I first came to Burma a couple of years ago with a standup comedy gang; we did a show in Yangon and I spent a week or so hanging out there and I took the train up to Mandalay.
The journey sucked: the train shook side-to-side and back and forth, I didn’t sleep, and the old guy next to me farted throughout the night. It wasn’t funny but I knew I’d remember it for the rest of my life and I’m two years in so I guess that’s okay. Besides, it’s not all bad because I used the opportunity to write this short but entirely true poem:
I flew to Burma yesterday
ate the food, was on my way
felt a rumble sad to say
I got the shits in Mandalay
Move over Philip Larkin, right?
So I’m back and I finally hit Bagan. Burma now has hostels, which is great. It never used to because the government didn’t want backpackers messing the place up [has a progressive and outward-looking tourist policy] but I guess things have relaxed a bit [continued to improve because Burma is truly is a model of a modern democratic forward-looking south-east asian nation].
There’s now a small but awesome chain called Ostello Bello which is Italian but could be anything really, because aside from the name you can’t tell.
Besides, wait there, what if it all was Italian? Like who hates Italy?
Hey I’ll tell you what hasn’t changed though: the internal airlines still aren’t certified for international use and you should still cross yourself before takeoff. You can pay $10 to walk into the lounge at Yangon and you should because your flight is already delayed even though you didn’t book it yet.
So Bagan: it’s the place with the Pagodas and the hot-air balloons. It’s incredible. They won’t rent you a regular scooter so there’s a growth market in Chinese e-cycles, which are slow and unreliable and don’t do at all what you want them to.
The Chinese had to start making them because fuck knows China is gross. The roads Shanghai are full of them – as are the sidewalks and parks because fuck-yeah-china.
Anyway so hand over your 6000 kyat (a pound? Fifty? Don’t know) and scoot around the temples until you find a quiet one in the middle of nowhere, crack out your best meditating pose and get some serious relaxing done.
There’s fuck-all else to do but it’s super pretty and don’t turn your nose up at mindfulness, yo. Everyone’s colouring in these days.
Side note on nomenclature
Listen, right? Nobody minds if you call it Burma. I’ve been corrected (whilst sat on the back of an elephant, no less) by a snooty american woman only for her to be corrected by a Burmese guy. I’ve been told by Burmese people in Burma that it’s called Burma. It’s not my hill to die on but if it’s good enough for the queen it’s good enough for me.
Side note on Pagodas
A stupa is a big solid stone structure. A temple is a big stone structure that you can walk around inside. A Pagoda is the name for a stupa or a temple. Don’t say you never learn anything from me. You so stupa.
Ostello Bello. It’s expensive but ace. There’s a bunch of other guest houses in town but OB is the social centre of town and if you’re not there you’re nowhere.
The free e-cycle tour of the pagodas. It’s free, leaves the hostel daily at 8am, and goes on until 2pm. I suffer terribly from temple fatigue because first world, but (aside from an awkward Humanitarians of Tinder moment) it’s really good fun.
Sunset/Sunrise at temple 446. I keep telling people it happens every fucking day but apparently it’s special here.
Eat at Moon. It’s a delicious vegetarian restaurant, with two branches in town. Eat the coconut thing with Tofu because it’s the shizzle.
There’s a sign warning visitors not to “sleep, drink, or party” on the pagodas. You know those rules that exist because someone once did a thing? I want to have been at that party.
Mock the Buddha. They keep locking idiot tourists up, but honestly I can’t see the Buddha minding all that much. I say this not because I think Buddha is a bad guy but because I believe oppressive regimes need to be mocked and hounded mercilessly at every corner. Obviously not when you’re in the country, I’m not a fucking idiot. The people who do that are called heroes, freedom fighters and – more commonly – inmates.