In a horse cart to the more remote temples of Bagan
This morning I decided to visit the most important temples of Bagan in a horse cart. Well, at least, that was my intention. My guide, however, judges otherwise. It is better to visit the highlights of the old part of town by bike, he says. So he suggests to bring me to the more distant temples and pagodas of Bagan. Indeed, they are also worth the effort, and all in all, some of these are on my wishlist for sure.
People are desperate to sell
At every better-known temple, the sellers and saleswomen come rushing towards you. That is the slightly annoying thing about this trip today. Rarely they leave you alone; there is always someone who wants to sell you either sand paintings, or postcards, or knick-knacks. On the other hand, occasionally I come across a temple keeper who gives me a thorough explanation of the history of the temple or pagoda in question, without attempting to sell afterward. Fortunately, disinterested is still possible, but it remains an exception to the rule.
Many efforts in trying to make extra money
Understandably everybody tries to make a living here. So does my tour guide. Along the way, while driving to the remote temples of Bagan in a horse cart, he starts talking about the investment he wants to make to buy his own horse and carriage, about his one-year-old son who wants to go to a monk school but for which he also needs money. His efforts don`t stop there though; he also asks if I want to take a speedboat tonight to see the sunset on the other side of Irrawaddy River. His friend runs that boat. Furthermore, he wants to help me to reserve a bus ticket to my next stop, Pyay, because according to him they will make me anything at the points of sale.
Early ending of my visit to Bagan in a horse cart
I hired him for a day, for an arranged fee suggested by the hotel staff. But to my surprise, my tour of exploring Bagan in a horse cart already ends at a quarter to two when we arrive back at the hotel. When settling the payment, he wants a little extra to buy lunch. Though I don`t bother too much about the debt, I do point out to him the early finishing off the tour. Even though most travel books recommend hiring people outside the hotels, which I did, I am somewhat disappointed about my experience today.
More souvenir sellers at the Shwezigon pagoda
Late in the afternoon, I walk to the Shwezigon pagoda on my own. Once there, I am immediately accosted by souvenir sellers. The story they tell is the same as I heard all day long; I am their first customer today, and they haven’t sold anything for days. It is still low season in Bagan, and apparently, there have been fewer tourists than expected in the last two years. However, my sole contribution will not change their faith that much. Many foreigners agree upon the boycott not to travel to Myanmar as long as the political situation here does not change.
Bagan remains a cultural and historical highlight
So far for my visit to Bagan in a horse cart. Tomorrow I will rent a bike and visit the most important temples of Old Bagan on my own. I have little illusion that even then I will not be spared from people trying to sell their goods. The temples are wonderful to see, but those incidentals make it less enjoyable than I had hoped. Bagan equals Angkor Wat as a cultural and historical destination. As for the tourist being treated as a walking bag of money, that is an unavoidable side-effect. However, it does mean that I will most likely move on one day earlier than expected.