

The scenery on route was definitely something to see. There were parts where the grass had all dried and others where it thrived, dense plains of lush greenery sprawled out to the skyline. Farmers were out working away, making the most of the last bit of sunlight.

I could get used to this.

An hour into the journey and the train speed steadied, the light outside began diminishing and the sun, now a deep red, fell behind the trees just as my head started to fall onto the seat next to me. I still hadn’t fully recovered from traveling over from the U.K. But I knew I had to do what I could to break the cycle and keep awake, at least until after dinner.

What was for dinner again? Oh yes those delightful cheese and crackers. The only thing that looked appealing in the supermarket was now the one thing I really did not want. I nibbled on some crisps and tried to distract myself away from the hunger pangs, consuming fluid to try and trick my body. Obviously didn’t work and meant I was the first one to have to use the loo. The loo which was a direct connection to the speeding ground beneath us. Where the outside breeze could be felt as you sat down and you hoped nothing would fly in. 

Not sure if I’m too keen on this. 

Toilet drama over it was time to get back to enjoying the rest of the evening. A cool breeze had started to set in, as the sky outside went black. I headed for the little luggage compartment to dig out my scarf and warm jumper, oh and the deet spray just in case. I had seen a couple of mosquitos as I was sat down and thought best to take precautions. Walking back to my window I forgot where we were and SMACK. yup bashed my head on the top bunk. Tried to style it out as I slinked back into my seat. Although I wanted nothing more then to let out a screaming swear. It hurt. 

I do not like this.

I wrapped myself up in my giant scarf and extra thick starry hoody, positioned myself right by the window ready to brace the wind. Headphones on I scrolled down to my usual playlist, the same playlist I play every day at home. The songs I listen to on repeat on a daily basis. And just as the music started, a little light caught the corner of my eye… 

There it was! That starry sky I met first in Saudi and then later on in life in Africa!! That same starry sky where they were so bright no artificial light was necessary. Bursts of glittery points, clusters of hazy bright mist, it was spectacular. And as the train chugged on, it kept going. It never ended. Everywhere I turned it was still there and as the sounds of Nevada played in the background, each beat pumping in sync with my adrenaline, overwriting any throbbing that had been going on in my head. 

I love this. 

Time passed and we were all starting to drift. Min preferred the bottom bunk, allowing him easy access to open the window in case he needed a late night cig. Nicky and I headed up to the top bunks. No sooner had we taken the two steps to the top and we both ground to a halt. Oh dear Lord we were about to enter mosquito central. Nicky went straight in, shoe in hand bashing every one out of her way, only to find more and more arriving. I took a deep breath and thought I need a plan. I literally covered every inch of exposed skin with deet, ignoring every precaution on the label I was past caring if I ingested this thing I was definitely covering my face in it. Next, I dug out my spare cardi to use as an extra shield. Grabbed a slipper and headed up to the war zone. 

I started following Nicky’s lead and tried smacking the large ones. I did have a moment of contemplation on whether it was the right thing to do or not… I remembered reading something about a man who was going to kill a mouse but decided against it as he realized how barbaric it was to just think we could end any life, regardless of what species. But then I started thinking that one of these bad boys could be carrying malaria or perhaps Japanese encyphalitis and that could kill me so technically this is self defense, no?

Regardless of whether I killed them or not, it would have been impossible for us to get them all anyway so instead I concentrated my efforts into creating a cocoon. I completely mummified myself using my scarf, jumper and cardigan. Luckily my cardigan was slightly see through so used it as a makeshift mosquito net for my neck and face. Not a single part of me was exposed. Then I remembered something pretty important. I needed the toilet again. 

I hate this. 

Mummification process complete a second time, I tried to forget the mosquito drama and fall asleep. Mo had text to tell me some good news which I read super quick as I didn’t want the light to attract anymore bugs, but it made me feel better. I was comforted just hearing from him. I closed my eyes and settled down to the sounds around me. The shutters had been closed and the rhymthic sounds of us bouncing off the train tracks started to form a pattern. My body swayed from side to side, it felt like I was being rocked, gentle enough to stop me panicking about flying off the side of my bed. I closed my eyes and drifted off. Finally enjoying the thing I enjoy most on trains, sleeping. 

I quite like this. 

Somewhere around 2am a sharp bump woke me up. It sounded like it woke some of the others too, I could hear the sound of restlessness. I realized then that I was sniffling and struggling to breathe through my nose. It was FREEZING. It wasn’t just a cold breeze we could feel anymore it was a real chill. I was too cold to get up and attempt to find more layers so I peeled off the under sheet and wrapped that around my legs for extra warmth. As I started to fix my mosquito face net I felt an unusual patch of warmth near my forehead. Yup even with the excess deet and all that time spent protecting myself with numerous layers, I had been treated to a gigantic bite smack bang in the middle of my forehead. The train jerking had gotten rougher and there were times where my hips were flying from side to side I had to lodge myself in the corner to make sure I stayed safe.

Ok now I really hate this. 

The hours dragged on until finally the sounds of roosters echoed around us, overshadowing the trains mechanical groans. Jenny had had enough of the cold and jumped out of bed and flung open the door. Nicky and I bolted upright as we all finally felt it, heat. Sleep was not on the agenda any longer we leapt into action raising the window shutters and putting the seats back together. Still wrapped up, we each took our place by our respective windows and basked in the glorious sunshine. 

We started to stop at smaller towns, women selling all kinds of goods ready to approach the windows as the train stood idol on the platform. Samosas, boiled eggs, quail eggs all laid out grandly in large circular baskets ready to hold up to entice us as they walked along. Gentlemen stood with bottles of toddy wine, a locally distilled drink and plenty of people walked past balancing poles with woven bowls filled with fresh fruit. 

We passed children all dressed up on their way to school, younger ones waiting on the edges of farms as their parents started working. All of them waved furiously as we sped past, the biggest smiles spread across their tiny faces. 

I witnessed a beautiful moment with a small boy and two dogs, walking across a makeshift plank bridge. No not walking, skipping. All three of them were skipping, in sync together, young man and his best friends. I was so far away but I felt like I had been sucked into their moment, I could feel their joy even if it was for a fleeting minute.  

Wow I love being a part of this.

I got up all excited. BANG. head again. BANG. Oh and there goes the thigh too, so stunned from the head bashing I totally forgot about the side of the seat. Stomped over to the toilet and there inside was the new mosquito meeting point. 

Eugh. Did I mention how much I dislike this?

The sun was out in full force now and we were treated to an abundance of scenery. Changing scenery too. Farmers tending to their crops, herds of cows, goats. The crops themselves differed quite a bit, chick peas, corn, endless rows of sunflowers were my favourite. Oh and the birds! It was my first encounter with the flying wildlife of Myanmar and I was thoroughly enjoying spotting the different types. My favourite, a blue winged graceful one but there was also a fabulous grey small starling sized bird that zipped around from tree to tree. 

I was on my last sweet marmalade filled bread roll and the train had grinded to a stand still outside the quite extravagant looking Bagan train station. The door flung open and porters had leapt in to grab our bags, empty rubbish from the carriage and usher us out as quick as possible. No warning or time to compose ourselves, we grabbed our belongings and stepped off onto the solid ground. 

It was strange to be stationery. Strange to look back at the train we had spent an entire night on. Strange to feel… sad?

It’s funny, what felt like a lifetime somehow also kind of felt like it had all happened in a second. After everything I went through that evening, I found myself gazing back at the cabin, wishing I could get back on and do it all over again. 

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