While tired after intermittent sleep on the overnight bus from Bago to Kyaikto and the famous Golden Rock hanging pagoda, I was relieved to arrive in daylight and check in to my hotel. I caught a ride to the hotel, the Bawga Theiddi, which has two locations–a main location in the township itself, which is a modern multi-story building, and a a set of one-level garden bungalows on the main road to the Golden Rock pagoda.
The bungalows looked beautiful from outside, and have a small dipping pool in front. But the toilet was clogged and overflowing in my room, which had clearly not been cleaned. The second room had been partially cleaned. Management appeared detached—perhaps the rooms in the large main hotel are better managed. The bungalow was also far enough from town and eateries to be inconvenient, but as my stay was only for two days and one night I did not relocate.
Very early the next morning I caught a motorbike ride to the departure point in town. As the photograph shows, visitors are packed like sardines into the back of large pickup trucks, and zip up the mountain.
On route to the shrine we stopped for an itinerant Buddhist preacher who stood in the truck and asked for donations to his alms bowl. Other monks along the road also solicited donations. Most of the visitors appeared to be Nepalese, with few Westerners. This impression was borne out once I reached the shrine, and was particularly striking when I walked down the other side of the mountain into the hillside market stalls along the steep stone steps.
It seemed to me that despite its being high season, the locals were surprised to see a Westerner (although it may also have been that my face was coated with white sunscreen–hah!). The booths often served as makeshift homes. While many sold somewhat tacky souvenirs, the traditional herbal and “ghost medicine” merchants were fascinating–albeit mystifying. I took photographs as discretely as possible, but in the only incident of its kind I was angrily reproached by one one of the medicine merchants in a threatening manner. I did manage to get some photos of other medicine booths, but the one where I was reproached was by far the most diverse and fascinating in its display.
Late Bus Back to Bago then Mandalay
Poor planning meant that I had to catch a late bus back to Bago and then a 10-hour night bus to Mandalay in order to accommodate my itinerary. One suggestion–give yourself a few extra days in Myanmar. I was 16 days in country, and adding only two or three more days would have greatly eased my journey.
Arriving in Mandalay around 6 the following morning, I was greeted by a throng of shoving, shouting, waving taxi drivers asking if I needed a driver. I focused on the one serene face in the crowd, and ended up striking a deal with Ko Aung, who became far more than my taxi driver, but rather a guardian, advisor and friend. I grabbed my one bag (always travel with only ONE bag–see the onebag.com website for details) and we zoomed off to the Yoe Yoe Lay guesthouse beyond downtown Mandalay. I had arranged a single room beforehand, but a mixup resulted in my having to share a dorm room with five other people. They were all considerate, however, and the rooms were immaculate, had built-in night reading lights on each bunk bed, and had clean flush toilets and hot showers about 10 steps away. The guesthouse includes breakfast and for $10/night it was a real bargain. The hostess and owner, Nan Bwe, was gracious and thoughtful–and apologetic about the room confusion. I highly recommend this guesthouse. TO BE CONTINUED….