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Mandalay to Bagan, and 2700 temples

Leaving the computer centre in Mandalay, I decided to settle my further itineraries and headed to an Internet shop in the hope to arrange some online bookings, using Aline's credit card (because mine was lost and I would rather preserve the cash dollars I have, given that there is no way to get more money in this country. I managed to book myself hotel rooms for the One Night in Bangkok I have before returning home, as well as the five days of Yangon before. Other than that, however, I could not get any flights; Myanmar-internal flights cannot be booked online, and Thai Airways refuses to take passengers when the name on the credit card does not match the passenger's.

Given that my plans for the evening where set, I had to leave the place with my mission unaccomplished and headed for the Green Elephant restaurant, which the Lonely Planet describes as up-scale. For a whopping $7, I treated myself to beer, pickled ginger and green tea leaves, and butter fish in a tomato curry. Very delicious. Afterwards I attended the Mandalay Marionette & Culture Show, which was quite lovely despite the atonal music that came with it. Mandalay marionettes (or Myanmar marionettes in general) are very elaborately made, and the style to guide them is very unique to the country, the art having been the popular art back in the days when kings ruled the land. The artists are devoted to keeping this art alive, and you could really feel their enjoyment as they showed fights between ogres, princes and snakes, riding horses and trolling monkeys, princes engaging in "hackysack"-style football artistics (which is very popular over here, and people are rather good), as well as synchronised dances between marionettes and real dancers. I can recommend this show to anyone visiting (as I recommend to anyone visiting Hanoi to see the water puppet theatre) and am glad I chose this option over the "Moustache Brothers" performance, which is political satire and slapstick on the edge of legality. I ended the evening talking to some other travellers, most of which had no interest in listening to others but to tell their stories instead.

The next morning saw me rising at 4:30 to catch the ferry to Bagan at 6:00 o'clock. The boat had comfortable seats and a restaurant, and only a handful passengers, so the 10 hours went by reasonably fast (no comparison to the ride we took on the Mekhong last year to get from Chiang Khong in Thailand to Luang Phrabang in Laos). We arrived in Bagan on time and together with some Australians I found the May Kha Lar guesthouse (following again the Lonely Planet), which is a rather pleasant place with a lovely, elderly, English-speaking lady running it. SHe also arranged my further air travel for me and wanted about $30 less than the official booking offices. I decided to spend an additional day in Bagan, so I am heading out from here by plane on the 28th, going to Heho, then spending two and a half days at Inle Lake, and flying to Yangon on the 30th. From there, I am leaving for Bangkok on 4 May.

With the tickets in my pocket, I felt relieved, showered, and went for a traditional Burmese massage, which turns out to be completely different from the Thai style (which Laos and Vietnam copied more or less) and was rather painful, both because the lady literally tormented my legs far too long and spent only a very short time on my pained shoulders, and because neither the mosquito coils nor my repellents warded off the beasts as I was lying there out in the darkening sky right at dusk. No Malaria in this region, fortunately. Following a very traditional Burmese dinner (goat meat curry), I went to bed because...

... the next day I rose again at 4:30 to meet a guide, and left the hotel at 5:00 o'clock on a horse cart for a tour of the temples. Bagan is what could be called the heart of Myanmar, and on a 42 square kilometre area, you can find 2700 temples (of the 4500 originally built), dating back to the 10th century AD. Unfortunately, the wall carvings and paintings in most temples has been washed away, and it was nowhere near as fascinating to stroll along the endless corridors as it had been in Angkor Wat or Bayon Wat in Cambodia, but from the outside, these temples still look spectacular and are well preserved or restored. Also, climbing up on one or the other, the sight was almost overwhelming: a vast landscape of strupas and temples as far as the eye would reach, and all that under a lovely sunny sky. Haha. The "sunny" bit is what made me get up so early, because the temperatures are bearable only up until 11 o'clock or so. Between noon and 16:00 o'clock today, the thermometre measured 46 degrees Celsius -- I don't think I've ever been in a place so hot (if you leave out our trip to Death Valley in an airconditioned van.

So in order to escape the heat, I went to the archaeological museum at noon, then back to the city and into the swimming pool of one of the nicer hotels in town, which cost me $3 for a pool that was green (they don't have the money for chemicals), and the water about the temperature of my bathtub at home. I did not swim, but fortunately, the showers there were pleasantly cold, so I lay in the shade to read ("Kafka on the Short" by Haruki Murakami), taking a shower every ten minutes to cool down.

Going back to the hotel, I find the electricity to be gone once again. I think that this town (and Mandalay as well) has maybe 4 hours of electricity a day, it coming and going every few minutes (which makes computer use quite unpleasant). This also means that there is no aircondition most of the day, at least in the budget hotels which don't have their own generator.

I am meeting my guide again at 16:00 hours for another 2-3 hours, then will follow the hotel owner's suggestion for a "back massage expert", eat, sleep, and climb Mount Popa tomorrow morning. I'll try to get online again in the afternoon.

Thanks for reading along.