I met Oliver, a German backpacker at the bus station while waiting to board the bus to Bago. Known for big reclining buddha and big stupa, the town is about 2 hours bus ride from Yangon. I was told many times by the locals that I had the look of Burmese but with a foreign air surrounding me. Sitting under the makeshift shade at the bus station while waiting for the bus, having the locals openly discussing/debating/guessing my nationality is nothing new to me. I was very amused with their antics and so does Oliver. He has backpacked around Myanmar for the past 3 weeks and has picked up enough Burmese to understand what they were doing.
View of the mosque from my hostel room
I guess he decided to "help" them by asking about my nationality and thus the start of our friendship. We found out we are both heading towards the east of Myanmar, first stopping at Bago before moving on to Mt Kyaiktiyo, and is staying at the same guest house in Bago. Naturally we became travelling buddies for the next 2 days.
This is how they transport ice... is a wonder why one should stay away from it?
Bago is a town with only one main road and it is bustling with life. Guest houses aggressively competes with each other for business and they actually had staff sitting and waiting at the bus stops all day just so they can grab any travellers that stops by. It was really overwhelming as the assault started before you got off the bus. Luckily, my guest house in Yangon has helped to book a room for me at Myananda Hotel and they had send someone to pick me up.
Even that wasn't enough to stop rival guest house across the street from trying to get me to cancel my reservation. As I was only planning to stay a night in Bago, I hire a rickshaw guide to take me around for the rest of the day for 3000 kyat (USD2.4) and a discounted entrance fee of USD5 instead of the published rate USD10 for all pagodas. My guide's fav phrase is "blah blah blah". Initially I thought he uses that as a filler during his sales pitch as he has too much to say. Later, I found out that it is actually a substitute for whatever he wanted to say but doesn't know how in English. It was frustrating as half of the background stories I got from him was in blah.
On the other hand, travelling with Oliver is quite entertaining. Because he is so tall and big, at 6ft 9, he attracts a lot of attention where ever he goes.
The locals, especially kids calls him Godzilla and he took it all in stride. Our first stop is the largest monastery, Chaikawain,housing more than 1500 monks at any given time. As the monks were having group study in the big hall, the older monks are little more discreet in checking out Oliver's height. But not the younger monks who are usually age 10 and below. It was a sight seeing them sitting cross left on the floor, their noses going up up up up up, some in the danger of toppling over, just to look at Oliver when he walked by.
The monks at one of the temple that we went to
For a small town like Bago, there are quite a few sights to see. Apart from the largest monastery, I made a spontaneous stop at another unknown monastery. I like the second monastery better as it a lot less modernized. One thing about sacred places like pagodas and monastery, you have to walk around barefoot and leave your shoes at the main entrance.
Bago has 2 big reclining Buddha and I like the new one, Mya Tha Hlaung better as it is clean, simple and nice. The older reclining Buddha, Shwe Tha Hlaung in my opinion is a little more showy with all the mirrors and gold paint surrounding it. When I was visiting Myanmar tallest stupa, Mahazedi Paya, I had a group of children following me around as they were very fascinated with my camera and they would like me to takes pictures of them. whenever i tried to take pictures, they will all crowd behind me trying to look into my screen and they get really excited and happy when i show what i've taken.
We went to this chinese restaurant recommended by my guide for dinner. The moment we stepped in, all eyes were on us. One because of Oliver's height, two because I was the only girl in the restaurant.
We quickly finished our meal not because of the attention, but to avoid having more insects drop dead in our meal... gross.. but true. I guess that's the price to pay for eating in a restaurant so close to the river. I was glad I decided to only stay one night in Bago although i like it better than Yangon. It was hell trying to sleep at night as I woke up every hour from the blaring horn from passing vehicles through-out the night. Urgh....
Reclining Buddha...I prefer this than the older reclining buddha.