Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Biking Inle Lake

The Inle Lake area is serene. One day was not enough for me so, I decided to rent a bike and explore the surrounding areas. I was particularly interested in visiting the hot springs and the Red Mountain Estates Vineyard. But visiting Inle Lake is also about meeting the locals and understanding how the rural people live their daily lives. That is so much easier when I travel independently.

The area surrounding Inle Lake is relatively flat and good for biking. The Teakwood Inn offered bikes for rent ($1.65) and provided a map of the area. At breakfast, I talked to a woman, Serica, and we were both interested in biking the area so we decided to do it together. We had been told there was a local festival at the pagoda west of town so, we started in that direction. As we left town, we cycled down a rocky road with many locals dressed up for the celebration. We followed the crowd and arrived at the pagoda 30 minutes later. We paid a guy to watch over our bikes and climbed the steps to join in the festivities.

Many of the locals looked shocked to see foreigners in attendance. We were welcomed by the people and it was fun to attend a local celebration. The grounds of the temple were full of people selling foods, music, videos, fireworks and gifts for Buddha.

In the temple, boys and monks were walking around the parameter with lay people giving offerings. The temple grounds were a flurry of activity. We heard drums beating and singing coming up the hill. A group of men were clapping, singing and dancing towards the temple. They were carrying a large money tree towards the temple. Everyone clapped to the beat as the procession surrounded the temple. The men were followed by young girls bringing gifts (flowers and cash) to the temple. 
We joined in the celebration clapping to the music and watching the activities.  After a while, I was hot and the afternoon sun was getting stronger. We eventually decided it was time to continue on our bike ride. We returned to the bottom of the hill and jumped on the bikes towards our next stop, the hot springs.

The hot springs were not what I had expected. I thought it would be more natural. The area was surrounded by farmland and woman working in the fields. It was relaxing and peaceful. There were three pools surrounded by tables and lounge chairs. We were given towels, soap, shampoo and a locker as we entered the women's restrooms. Serica and I had the hot springs to ourselves. We figured everyone else was too hot to sit in hot water in the afternoon.  It cost $8 and felt good even in the summer heat. We relaxed in the warm pools and then had lunch.

After lunch, my stomach started cramp and I was not feeling well. I told Serica and she said she was tired and would like to go back to Nyaungshwe. I agreed and when we left to get on our bikes she mentioned that the easiest and quickest way back would be hiring a boat at the next village. Typically the route continues a short distance to Kuang Daing village and then you hire a boat across the lake to Maing Thauk village and back up to Nyaungshwe. A man noticed us discussing our plan and asked if we needed a boat across the lake. We explained we wanted to go back to Nyaungshwe and he agreed. He told us to follow him to his boat. He was on a motorcycle and we followed. At one point he was driving very slowly. I pulled up behind him and yelled out beep-beep. He turned and looked at me and laughed. He realized he could go a little faster. We entered the small village and he grabbed a container of fuel and told us to follow. He started down a path that was too narrow for us to ride our bikes. It was up and over a bamboo bridge, down a muddy hill, across a porch and down a couple of steps. Then we had to wander through waist deep grass to the lake. We finally arrived at five boats. He got in and I handed him my bike. He carried it from boat to boat until he got to the 5th boat. Then he returned to get Serica's bike. I lifted it and felt the boggy ground give way. I started sinking into the mud. I decided to jump on the boat. As I crawled onto the boat my other leg sunk into the mud. I was knee deep in mud. The man looked at me and said "No, don't step there! Very muddy!" I laughed as I pulled my leg hard and hoped my sandal would stay on my foot. Luckily it did! I stood there with mud all the way to my ankle. The young man was horrified and told me to stay still. I told him not to worry and lifted my leg to put it in the lake water on the other side of the boat. He said no and grabbed a bucket of water to wash off my foot. He was so sweet and cleaned my foot off. I just laughed and told him it was fine.    

We were loaded on the boat and on our way back to our hotel. I was not feeling well and was ready to get back. The boat ride was quick and the young man motioned to get our cameras ready. I looked over the bow of the boat. There was a fisherman rowing his boat. I had another chance to photograph the fisherman of Inle Lake.

We returned to the boat dock in Nyaungshwe and the young man helped us carry our bikes to the shore. It was a good day but I was feeling sicker by the moment. I went back to my hotel and asked about travel plans to Mandalay. I had planned to leave the next day on the bus. I was surprised to find out that the bus ride was an overnight trip. Since I wasn't feeling well, the woman suggested I consider flying to Mandalay. When she told me the price was less than $50 and I would be there in an hour, I told her to book the ticket. I went to bed and gave up on seeing the winery. I was sad but did not feel well. I went to bed early and rested.

I woke up in the morning and felt really good. Since the taxi was picking me up at 1:30 PM, I decided to rent a bike and finish the eastern side of Inle Lake. I headed out of town in the morning and passed the winery. I followed dirt paths to see where they led. As I explored the area, I passed farm land and the people going about their daily activities. A man was on his way to the fields with his oxen cart, a boy walking cattle, children playing and swimming in the canals.

As I cycled through towns, I passed women doing their laundry and hanging it out to dry. At 10:00 AM, I headed to the Red Mountain Estates Vineyard. The winery sits on the top of a steep hill. I realized the hill was too steep for me and I was going to have to walk to the top. Since it would be a fun ride down, I pushed the bike to the top. Wine! I knew my stomach had issues the last 2 days but I decided the wine may kill off anything that was wrong. Maybe not the best idea but I missed wine. The view from the view from the winery was nice. Too bad it wasn't sunset. I sat down by the window and ordered a tasting and a fruit plate with grilled chicken. I relaxed and enjoyed the view and my wine tasting for $2.50. The wine was better than I had expected. I was happy and had a good day. I looked at my watch and knew I needed to cycle back to my guesthouse. It was a short 20 minute ride back to Nyaungshwe. I was happy to have finished my bike ride of Inle Lake. I had time to change my shirt and wash my face. Then, the taxi arrived and I was off to the airport for a quick flight to Mandalay.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

An Incredible Day on Inle Lake

Most travelers to Myanmar have two sights on their list to visit. Bagan and Inle Lake. I loved  Bagan and was anxious to explore the lake. Inle Lake is a freshwater lake that is the second largest lake in Myanmar. It is in the Shan state surrounded by mountains. I had done my research and knew what I wanted to see on my visit to the lake. It was relatively simple:

1. The five day market in a remote village
2. The floating vegetable gardens
3. Indein Village
4. Fisherman of Inle Lake

I had negotiated a boat price when I first arrived. The trip included the things I wanted to see in addition to the typical tourist stops. I chose to go on Tuesday so, the 5 day market was in Tuang To. The village of Thuang Tho is on the southern end of the lake, off the tourist track. I was going to have to be at the dock at 7:00 AM for the trip which would take an hour and a half to the village. I had told my guesthouse that I had gotten a boat for morning and she packed a breakfast to go for me. I had my bottle of water and some yummy foods to take on my trip. As I stepped outside of my guesthouse, I was hit by the cool air. I was almost cold in the early morning and decided to put my sarong around my shoulders. It felt good after weeks of sweating in the SE Asian heat.

The docks were full of activity as the boats arrived with fresh produce and people going to work in Nyaungshwe. I boarded my boat and my guide handed me an umbrella to shade the early morning sun. We left the dock and were traveling down the canal at full speed towards the lake. We passed boats full of Shan and they would smile and wave to the tourist sitting on a chair in the boat. I felt odd as the locals all sit on the floor of the boat. You can tell a tourist boat from the distance since they have chairs and the tourists sit high. I felt like I was in one of the old movies where the westerner arrives in a country with fair skin and an umbrella while the locals are working to the bone. I immediately put the umbrella away as it just felt weird and the sun was not hot at this hour.

As the boat entered the calm lake, it was like glass surrounding with hills. I smiled as I realized I was actually on Inle Lake and going to see the fabled fishermen rowing their boats! This is the only place in the world that the fishermen row the boats with one leg. They balance on the end of the boat, row with one leg and keep their hands free to fish. I could see the fisherman in the distance and I let out a small "yes!" I pointed to the group of fisherman and asked the driver if he could get a little closer for a photo. He agreed but did not get too close. I watched in amazement as they rowed. Their legs are almost like a snake as it twists around the oar and turns in the lake. I don't know how they do it! Throughout the day, I saw young boys practicing with their fathers instructing them. It appeared they learned when they were young.

Other fishermen stand on the bow of their boats and slam the oar on the waters surface to bring the fish closer. It was a different technique and interesting to watch as we sped across the lake.

At the southern end of the lake, I saw farmers gathering seaweed from the bottom of the deeper parts of the lake. I asked my guide what they did with the seaweed. He told me it was used to make the floating garden beds. Inle Lake's availability of nutrient loaded water makes these floating gardens very fertile for cultivation.  He told me there are 20 species of snails and 9 species of fish, found nowhere else in the world. Most of the people are self-sufficient farmers.

The people live on the banks of the lake in simple wooden and woven bamboo houses standing on stilts. In the early morning, many people were bathing, washing clothes or brushing their teeth in the river.
My guide turned down a small canal lined with lotus flowers. He stopped and told me to get out. I was confused and asked if this was the floating market. He told me that I was going to see Lotus silk weaving first. I asked him if the market was next and he said yes. I wanted to get to the market before all the locals left for the day.

The Inle Lake area is renowned for its silk weaving which produces high-quality hand-woven silk fabrics of distinctive design called Inle longyi. It is the only place where this unique fabric from the lotus plant fibers is produced. Originally, it wasa special weaving for the robes for Buddha images and monks. I walked up the stairs to the weaving area. Two young girls demonstrated how the silk strands were removed from the lotus flower stems. It was simple but time consuming work. They broke the stem in 1 inch increments and removed the fine silk then broke another inch and did the same. I was amazed at their patience. This was not something I could do! Afterwards, the silk was spun, died and weaved. The factory was in a beautiful area surrounded by lotus flowers and rice paddies. The woman worked the looms and made beautiful fabrics. Before I left, the woman insisted on putting some thanaka on my face. Throughout Myanmar women and children are seen with a gold paste covering their faces. Thanaka is a traditional skin conditioner which has been used in for centuries and is a cherished part of the national identity. It is made from the bark of a tree. They grind the tree bark with a little water on a flat, circular stone. The grinding motion produces a milky yellow liquid that dries quickly when applied to the skin. The woman explained that the Burmese people believe the bark protects their skin from the harsh sun, tightens their pores and controls oil. She applied it to my skin and I felt a cooling sensation. She laughed as my skin was very light and the thanaka blended well. She looked at me and said "We same same now." She told me I had beautiful coloring and gave me a small thanaka bar to use each day.
I returned to my boat and asked if we were going to the market. My guide said yes. As we left the canal he headed back towards the main lake. I had looked at the map at the south end of the lake and we were headed north. I realized he was going in the wrong direction. He was headed to the floating market for tourists. I turned to him and said "no, wrong market."  I know he was trying to trick me and did not want to go all the way to Thuang Tho. I insisted and he reluctantly turned the boat around. As we arrived at the market I was happy I had insisted he made the trip. My boat entered the canal and I could see several boats at the end. On land there were oxen carts with piles of wood and the Shan women in the distance.

I exited the boat and walked along the path. The farmers were ploughing the fields, sunflowers were blooming and the market was the center of the activity. A farmer saw me with my camera and pointed at it. He wanted his photo taken. He laughed and called all of the people around to see his handsome photo. I must admit, it is a favorite of mine. I have fallen in love with the warmth of the Burmese people.
The market had foods, crafts, wood and souvenirs all for sell. As soon as I stepped foot in the area, woman were approaching me and asking me to come visit their shop. I was pulled from one shop to another. I thanked them and went on my way exploring the area market. This was real life. Farmers buying and selling produce. I was amazed at the amount of wood for sale. One of the women explained that all cooking is still done by wood. The Shan women walk the forests and collect wood to sell at the markets. This was a young Shan girl that also asked if I would take her picture. She laughed when she saw it and I told her she was beautiful. She yelled out to her mother to come see the photo and they both giggled and thanked me for sharing it with them.

I returned to my boat and we were headed back to the Inle Lake region. I toured the silversmith, the blacksmith, and the boatmakers. They were  touristy and an attempt to sell souvenirs.

After lunch we went to a pagoda and then up the river to Indein Village. The boat trip was fun. The boat was guided through mini rapids that controlled the water levels.

As we traveled up the river, we passed a man bathing his water buffalo after a long hot day in the feilds. The water buffalo loved the river and raomed along the edge. I loved watching the water buffalo and had been trying to get a good photo of them as I have traveled throughout SE Asia.

We arrived in Indein Village and I hiked to the pagoda. I actually found the little pagodas on the sides to be more beautiful and interesting. As I walked up the hill to the pagoda, I started feeling really sick. Oh no! My lunch was not sitting well. Luckily I had a supply of medications with me and took a few to ease my stomach. I still had a few hours before I would be back to the boat dock. This is not the day I wanted to feel bad. I continued my journey up to the top of the pagoda. Slowly....and drinking lots of water. At the top I enjoyed the view and relaxed a while near a bathroom. I was having severe stomach issues. Ugh!

After an half an hour I started to feel better and made my way down the hill. A man was selling souvenirs and tried to get me to buy this hat made of water buffalo teeth. I didn't know what I would do with it or if I had an outfit to match. I declined but I love the hat! It takes a real man to pull off this look!

The next stop was the Kayan Lahwi (giraffe woman) or Padaung woman. The women in this tribe wear brass coil rings around their necks which give the appearance of lengthening their necks. The weight of the brass coils push the collar bone down which compresses the rib cage. Since I had no intent on buying anything and a few tourists had said the woman and child were treated like zoo animals, I decided to skip that stop. I was not feeling well and wanted to go back to the hotel. I also asked to skip the Jumping Cat Monastery but my driver insisted I go. I don't know why. The monks use to train cats to jump through hoops. Now, the monastery has cats lying on the floor but no tricks. As I walked the grounds I saw a Burmese movie being filmed. It was fun to watch. It seemed very overdramatic, similar to a telenovela.

My last stop was the floating gardens. They are magnificent. I was amazed at the acres and acres of tomato, cucumber, gourds and flowers I saw growing on the lake. The Shan people had beautiful produce due to their ability to make the floating gardens. As we floated through the gardens, a storm blew in followed by heavy rains. The guide handed me a poncho and I grabbed the umbrella. It had been a beautiful day on the lake and I was ready to go back to my guesthouse to reflect on an incredible day. Inle Lake was everything I had hoped it would be and so much more.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung Monastery Inle Lake, Myanmar

I had been told by another traveler to take a boat from Bagan to Mandalay. Supposedly, the views as you arrive in Mandalay are fantastic. I started asking around trying to book a boat but one of the downfalls of traveling at the low season is the boats reduce their schedules and the river is too low. So, I was going to have to take the bus. I was bummed but I knew that would be a possibility. As I talked with the owners of Mya Thirda Guesthouse, they suggested I take the bus to Inle Lake first and then go up to Mandalay. As we talked I decided they probably knew best and I took their recommendation. I was on the morning bus the next day. As with most of SE Asia, the guesthouses make arrangements to have you picked up and taken to the bus station. It is really easy. A pick-up arrived to at 8:00 AM with monks. Uh-oh! I know I was not allowed to touch them or their robes. I wondered if that meant I was riding on top or hanging on the back of the pick-up. Yikes! The monks rearranged themselves and moved a layman to sit next to me. As the driver left my hotel he went full throttle. I was ecstatic I was not hanging on the back! I don't know why he was in such a hurry or if he just liked to drive like a bat out of hell! We flew through town and around corners. Everyone screamed as we were almost hit by another pick-up. As soon as he parked at the bus station, I was on solid ground. Yeah! I survived the 20 minute trip!

The bus ride to Inle Lake was a full day. At least the bus was comfortable and the scenery was gorgeous. I watched the farmers preparing their land with oxen, pick-ups flew by with people sitting on the top and the land changed from plains to mountains. One of the monks greeted me on the bus and provided me with 3 books to learn about the temples of Bagan and Myanmar travel. All of them were in English and he thought I would enjoy reading them during the journey. He explained that he had bought the books to take back to his temple and educate the younger monks about Myanmar and teach them English. Once again, I was touched by the kindness of a stranger in this beautiful land.

I arrived at Inle Lake at 4:30 PM and had to find a hotel. I stopped at the first place the tuk-tuk dropped me off, Teakwood Inn. I asked if they had any rooms for $20 USD. She said no $35 and I turned to leave. She finally agreed to give me a room with no air-conditioning for $20 and I jumped on it. I was ready for a shower, dinner and a walk around town. I grabbed my camera and headed to the canal. I met On Oo who offered me a fantastic deal on a boat tour of Inle Lake. As we talked I knew I wanted to go to the 5 day market which moves from village to village. If I wanted a day, I could go to a village with more Shan people, Indein Village and the typical stops for 18,000 kyat. My guesthouse wanted 30,000 kyat for the same tour. I was excited to see Inle Lake and the fisherman. I thought about this as I continued to walk along the canal watching the farmers unload vegetables from the floating garden. I wandered the canals and watched people bathing at night. Children saw me with a camera and ran up to me saying "hello money" with their hands held out. I put my camera away and did not take any photos. I really dislike that tourists have made this negative impact on the children already. Ugh!

The next morning, it was raining so I relaxed and waited for the rain to stop. All of the tourists sat around the breakfast area using the internet and sharing travel information. When the rain stopped, I was the only person that wanted to visit Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung.
I know, you are thinking she is off stalking the cute little monks again. Yep! I rented a bike and was off  to explore the monastery and the surrounding villages. The monastery is north of Inle Lake and only took 10 minutes from the hotel. It was a nice ride past a few rice paddies. The Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung monastery is probably the most famous monestary in all of Myanmar. It is made of teakwood and has oval windows which make a perfect frame for the young novices.
I got a picture of one novice! I was so excited when I rolled into the grounds and a novice was looking out the window. Other travelers had told me they had to wait for hours to get these photos. But I was lucky. I wandered around the grounds and the beautiful white stupa. It is not mentioned in Lonely Planet but it was a beautiful building also. Hundreds of buddhas in little nitches as you walk around the inside on hand painted tiles. As I walked back into the daylight, I heard the chanting of the young monks. I walked to the temple, removed my shoes and entered. I sat down in the back to watch the hour long meditation before lunch. (It started at 10:30AM the day I was there).

The older novices were in the front two rows meditating. The interesting site was the back row. All of the young novices were lined up along the windows. Some were reading books while others where sitting talking to one another. Cats walked through the room and the novices each tried to entice the cat to sit next to them. I smiled as I watched these novices being boys. I talked to a few of them and found out they were between the ages of 8-10 years old. I was not surprised that meditating was difficult for is hard for me and I am 44 years old!

I loved the novice checking out the antics of the boys in the back while the cat slept soundly. I was happy the light was good in the temple. I am intrigued with the lives of the monks and love the lighting with their beautiful robes. I sat and listened to the meditation as a bus load of tourists came into the temple and snapped photos of the monks and then left. After the meditation, several of the boys came up to talk to me and ask where I was from. They had a map and I showed them both California and Iowa. They loved the photos I had of family and were intrigued by my iPhone.

As I walked around the building I saw the cutest kittens looking out the windows. I could not help myself....they new how to pose in the beautiful windows also!
Afterwards, I continued north on the road until I saw a dirt path to the right. I turned and biked towards the hills. I went through small farming villages. Children ran out to greet me and pose for pictures. The farmers were working the lands and people were going about their lives.

As I returned to town, I saw a sign for an art gallery, Gallery 19, photo exhibit. I stopped and pondered over the beautiful photos of Inle Lake and the Shan people. I enjoyed it and told several tourists to stop by and look at the pictures.
My bike ride was a nice beginning to my stay at Inle Lake. I loved getting out and exploring the area independently and decided I will also do the day trip around the lake before I leave. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bagan Temples and Villages

The temples at Bagan in some way are more breathtaking than Angor Wat because of their isolated beauty, their unpretentious location and the absence of the hoards of tourists.  Taking photos does not really capture the beauty of the setting. I enjoyed when I stopped and took it all in.

I decided to spend a few days exploring the temples of Bagan. My plan was 1 day by horse cart, 1 by bicycle and one on foot around the New Bagan area. I was excited to relax and just become a bit of a local in New Bagan. My hotel, Mya Thirda Guesthouse, was the perfect place away from the backpacker group in Nyaung-U. It was clean, peaceful and relaxing. The owners spent time explaining the history and life in Myanmar which I appreciated. After a few breakfasts of the standard eggs and toast I was excited when I got a bowl of food that I did not recognize. I was ready to try something new and different. Over the week I had rice with pickled mango, noodles with onions and carrots and a variety of fried been and vegetable cakes. It was all good and I was surprised that I stayed full into the middle of the afternoon. It was a nice change from the standard eggs and toast.

Bagan has been described by many people as one of the finest sights in the world and I must agree. Between the 11-13th centuries, Bagan's kings commissioned more than 4,000 Buddhist temples. The temples have beautiful murals, Buddha statues and stairways that lead to exterior platforms with jaw-dropping views of the plains. The brick and stucco structures  remain where the wooden cities of the time are long gone.  The site has withstood centuries of neglect, looting by the Mongol's, erosion, regular earthquakes and questionable restoration. Even so, the plain of Bagan is remarkable. I was in awe when I first glimpsed the site and words can not convey my appreciation of the temples.  I will let my photos speak for themselves. I was told numerous times that I needed to return between Dec- Feb when the sunsets are beautiful and the rain clouds disappear.
My horse, Amoo Amoo, arrived with the driver at 9 am to begin our tour of the pagodas of Bagan. We left the hotel and all I heard was the clip-clap of Amoo Amoo's shoes on the pavement. I relaxed into the sound and the sights. It was early morning and the sun was already scorching down on the buggy. I was thankful to be in the shade of the carriage. We pulled up to the first temple and I was off to explore the grounds. The government charges $10 USD for entry to the Bagan Archeological sites. I expected to pay at this site, but nobody was collecting money. I removed my shoes and left them at the steps. Luckily I am not a germ freak. The hardest thing to get use to in SE Asia is removing your shoes and walking barefoot. Socks are not allowed. I have witnessed several westerners trying to do this and they are typically turned back. I only have 2 issues with removing my shoes. The marble tiles can be extremely hot in the afternoon sun and in the courtyards the stones and sticks hurt my wimpy feet! Anyway, I entered and observed many families were setting up their souvenir shops along the path. Since it was early and they were setting up, I was spared the hard sale. Yay! I walked the steps to the temple and a young boy greeted me with "Hello, where you from?" I responded and he ran off to tell his family. A few minutes later, they appeared and asked if they could take photos with me. I posed for photos for 5 minutes and then we said our goodbyes. The temple was under reconstruction as they were replacing the gold leaf on the upper stuppa. I was amazed by the bamboo scaffolding that surrounded the stupa and the ease with which the workers climbed up and around it. It did not look very safe to me but what do I know?

After exploring, I returned to Amoo Amoo and we were off to my favorite pagoda.  I loved this pagoda as soon as I saw it. The arching entry way, the amber yellow bricks and the large castle-like design. It reminded me of Spain. I waited for the tourists to disappear so I could capture the beauty of the arch entry at Sulamani Pagoda.

All of the souvenir salespeople were ready for business so I was immediately begged to buy a t-shirt, bells, gongs, paintings and postcards. I continued on my path. I enjoyed the carvings and murals of the pagoda before returning to my horse cart. We clambered down the sand path to a small 3 story pagoda. I avoided the sales hawkers and made my way to the top viewing platform and sat down to admire the plain. As I was taking pictures, two eager artists took the moment to pull out their artwork. I explained I was not interested and they started giving me the history of the surrounding pagodas. I admit it was all very overwhelming. I could not keep the names straight. The told me about a pagoda that was built by one of the kings that he required a pine needle could not be inserted between the bricks and mortar. If he was able to insert the pine needle then, the workers arm would be amputated or they would be killed. Drastic, huh? I was also intrigued watching the cattle and goats make their way across the plain. Several goat decided to climb a pagoda below. I knew I had lost track of the time. I was talking to the artists and someone tapped me on the shoulder. As usual, I screamed and about jumped off the pagoda! I am not sure who was more or my horse cart driver that came to get me.
We continued visiting pagodas and I continued to avert the sales pitches for souvenirs. I considered that a huge success! I was getting hot and ready for a bite to eat and a break from the hot sun. The driver took me to town for a nice lunch and time to cool off. Afterwards we headed to additional temples. In the middle of the afternoon, he said we were ahead of schedule and could go visit some smaller temples or take a break in town and let Amoo Amoo cool off. I felt bad for the horse and said I would like to explore town while Amoo Amoo cooled off. I enjoyed a cool fruit shake at a teashop while the men played a game.
After a short rest, I was off to expolre the village of Old Bagan on my own. It didn't take long for the children to find me and start selling postcards, magnets and their travel services. I told them I did not want or need anything and continued on my way. They followed and told me "No customers today. No lucky day. You my first customer." I laughed and told them" Me no customer. Me no buy." Yes, my Asian-english has come to this! But they understand the simplicity of it. These kids do not take no for an answer and continued to follow me. I got to the point where I just ignored it. I know that they do this because it has worked with other tourists and they have been conditioned to just keep following you and lowering the price until you finally buy something. I met back up with my horse and cart at 4:45PM to head to the final pagoda for sunset.

When I arrived at the pagoda, every salesperson I had met throughout the day was there waiting for me. I was mobbed at the entrance. They were still trying to sell me things. Ahhh! I said no and continued to the stairs. I was thankful to get to the pagoda and start my ascent to the top. The salespeople stood at the bottom yelling out prices to me. OMG! This was crazy. I found that it made me that much more adamant that I was not buying anything. The climb to the top pf the pagoda was not too hard. The steps were small so I had to go up sideways because my foot was too big. The craziest thing is that the step height was so big. Each step was probably 18-24 inches high. I giggled as I thought about the short stature of the people and these huge steps. At the top of the pagoda, there were only 15 other travelers. I sat down to await the show. A private guide was telling a couple that during the high sesaon (Nov - Feb) the pagoda was packed with tourists on every level. This was better because you could walk around the top level and see the plains as we awaited the sun's final descent. I took a moment to walk to the other side. Oh no! There were huge rain clouds coming our way! The guide had followed me and said we may get lucky and it would miss this temple...maybe. I went back to my waiting spot and decided to cover my bag with the rain cover. It was not going to be fun going down if it rains. Only time was going to tell. The sunset was not amazing since the clouds moved in.
I got a few shots before the storm blew in with heavy winds. My skirt flew up and the rain was an immediate downpour. Everyone packed up and started the five level descent. It was slippery but everyone told the next person to be careful if a step was loose or especially slippery. I looked down thinking the salespeople would be gone. Nope! There they stood waiting for us with their items in rain. I made my way out of the pagoda and back to my horse for the ride back to my hotel. It had been a great day. My driver tried to talk me into a second day but I had decided to do a walk  and a day of biking around the New Bagan area.
Over the next two days I explored on foot and due to the heat I gave up on a bike and went with a second driver and horse (Rambo) for a bargain price of $12 USD. I explored the smaller temples and a beautiful little village of Min-nau-thu. The village was beautiful. I was told about 188 people live in the village. There are woman that weave and farm animals are grazing or sleeping near the homes. As I walked through the village, I saw an old woman making cigars. I loved her!
Her name was Ching-Ching and she was 82 years old. She loved betel nut and smoking. She said these were her hobbies and had helped her live to this age. She lit a cigar and handed it to me. I told her "no thank you. No smoke. " Then she was trying to push the betel nut on me. I asked if I could get a photo of her smoking and she was excited. She loved seeing the photos of herself. She asked a young girl to take a picture of the 2 of us smoking cigars. I gave in and pretended.

On the second day of the horse cart tour, I went to small temples. The gate keepers opened up the temples for me and tried to sell me their artwork or souvenirs. I had bought a painting the first night from a man named Tin Tin. He passed us on the road and told my driver to come to his temple. He wanted to show me the mural that I had bought from him. He was so excited to show me the beauty of his little temple. It had some of the best murals I had seen on my tour. I was thankful for his time and the artwork he shared with me. Then he took me around the outside of the temple to make certain I got the best photos. Since we had bonded and he had just put a wad of betel nut into his mouth I asked if I could get a picture of him. He was excited and asked me to give him a moment for the redness of the betel nut to get stronger. The people of Myanmar are friendly and I loved them immediately. This place is  not only beautiful but the people are warm and welcoming. I will never forget the beautiful temples of Bagan or the kind hearted people I met here.