If you've even briefly considered a trip to Myanmar it's highly likely that you've seen a photo of the historical city of Bagan. It's a city of rich history, visible in the temples that are dotted across it's landscape and although it's sometimes compared to Angkor Wat there is a much different atmosphere here. Although it's quickly gaining popularity on travelers lists, Bagan hasn't reached the fame of it's 'Big Brother' Angkor and thus you're able to still find some temples to call your own. I decided to give myself significant time to explore and hang out, so when I found an amazing dorm at The Royal Bagan I booked myself 3 nights. This really paid off because my first day and a half was spent between bed and the bathroom, clearly something I had eaten in Mandalay didn't agree with me.
The bus ride from Mandalay was long, bumpy and hot so I first assumed that was the cause to my upset stomach, but soon realized it was more than that. I rarely get sick so when I do I immediately assume the worst which means by the end of the day I was fairly confident I had acquired some obscure disease and was on the road to death. I think I managed to eat 3 crackers the whole afternoon and aside from a walk to the pharmacy barely left my bed. The hotel offered an impressive buffet breakfast, but I could barely manage more than a few bites of toast, I decided the best idea was for me to take it easy, thankful I had the time to do so.
By the afternoon I was feeling marginally better, spent some time by the pool and when Albert asked if I wanted to join him for sunset I decided to take my chances. I made it there, climbed to the top of the temple and watched the sun go down, but at that point I was done, my tummy was telling me to go back to bed. I turned in early for the night, hoping that one more nights sleep would cure me and I'd finally be able to go out and see something the following day.
Thankfully, I woke up with an appetite, managed a full plate of food at breakfast and felt strong enough to go explore the temples. Bagan is dotted with over 2,000 temples so there is definitely a lot to see. The most common way to get around is rent an electric bike (no motorbikes or tuk-tuk tours like Angkor Wat) and explore, either on your own or by hiring a local guide. An Australian woman from my dorm had passed on the number of a young guide she recommended, but I was unsure if I'd use him or not. By chance I ran into Laura, another girl from my dorm, at the second temple and we decided to travel together for the day. She was on board with giving Jojor a call and within the hour we were trailing behind him to learn more about Bagan.
I'm not sure what the requirements are for guides in Bagan and I'm sure it definitely varies, but Jojor was just a kid, 19 actually. Having grown up in Bagan he knew enough about the history, and it was actually the perfect amount of information, jokes and just relaxation during our day with him. He included a stop in his village which I realize had the ulterior motive of hoping we'd buy some of his extended families hand crafted Batik hardware. I generally don't give in to these sales, but something about Jojor and his family got me, and I went home with two cute owls and a bonus miniature bowl.
Our day with Jojor ended with a beautiful sunset, not hard to accomplish in Bagan where the nature is lush and temples are scattered around every corner. He took us to one of the smaller temples hoping we'd be able to avoid tourist crowds and because we arrived early we were fairly successful. Although I was unsure about contacting Jojor I'm glad I did, he provided us a more unique look into the city and also local life. Sure, I could have explored on my own and saved a few dollars, but the experience would have been a lot less fulfilling.
Although we said goodbye that evening, when he dropped us back at our hotel, I had a feeling that my time with Jojor wasn't quite over yet. He did offer to accompany us to sunrise the following morning, but I wanted to brave that on my own as morning peace is one of my favorite things. Instead, I told him I'd contact him later in the day, or maybe even stay in town long enough to attend the wedding of his cousin he had mentioned, who knows.
Opening its doors to tourism in 2012, Myanmar is like a toddler just learning how to walk, but oh is it learning quickly. Where WiFi and ATM's were once non-existent they're now common place. As the country quickly adapts my only hope is that the people do not, maintaining their fresh, friendly demeanor.