Great biking / hiking-free day today, courtesy of a very luxurious leather-seated mini-van and my two partners in crime, Yannick and Tomas.
Collected from Ostello Bello, a well-organised hostel in the heart of new Bagan at 8am, I had hurriedly tried to book an extra night’s stay.
Not possible. Hostel fully booked, I had to seek an alternative. A quick piece of haggling and checkout extended until noon, I extracted every piece of coffee goodness in order to tackle my considerable hangover from last night’s festivities.
Yannick and Tomas’ were in a similar pickle. Only they had a good head start on the beers. Tomas in particular was looking pale. Whilst Yannick and I quickly perked up, Tomas had the much feared hangover belly-ache combo, which only became worse as the morning progressed. The car ours for the day, Tomas soon headed back to the ranch, leaving Yannick and I to explore the quite amazing temples of Bagan.
The entry fee of 25,000 Kyat (c.9GBP) is typically payable on entry to the area, as part of a tour package, or on coaches bound for the area. Arriving late by bicycle, I had so far avoided the charge. Thankfully, the boys had a spare, however, the ticket was only checked once at the end of the day.
Our host, a softly spoken local chap, keen to participate in the good spirit of the day, turned out to run a traditional home stay, Bamboo Lodge, some 3kms down the track from New Bagan and 1km from Yannick and Tomas’ luxury hotel.
After many temples, we visited a fascinating local handicrafts factory, where a 78 year old lady showed us how to roll the fattest bamboo blunts you can imagine. This turned out to be a 40 year-old pursuit. I’m not suggesting this is in any way a secret of her longevity, but she looked fit as a fiddle.
Yannick purchased several beautifully made scarves as gifts, whereas I concious of weight, opted for a free bamboo blunt.
After a quick rest break in a traditional hut at my new found lodgings, we were back on the trail. First, a lacquer furniture maker in the same family for 4 generations. Such incredible craftsmen, making premium products at premium prices. At c.£6000 for a chest of drawers, I’m happy to admire from a distance. Ending the daylight hours in style, atop horse drawn carriage no less, meandering through ancient temples to reach our guide’s preferred spot for sunset.
A few snaps and some chat with other western folk later and we were homeward bound, collecting bike from hostel, before approaching the hotel lobby of Yannick’s swanky pad. Asking for Yannick at reception, the Monaco-born concierge seemed a little surprised that a guest had arrived; especially one as trail beaten and mildly dischevelled as I.
Nonetheless, the call was made and Yannick appeared from the edge of the dimly lit pool just in time for ‘happy hour’. Half an hour later, Tomas was back in action, back on form and back on the beers. A moment’s entertainment educating Swiss people as to the delights of bamboo blunts, but surprisingly no takers.
We finished the day with the well-known traditional Burmese dish, ‘pizza’. Just the job after a gruelling day being driven around in an air conditioned vehicle.