Bagan is a huge ruin city located on the banks of the Ayeyarwady river on the south side of Mandalay. Bagan is home to approx 2500 Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. For many tourists Bagan is the main attraction in Myanmar and the area is well prepared for tourism. There is many dusty paths connecting temples and it is pretty easy to go around by bikes, e-bikes or by horse-cart. Watching sunset and sunrise is popular attractions during early morning/evening. After travelling 5 months in Asia, we started to be pretty full of temples especially after spending three intense days in Angkor, Cambodia. The most impressive thing in Bagan is that temple area is so huge that when you’re watching it from above it just seems to continue over and over. This time we allowed ourselves not to go to see too many temples inside and instead we enjoyed e-bike rides on the dusty roads between the temples for a couple of days.
After Bagan we travelled to the small town of Pakokku for a couple of days after hearing recommendations from other travellers. We travelled there with local transport, with these small pick-up trucks which won’t leave until they are packed to their fullest! Normally they are loaded so full of people that some need to travel on the roof! Travelling is practical like that in almost every transport vehicle. There aren’t any seats or other free space which wouldn’t be full packed at least with luggages. In buses they place ‘secondary’ seats to corridor between the actual seat rows so every inch is in use.
Pakokku is one of those places where you don’t meet many western people and which doesn’t seem to be affected at all by tourism. Local people are super friendly and you hear ‘min-ga-lar-par’ and get smiles from every direction. People don’t try to overcharge you and actually we were invited to taste burmese food from local peoples’ plates in the streets. Most impressive experience in Pakokku was still the humble and hospitable guesthouse Mya Ya Ta Nar Inn with it’s charming owner Mya Mya. Mya Mya had kept her guesthouse since 1980 and it was the oldest in town. We felt like living with our grandmother… Mya Mya lived in the same house with her daughter, with her grandchildren and with many cats. Sleeping in this guesthouse felt like living in a burmese family, so welcoming and hospitable they were! Mya Mya is one of those persons whose presence calms you down immediately. She also spoke very good english and also taught english to other people in Pakokku. At the moment we stayed at her place, she taught money exchanging phrases to local bankers so that they could communicate better with tourists. Mya Mya took us to buy longyis in the local market and we invited her to tea afterwards. While sipping burmese sweet tea Mya Mya shared many stories about her life and about Myanmar with us.
Mya Mya was worried about the effects of tourism in Myanmar. Money earned from tourism goes mostly to the pockets of government since many tourism services including tourist agencies, fancier hotels and guesthouses are owned by the government. It’s difficult to know as a tourist which places are owned by families and which by the government. Especially when we asked for room in some of the more authentic looking guesthouse in Bagan they said it’s only for locals. What can you do then…go to the ‘only tourists’ accepting guesthouse. In Mya Ya Ta Nar Inn there were both tourists and local people staying and Mya Mya said it’s the same prices for both of them. Mya Mya told that authority from Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is regularly visiting her guesthouse and asking her to renovate her premises. For example she had to replace her old traditional wooden entrance door with a glass-door because of their order. We were making jokes that soon they will ask her to put wifi to her guesthouse. I can truly recommend this place in Myanmar! It was nice to know that you were supporting directly this family instead of Myanmar government.
We went to this lovely coffee shop for a couple of times during our stay in Pakokku. Family lives in this same room where they have customers during daytime. Propably they all share this one big bed. People bathe themselves and wash their clothes in the streets or in the river nearby. Food is many times cooked with open fire. People use bulls for farm work. People don’t own much, children don’t have too many toys but people seem to be very happy. Many of them are singing while working and they really seem genuinely happy when seeing that foreigners are interested in their country.