Night buses are a common way to get around Myanmar and means you won't miss any valuable exploring during the day time. However you might miss your ear drum which is at the mercy of the unbelievably full volume TV programmes played through the night (thank you little foamy earplugs!)
Arriving at 4.30am in Bagan we were greeted somewhat surreally by a sleepy horse and cart, a popular form of transport for locals and visitors alike. Bagan is a very special place, an ancient city of huge architectural importance with over 2,000 beautiful temples scattered across its plains. Hopping on a trishaw I went straight to the open plains to watch the sun rise and bathe the endless temples and pagodas in its morning light, sharing the experience with two nuns who had travelled especially from Yangon to see it.
I rented a bicycle and explored the dusty roads and temples of Bagan, and took a longboat in the afternoon along the Ayeyarwady river. Led by a golden toothed guide with wispy chin hairs who spoke not a single word of English we explored the surrounding monasteries and ancient buildings, watching the sun go down from a mountain ledge. I made up my own stories about what happened, and my guide smiled away, the sun bouncing off his gold teeth.
After Bagan it was onto Mandalay, another ex-capital city, via a five-hour bus ride. The U-Bein Bridge is here and is a central attraction. At 1.2km it is the longest teak wood bridge in the world, and I went to visit during sunset… you can’t imagine a more beautiful way to spend time than walking down it. Locals, visitors, monks and schools of novice nuns share the bridge whilst people are busy at work underneath fishing and working the fields, riding bicycles and collecting wood.
You could spend forever exploring the big city of Mandalay. There are indoor markets selling infinite rolls of material, strange jelly/tofu pudding concoctions, freshly squeezed juices, and little plastic toys you could buy in huge bulk (500 small plastic mirrors anyone?). There are outdoor markets that offer every type of Asian food under the sun from mountains of dried fish, wet piles of shiny squidgy animal insides, woven baskets upon baskets of small locally grown garlic bulbs, nuts, fruit, and dried insects displayed in bamboo trays. I was very happy to sit with a fresh orange juice at one point and make friends with the young couple who ran it and their little girls. All of a sudden the dad went off and came back with two more babies under his arms, followed by his sister who brought over yet two more squiggling little kids, all smiling and giggling like crazy in their tiny clothes and bare feet.
One of the highlights of my time in Mandalay was staying in a brand new hostel where I had the honour of being their very first guest. Dreamland Guest House is a work of art run by a very talented and creative family of nine. Based in a bustling part of the city, the guesthouse is within the Dreamland complex which consists of a music centre, an arts and sculpture facility, a shop that sells all types of materials and paint, and a gallery where paintings by locals are displayed. All this is within the colourful décor the girls have painted themselves - happy murals on every wall, and each room decorated in a different style. I was lucky enough to be taken on a scooter out of the main city part of Mandalay by Sophia who runs the guesthouse and Teo and Tabby who I met through Couchsurfing. We scootered past life in the outskirts of the city. There were buffaloes ploughing the fields and children splashing around in the streams to cool off. Everything was so green and the air was as fresh as anything.
I loved Mandalay, and spent more time here than originally planned. I was excited for my next stop which turned out to be one of the highlights of my life. It's true, let me show you why in the final blog post instalment ♡