Our train journey to Bagan was definitely an experience!
We were shown to our sleeping berth by a very helpful train assistant. It was a different set up to what we have been used to – it’s a contained berth, so you cannot walk along the carriage. There are four beds, the two at the bottom are chairs that you unfold like a futon at home to make the bed. You get a sheet and pillow – the beds were extremely dusty so i was thankful i had my silk sleeping bag i bought in Vietnam for such occasions!
The toilet! Ergh! It was to date the worst toilet we have used on a train. It was literally a glorified hole in the floor – you could see the tracks below. It smelt terrible – and the floor was really wet. We had no idea what exactly the fluid on the floor was, and that was probably for the best. You wanted to bathe in disinfectant after using it!
Whilst we were waiting to leave the station, a man approached our carriage with two camaras, and with the blankest face ever leaned into our open window and proceded to take pictures of all of us (there were four of us in the berth). We were all laughing at the randomness of it! And during all of this the man has an absolutely straight face.
So, we finally leave our paparazzi and start our journey….very slowly! The trains really don’t go fast at all – which isn’t all that bad as you have good views of the scenery you are passing.
When passing through the outskirts of Yangon it was very eye opening – the poverty these people live in was quite clear. It was i suppose a shanty town. Small wooden shacks were on stilts above the polluted, stagnant water, litter was everywhere.
We saw people hard at work tending their crops and herds of cows and goats.
Alot of children waved and shouted ‘hello’ at us as we passed – very excited to see us.
Some would run along the train. Only once did we have a couple of kids come up and beg at the window – we gave them some biscuits (although the little girl had specifically asked for money or chocolate).
We brushed our teeth with our heads hanging out the window (we were all using the ‘bathroom’ only when absolutely necessary)!
Sleep was hard to come by – the train rocks constantly, and at times it’s so bumpy my bottom jumped up from the seat! It was like a theme park ride! The tracks are very old – i did a quick internet search on them and found out the original tracks were placed by the British during colonial times. Then the Japanese removed most of the materials during the war. Once the war was over the Burmese re-built the tracks but they haven’t been updated since.
So 18 hours later we finally roll up to Bagan station.
Bagan is the home to probably Myanmar’s main attraction – Bagan Archaeological Zone.
Interestingly we learnt from another traveller that recently Myanmar requested Bagan’s temples to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately UNESCO turned them down, the main reason being they had built a viewing tower in the middle of the temples, and also that some temples have been restored unsuitably.
Hopefully one day they will accept the Bagan Temples as the injection of funds would be much needed, and it may promote good waste disposal as there was still a large amount of litter to be seen around and actually inside some temples.
However, the temples themselves were magnificent.
We found the outside of the temples much more impressive than the inside, the intricate designs and just the huge scale of some of the larger ones. You can climb up to the roofs of some temples (the stairs being very steep, dark, and small – not made for tall Westerners).
The views were awesome! You really appreciate the lanscape up there – dry plains with a scattering of green trees, then the spires of temples peppered throughout.
We enjoyed this sight at sunset and sunrise, unfortunately the sun is at times obscured by a thick cloud of dust which is apparently normal at this time of year.
Myanmar is at it’s hottest right now, and the dust is everywhere. When you shower the water turns a reddy brown!
Another famous sight is seeing the air ballons floating above the temples (unfortunately an expereince totally out of our budget – $350), obviously all the ballonists decided not to come out for our sunrise viewing – so just google the image instead!! And we got up at 5am for that!!
We did witness a rather disturbing scence at one temple however. A tiny little bear cub was being manhandled by what we can only assume was it’s ‘owner’.
Now this poor little thing was too small to be away from it’s mum, so God only knows the story behind it. Just to add to this maddening situation was a group of three tourists who spent time chatting and laughing with the ‘owner’, whilst one of their group chased the little cub around obviously trying to get a good Facebook photo. The cub was naturally running away from him, but of course he continued his quest for his new profile picture. The nievity of some people really does anger us. We really wish people would stop and think before advocating something like this – it doesn’t take a scientist to realise this situation is deeply unethical and supporting animal cruelty.
I have since gained some advice from South East Asia’s Free the Bears charity, and have contacted Myanmar’s Tourist Ministry and lodged a complaint about this incident, as they want to hear about issues like this and apparently take complaints from tourists seriously. Let’s hope something positive can come from this.
We spent one and a half days exploring Bagan’s ancient temples using an electric scooter (tourists are not allowed to use a normal scooter/motorbike). Paul loved it, i think he thought he was some off roading champion at some points!
However one evening on our way back to the hostel the scooter ran out of charge. It was on a dark mainish road, and as always my first concern was the feral dogs! However we were to be rescued by a very kind local on his motorbike. He stopped and asked what the problem was, and after explaining he was determined to get us back! I hopped on the back of his bike, Paul stayed on our scooter, and the guy pushed Paul’s scooter with his foot whilst driving his. It was hilarious and i honestly thought Paul was going to fall off at some point! Anyway, what a nice guy helping us out like that! At home we are lucky if anyone stops if you breakdown. Another example of the kindness of these people.
We throughly enjoyed exploring the temples in Bagan – much less touristy than Siem Reap (which will potentially change in the future), and in the vastness of the temple complex you could easily not come across another person for hours.