Bagan Again

A few weeks ago we had a 2 day break from school. This was actually the Thursday and Friday of the week before Thanksgiving as we no longer get a holiday on actual Thanksgiving. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have that day off with this specific population of students and there are actually a lot of Myanmar holidays in November so a few years ago it was decided that we would shift the vacation days to coincide with something that most people actually celebrated!

We decided that we would take one last trip to Bagan, the vast ancient temple site in Myanmar. This was actually our third trip to Bagan. We went in December of our first year here when it was absolutely chock full of tourists, foreign and domestic. We had a great time with Gav’s brother and sister in law and rode our ebikes all over the place exploring. In the summer of 2020 when the world was shut down and we stayed in Yangon for the summer there was a brief time when Myanmar came out of lockdown and people could travel within the country. We took advantage of this and went back to Bagan and had an absolutely magical time. It was basically empty and although it was blazingly hot (it was torture sometimes to walk around the temples as you need to remove shoes and socks and the bricks/marble were baking) we loved every moment. Gavin had a proud moment with his Burmese during that time as at one of the temples we were stopped at the entrance and asked for our covid test results (at this point there were no vaccinations and you could not get a covid test in the country I don’t think!). Somehow I think the guy thought we were tourists although the airport had been shut since March, so Gav explained in Burmese that it’s ok we live in Yangon. We were ushered straight in, good job Gav!

We wanted to have one last hurrah at this place that we enjoy so much so we booked a hotel and plane tickets for the 4 day break. Of course basically as soon as I booked the plane tickets the airline cancelled the flight to Bagan-due to lack of demand flights only go on Fridays and Sundays and we wanted to go on Thursday. Never mind, we flew to Mandalay instead and had a driver take us the 3.5 hours by car to Bagan from there. It turns out that we were not the only people with the idea to visit Bagan during this little holiday. Two other teacher groups went as well and at our hotel alone there were three families from school! One of the kids asked me “why are you with Mr. Ailes and where is Mr. Christian (the other person who works in the library with me)?” I tried to explain that I was married to Mr. Ailes and this was quite the revelation to her, haha.

Once we got to our hotel and got settled into the best rooms in Bagan (see view above) we rented e-bikes and went out exploring. The best thing about Bagan is the sheer size of the site. You could visit 100 times and never see exactly the same temples you saw before. Of course you have your favourites that you go back to each time, but part of the magic is just getting lost on the sand tracks and seeing what you stumble upon. This time we found a temple with loads of bats inside (I will have to see if I can get Gav to upload the video here) and also finally managed to find out how to get to the temples that you see across the lake from our hotel.

Success! Not pictured here is the picture of me managing to get in a small e-bike accident in the very deep sand along the way. Whoopsies. I was fine apart from one scraped up leg. Gav also managed to spot some bird during this adventure that was a “lifer.”

Early one morning we also took a balloon ride over the temple complex. Some friends of ours who had to leave Yangon and cannot return due to their NGO jobs kindly gave us some tickets they had purchased pre-Covid. For anyone reading this blog who ever makes it to Bagan, this is a not-to-be-missed experience. It really is the only way to appreciate how vast the temple site is, and it helps you to get your bearings a little better. Plus there is champagne when you land so really, why not?

The rest of our time we just spent doing what we imagine is our farewell tour of Bagan. Both of us really felt like we didn’t want to leave and we can’t quite believe that is our last visit. It really is such a special place and even having been 3 times we would go back again if the opportunity presented itself. We got to revisit our old favorite places, go back to the same riverside restaurant that we have been to for lunch practically every day of every visit and really enjoy ourselves. Plus the weather was pretty perfect-Bagan is noticeably cooler than Yangon. I will never forgive the Brits for moving the capital to basically the worst place in the country weather-wise. For anyone reading who might be planning a trip, we highly recommend River Front Restaurant in New Bagan (get the prawn curry and tea leaf salad) and Min Nan Thu Kitchen in Min Nan Thu Village near Thambula Temple.

The week after we got home it was actual Thanksgiving. A group of friends decided to make a Thanksgiving dinner even though we had to work that day, so I set to trying to find a turkey. Some of you may remember the great turkey debacle of 2020 and the you kill/we kill situation. This year I found a shop that could get me a “village” turkey, but thankfully this was only a you cook/we cook situation. Given that we had to work all day and then even have a meeting after school until 4 (the audacity!) I chose the “you please cook it” option and at 5:30 pm a freshly cooked turkey showed up at my door! Was this cheating? Yes! Was it a Butterball quality turkey? Definitely no. But it got the job done and that evening we had a traditional Thanksgiving meal with 2 Americans, 1 Brit, 1 Kiwi, 2 South Africans and a Chilean. And a hopeful dog.

I started writing this blog post last Sunday. The power cut out while I was typing, but no problem we fired up the generator so that I could have wifi. About 30 minutes later Gav started complaining that the generator was really stinky. I thought he was being a whiner but then I went downstairs and the smell was pretty bad. So we went outside to shut it off and found smoke absolutely billowing out of the side. We quickly shut it off but that did not seem to stop the smoke, which kept pouring out for another 30 minutes or so. At one point I made Gav got the the fire extinguisher to be ready in case we actually saw flames. We called the head of maintenance to report what was happening and then sent two guys over to have a look. After a lot of puttering around they basically said oh yeah this thing is broken. On Monday they brought us yet another generator (this is now the 4th one we have had at this house). Unfortunately they did not actually take the broken one away so for now we have an extra piece of outdoor decor? Hopefully it disappears while we are gone for December break. Only one week to go!

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