The very hated sound of an alarm clock starts piercing the sleepy, sultry air in my hotel room like a cold, sharp knife. “Snooze…” I think for a second, but the very next second I push this thought away. There’s no time for a snooze. The sun will be up in an hour and I need to be far from here before it’ll happen.
Sweatshirt, bandana and a pair of hideous red pantaloons that cost me far less than what I’m used to paying for a small latte. But I don’t care. I’m going to swoosh among deserted pagodas, accompanied by nobody else but the dust carried with the wind, chasing the sun and, hopefully not being chased by dogs this time.
“Phone, camera, GoPro, keys, today I’m gonna need all of these” – humming this self-created nursery rhyme I’m locking the dreamy air in the room and enter the brisk Monday pre-morning. It’s 5:30.
Myanmar, a country of fairy tales – they said. One of my favs so far – other exclaimed.
“Excuse me, what?” – my boss asked me when I explained where I’m going to work from for the next 2 weeks. “I’ve never heard about this country!”
“Well, it used to be Burma” – I said – “And also, they opened up a bit more for tourists just a couple of years ago, so maybe that’s why”.
I don’t even remember who told me about this place. I suspect it was a friend of my tinder match who I met in Bangkok. She was half Swiss, half Vietnamese and about to visit Burma right after I met her.
Then I saw the pictures she’s taken there on her facebook profile and it absolutely blew-my-mind.
So I’m here, putting the key into the ignition, no helmet on (nobody has offered me one), GoPro on my neck like a new-wave choker. Somewhere on the back of my head, I can hear this smart voice telling me: dude, you’ve only driven 3 times in your lifetime, in a bright sunlight, are you sure? I’m not sure, but I’m twisting the handle and here I go.
Bagan is exquisite. Quaint. One of a kind. This is something you won’t be able to find in any other place. “Naaaah, I’ve done Cambodia and Angkor Wat, that was something!”. Well, I’ve done it too. And maybe while Angelina Jolie was running half naked among those carved stones, it might have been better, but with the vicious crowds of tourists who are there on a daily basis, plus, more vicious crowds of local vendors who are also inevitable… it’s like night and day.
Entering the city of Bagan, every foreigner has to pay an “archaeological zone entry fee” – around 19USD. At first, I thought that was absolutely insane – “They want to charge me for entering the city? Da f***?” But the more I immersed into this peculiar town, the more I was willing to scream “shut up and take my money, this is raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!”
Driving on an e-bike is easy. And you can rent this lovely machine basically on every corner for not more than 6000 kyat per day (which is 4.5USD). Driving on an e-bike on the sand before the sunrise when you don’t have any glasses even though you should buy a pair about ages ago – not that easy. Guess which part of the paragraph is about me? Exactly.
E-bikes are lovely machines, charged at the rental place and going usually up to 40km/h. Not much, but considering the fact, that foreigners are strictly NOT ALLOWED to drive any other mechanical vehicle in Myanmar, the existence of e-bikes comes as a blessing. It’s said that on a one-charge you can drive for an about 60km. It’s hard for me to estimate it precisely. But when I started at 5:30 in the morning with all those stops at surrounding pagodas the machine survived about 4-5 hours. What happens after -5 hours – the story like a cherry on a cake has to be left for the very end.
Back to this crazy 5:30 in the morning. I start my e-bike and drive into the darkness. A half asleep security guard slowly contemplating what’s happening around him from his 1sq m booth jumps in his chair when he sees my very uncontrolled speed up from the hotel’s parking straight onto the road. I stop, ease my heart beat, turn around and raise still shaking hand trying to be cool AF:
“Everything’s under control!” I’m shouting, even though, my grandma told me not to lie.
Surprisingly, the GPS in Bagan works absolutely fine. Much better than in Hong Kong I’d say! But there are no roads – so basically, you just know precisely where on a blank sheet of a map you are. Helpful like a pair of rain boots on a sunny day.
The road is empty and very sandy. And as much as I love the first part – if I’m going to hurt someone, that will be me, one and only – as much I hate the second one. The steering wheel gets absolutely out of control and every couple of minutes I’m spreading my legs wide open like a puppet on a string to prevent myself from falling. But once again I’m here alone and it’s almost pitch dark, so luckily nobody can witness this mascarade.
As time goes by I start feeling more and more confident on my (look at my horse, my horse is amazing..) ON MY BIKE. Also, the fact I’m still aiming for the sunrise means I kinda start running out of time, so … one plus two equals drive as fast as you can. And just before I am about double check the directions I see THIS.
Right in front of me.
Lovely, isn’t it?
There’s no time to manoeuvre – with my skills it would be more of a suicide than a rescue, so I just twist the handle adding a bit more power and hoping they’ll ignore me.
Wishful thinking of mine.
Obviously, those four-legged beasts are interested in me more than as if I were a sausage on a stick and after being chased for a couple of minutes exclaiming inappropriate words in every language I know – I’m lost.
To add some misery to my already not-so-successful journey I fall with my e-bike into the bushes painfully scratching and stabbing my face with hundreds of spikes. Literally, I spend 5 minutes trying to figure out from which angle the thorn pinching a whole branch to my nose is coming from, so that I could set myself free.
But – omg, when was the last time I had so much fun? 😀
From my map estimates, it turns out I won’t have enough time to get to the famous temple they advised me to go. No way. It’s getting pinkish on the horizon already. And then I recall the words of the young, handsome veteran (Irak) I met at the bar the other night:
“There are many pagodas you can climb on, just keep your eyes peeled, and you’ll be able to celebrate the sunrise as a lady of your own <<castle>>”
Hell yeah, who’s the princess more than I am (even though I’m still wearing those ugly pants)? I continue on driving and suddenly I see it: standing alone and proud among the misty fields. Nobody there but me and my electric courser. Luckily no dogs willing to get into a close encounter with my person.
I walk in greeting a lovely Buddha on my left and next… find the stairs. For a second I focus on recalled phrase “do not climb on the pagodas that are not provided with professional guidance, after the earthquake in August 2016 the structure might look stable but it’s not”. Another second later I’m already walking up the claustrophobic corridor being happier than ever that I’m not morbidly overweight. It’s very dark, only the light from the iPhone torch shows me the way. Five more steps, four, three, two, one…WHAT THE F******CK? – I exclaim, like every respectful princess using the right words. The place is absolutely out of this world.
Minutes go by and I swear I could stay there till the very sunset just taking pictures, observing the balloons and lazy clouds crawling between the pagodas. I pinch my cheek every now and then still cannot believe it’s happening. After two hours I decide to move on.
I didn’t have any breakfast, but it’s not what I’m aiming for – who would think about any breakfast when you sneaked into a world of magic? I decide to continue on killing my e-bike (yes, somehow a straight road meant for tourists is the last place where I’m ending up, so hills, holes, ups and downs feel more like a motocross for my poor casual machine). WHAAATEVAH.
On the way between “where the hell am I” and “what is this place” I come across 2 boys. And by boys, this time, I mean children. Children-boys, equals, someone I’m absolutely not interested in (because I really don’t like children…). But they wave and smile, and after my lovely sunrise preceded by the successful escape from the hoard of insane dogs – I’m all happy and chatty. I’m a unicorn so why wouldn’t I stop for a chat with 5 and 7 yo kiddos? Click, beep-beep, the “engine” is off.
Backroad baby exchange office
Good morning miss – they start in choir – where are you from?
Sweden – I reply, because on Wednesdays I’m from Sweden.
Do you have any Swedish money? – the older investigates waving a big fan of many-countries-notes.
Well…no, but I have some from the other countries. – I open my wallet and…
CAN WE SEE IT!?!?!?
-<<erm, dudes, I’m showing you already>>
And after a second of a painful fight with my thoughts: what if they’re going to take it and run away? My nearly 20 months of journeys in notes, what if? But I refuse to believe that the World is bad and full of people willing to harm you. I pass my rich pile to them and my jaw drops down to the very ground.
Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand – they recite fluently – I WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO DO SO. And they are super-young boys from Bagan! Amazed by this performance I give them a note from Sri Lanka and Thailand.
We want this one from Mexico!
But I’ve got only one… – I explain.
The older boy makes a serious face and says: – OK. So this is for you, you haven’t been to China, have you?
He stands there pointing at me with a Chinese note and my jaw even though it was already on the ground drops even lower. How come their English is so perfect? How come they know so much living on the outskirts of nowhere?
I accept the note and drive into a dust.
The bittersweet ending
Of course, when I jumped on this poor machine and started dashing among the pagodas – I simply couldn’t stop. So I’m driving around like a Pusheen on his bike and I swear I’d be purring with pleasure if I only could. The battery is still full – 70-80% left. “Miracle” I whisper hardly believing my luck.
The battery goes from 70 to 20. Within a fckn second! Not bothered by the circumstances I decide to stay cold blooded and continue to my beloved pagoda for the sunset. I leave the half-dead horse of mine somewhere in the village and continue on walking. The sunset is really amazing, but I’m not surprised by that – what I’m surprised by is that my e-bike is missing! I walk around in circles like a sleeping satellite trying to localise this piece of sh**.
No trace at all.
After 20 minutes that felt like an eternity and some short conversations with the “boss of the village” I realise, that I was looking in the wrong area and my e-bike safe and sound (and dead) is waiting for me just where I left it. I desperately try to push it those last 5km to reach my hotel, encouraging it with some warm words like “move b**ch!” but it looks like it’s not working.
Dazzled and confused I decide to leave it somewhere near on of the pagodas, take a picture of it as a proof for my rental place and thumb a lift back. (Tiny detail I should add is that I am also almost late for my bus to Yangon where I’m about to take flight to Hong Kong).
Smiling so sweet I’m almost getting diabetes myself, covered in dust and sweat I try.
Then, finally, when I already think I’m gonna be forced to stay in Myanmar for the next couple of days, weeks (?)….a car stops.
– Hi! I need to go to the hotel Yadanarbon, I’m almost late for my bus and then plane and…
The guy just gives me a disposable face mask to prevent me from suffocating from dust, shakes his head and drives away, leaving me with my jaw dropped all the way to the dusty ground. They don’t want Whities on their cars.
Luckily situation changed when I started waving with 5000 Kyat note (3.5USD). And so I made it to the hotel, bus and plane to fall in love with HK.
I didn’t like Myanmar. Not at all. But Bagan – oh dear. It put a spell on me and jumped on the first place of the list entitled “I need to go back”.