For the first thirty minutes of our train ride from Mandalay to Bagan in Myanmar, Carlo and I stared out the open windows at the passing towns. When the bursts of air from outside became too cold, the local Myanmar teenager across from us and I both struggled to close the window shut. It remained cracked open, leaking gusts of the night’s freezing air directly onto us for several hours.
At a certain point in between napping and turning my body parallel to avoid the bursts, I stood up, lifted the jammed window, and tried to slam it out of frustration. Quickly woken up by the sudden and additional cold air rushing into the cart, the Myanmar teenager again helped me as we both jammed the window down until it slammed shut. Success! The mother laughed out of joy as she re-wrapped her small child snug in between the two of them. We exchanged smiles and laughs until falling back asleep. The atmosphere around us was immediately much warmer.
With bright lights shining through the windows, the train stopped. Glancing at my phone, I saw the time: 3am. Although we were supposed to arrive at 6am, Myanmar public transportation yet again arrived significantly earlier rather than later. Once off the train, we grabbed a taxi into Nyuang-Oo, one of the three towns in Bagan with the least expensive accommodation options. The guesthouse I wanted to book didn’t have a number so we just showed up and luckily a double room was still available. We fell back asleep, only this time in the comfort of a bed.
I woke up at 8:30am to check in and grab the included breakfast of two pieces of toast, jam, a hard-boiled egg, coffee, and bananas. When I went back up to the room, Carlo was still fast asleep and I decided to head back to bed for a few hours as well. When I awoke, Carlo was no longer in the room. I met him downstairs at a restaurant across the street. He was writing and sipping on tea after having eaten shan noodles. I ordered myself a bowl.
As Carlo continued to write, I went on a journey to find an ATM which led me to the middle of town as two machines I tried weren’t working properly. Along the way I passed a knock-off 7-11 store and price checked their e-bike rental service which was the least expensive of competitors. According to travelers we had met on the road and to my online research, renting an e-bike was the most cost and time efficient way to explore Bagan. I quickly went back to the restaurant and grabbed Carlo to rent the last e-bike. Off we went on our first day of temple exploring.
Driving along the main road, thousands of temples and pagodas faded into and out of our sight. We took turns pointing out ones of interest to drive to and explore. Some of the largest ones were overpopulated with tourists but still worth checking out. The smaller ones usually provided just as unique of an experience. It wasn’t uncommon to find yourself alone in a thousand year old temple. Many even had hidden staircases up to the roof where you could sit out and watch over the surroundings. The landscape looked straight out of the classic 90s PC game Age of Empires, with the pagodas reminiscent of the ancient structures and fortresses that users could build in the game.
With a long day of exploring over, we returned our bike at the 7-11 and went to sleep at the hotel. The next two days we rented the same bike and continued our exploration, discovering new temples on dirt paths, in awe that a landscape like this existed.
On our last day we attempted to take a train to Naypyidaw, the country’s practically abandoned capital, but the train was arriving too late. In a sudden change of plans, we hitched a bus to Yangon, our last destination in the country where we would soon discover what expats working in the wannabe capital did for fun.