November 10, 2017: Sakura Inn, Bagan, Myanmar: Out and about among the temples and pagodas and monastery/libraries and ordination halls and mounds/caves of Old Bagan all morning. Now, after a rest in the heat of the day, about to go back out for a few hours which will include the sunset. What to call this travel day…I’m going for pampered-exploration. I’m traveling in a car between the sometimes far-flung structures with a perfectly-informed guide—by perfectly informed I mean not too much information (that’s what books are for) but critical bits shared with humor, and a sincere interest in telling Buddha’s story; some seeming pleasure in ordinary everyday exchange; and just the right amount of solicitousness considering he’s ferrying a little old lady around (not anything noticeable except to check in with me if I looked nervous about a particular series of stair—he did laughingly state that he supposed my sons might be angry if I broke too many bones on his watch—I assured him they would blame no one but their crazy mother).
7:15pm: I’ve eaten my ramen noodles, am having a Nescafe and looking forward to a closing yogurt. This is actually a giant evening meal for me which is probably why my stomach has been perfectly happy this whole trip…but India lies ahead…and I’ve heard the tales.
Myanmar is a nice story even before I post tomorrow’s very fat photography album from Bagan.
November 7th: I reached my Yangon hotel, 15th Street Downtown in the late afternoon. Must admit to having just a moment’s trepidation—it is a budget hotel on the edge of China town/downtown, very working class and scruffy and busy; the immediate street scene seemed a little overwhelming…for about five minutes. I was soon in what has been my favorite room to date. Third floor of course and basic low-cost hotel décor but including ‘a few of my favorite things’: big wide open windows over a street with just the right amount of street noise (Vietnam’s billion beeping bikes defeated me when it came to an open window); there was a power outlet for every single one of my electronics at the same time; the street signs and numbers made sense so I could set out walking immediately for my biggest discovery—a real supermarket with yogurt in the neighborhood. Happiness is…all of the above.
Sound sleep to Yangon night-street sounds, up for a tasty little omelet and toast breakfast, and a three-hour walk to collect my train ticket for the Yangon-Bagan train. Not much time but at least I felt I had met downtown Yangon.
November 8th: How to tell you the story of the train ride? I was jotting a few things down as the afternoon, evening, night and next morning passed…whenever it was possible to write…so I think elaborating on the diary idea will suffice.
4:10pm: We’ve boarded the train. I wasn’t able to get a sleeper so I’m in what is called upper class—and indeed it looks just fine. Two seats on one side, one on the other, so much leg room Delta would have fit a whole nother row in here . Seats feel comfortable. Best of all, there are no other tourists. Just me and the real people, I think. I definitely won’t have to listen to anyone chattering away in English—a travel nightmare is having a bunch of noisy people around you whose every trivial utterance you understand.
4:30pm: We’re underway. I actually write the word ‘bliss’ in my notebook.
5:40pm: Hey, it’s not exactly a smooth ride but we’re not really out of the city yet, it’ll settle down. The windows are all open and the fans are on, very noisy, but as you already know open windows and noise is for me practically a tranquilizer.
7 or 8pm or thereabouts: I’m in this pleasant state where my body feels melded with the train and my mind just free to roam about with a million floating thoughts of the most profound nature (did I mention I took a pill half an hour ago?). Wish there weren’t quite so many bugs hurled in the windows; they grip whatever they can, me and my fellow passengers mostly, and crawl into ears, nose, and mouth if left open…but there aren’t that many of them. I stay in this state of being for quite awhile.
1am: I am wide awake. I cannot do this. The noise and the bugs are bearable. Really. However the motion is impossible for small children, the old, and the infirm to survive. Isn’t it? Damn those elderly monks up ahead and those cute kids over there, all slumbering so peacefully. Maybe they’re dead and I’m the only one left alive. Because this train is a wild horse—it gallops, bucks, trots, jerks to a halt, tries its damnedest to throw me off. No maybe it’s a ship—there’s that chop when another boat passes and then there’s being thrown side to side in gale force waves and being on the verge of tipping all of the way over. It is impressive. I’m even more impressive…I manage to pee without splattering the whole toilet, quite proud of myself. I think it’s because of the skills I’ve learned in abs class, strengthen the core, the center of my body, which would naturally lend itself to peeing proficiency.
1-3am: I brace myself various ways in the seat, stick my legs against the seat ahead, a few other people are awake, a bat is forced into the car (maybe it’s a really fat black butterfly), a few other people are awake but most sleeping happily across their two seats.
3-5am: Whatever. I’m alive. Traveling. I sleep!
5am-12:30pm: It is a long morning. While the train cooled off at night, it’s bright sun and hot by 8am even with the fans. And by now the car is getting quite messy as people are getting food from vendors consisting of big plates of rice and veggies and a lot of things in wrappers. Sorry if it sounds judgmental to say a way of dealing with trash without throwing it on the floor or out the window might be something to consider. I would sacrifice something minor for a coffee but then I’d have to try peeing again and it’s just not worth it.
November 9th, 1pm: I’m at my hotel. It’s a surprise. It’s attached to a resort so somewhat more up-scale than where I usually stay, although still at the modest end of things. For once, I am just thrilled with the big shower, the coffeemaker, the AC, the quiet landscaped grounds…
A shower, a Myanmar wine and Shan noodles for lunch, a nap.
Temples ahead…but for now, please thank me for taking the train from Yangon to Bagan for you so you can check that off your to-do list. Actually, it was great…a small but out-of-the-ordinary adventure.