As I mentioned in a recent post, Myanmar was absolutely crawling with foreign tourists when I visited in late October and earlier this month. I had not intended to visit Bagan this time around, but due to my earlier-than-planned departure from Bangkok — fearing the incipient threat of floods — I had extra days at my disposal once I arrived in Myanmar. I pondered a short visit to Mawlamyine, a city I still haven’t seen, but after being assured by my travel agent in Yangon that there were still some available seats on a flight to Bagan, I took that option instead.
I’ve been to Bagan well over a dozen times and I thought I had pretty much seen most every pagoda worth seeing at this point. Oh, how wrong I was. Instead of using my friend Gaw Soe and his horse cart to tour the ruins, I decided to use only a bicycle this time, renting a dependable set of wheels from U Aung Koont at the Silver House Restaurant in New Bagan. I ended up taking some paths and trails that I had never explored before, and discovering some pretty cool pagoda ruins I had never seen before. None of them were towering monstrosities or among the more popular ones in the area, but they were no less interesting or charming. And the best part: at each and every site, I had the place to myself, never running into any other tourists.
The only downside to my “off the road” explorations was the two flat tires I got one day. But that was my fault for taking a shortcut through the woods and thinking those thorny branches on the ground wouldn’t do the bike any harm. Next time, I’ll leave the bike on sturdier ground and hike the rest of the way to any ruins on the horizon. One other negative to cycling this time around in Bagan: on many of the paved roads in the area there were huge patches of sand, making it tricky if not impossible to ride. I had to hop off the bike several times and push it through the sandy bits. I’m used to doing that on trails in the area, but not on main roads! I asked locals why there was so much sand on the roads, and they all told me it was due to heavy rains in recent months. Okay, I can accept that explanation, but why has no one bothered to clean up the mess? In Yangon and Mandalay I see crews sweeping the streets every morning. Doesn’t Bagan have people with similar clean-up skills? They really need to do something about this problem quickly. Even locals driving motorcycles tell me that they find the sandy roads a headache. I can just picture a foreign tourist wiping out on a sandy stretch of road and breaking an arm or leg.