After resting for a couple of hours we enquired about getting a taxi back to New Bagan which lay 10-15 minutes away from our hotel. The lady on reception suggested instead that maybe an electric scooter might be an option and after a quick loop of the carpark to get used to the controls, Vicky jumped on the back and we headed out to grab a bit of lunch, scope out the scenery and decide on where we would come back to tomorrow for our one proper day in the area. 5 minutes later we reached the end of the hotel drive. It was bigger than the one on Southfork ranch
There's not really much to see in New Bagan, The roads are a mixture of tarmac and dirt tracks, with the dirt tracks falling into subcategories of "firm but bumpy" right through to "sandpit." via "WTF?" There is no way to differentiate these surfaces from the map, it's just a case of exploring what you can, however you can and all times hoping to keep the bike upright. The central market there was shut and the restaurants we passed in general did not seem overly appealing, so after a quick bite to eat in which must have been the most expensive eatery in town, we headed off to do a loop of Old Bagan, stopping for Coffee and Pancakes a short time after in a restaurant that inspired more confidence. Impressed by the overall cleanliness of the interior, the friendliness of the staff as well as the menu and appearance of the food that was coming out of the kitchen area, I marked it on the map as a place to come back to the day after.
"Weather Spoons" had a familiar ring to it too.
We were told before we left the hotel that the battery on the bikes should be good for 8 hours or more, but heading back after 4 the bike was struggling to get up the hills. By the time we reached our hotel we had had to dismount a couple of times to help the thing up the last of them but were still riding the flats ok. It wasn't a big problem, but it confirmed in my mind that as we were heading out for the full day the following morning, and the battery was obviously struggling to power the weight of 2 people for half of that time, 2 bikes would be the only option if we wanted to avoid a long evening walk.
It probably hadn't helped that at some point during the day I had managed to knock the headlight switch on also, but I overlooked that detail for the sake of just playing it safe.
The next day we were kicked out of room by the cleaners at 10:30am, hanging back a bit in order to hopefully have enough juice left in the scooters at the end of the day to allow us to catch the sun dipping at just before 6pm. When we left at 11am I had the feeling it was going to be a close run thing.
Nursing the throttle gently as I could, by the time we reached New Bagan that 10-15 minutes away, I was already showing as having eaten through nearly a quarter of my battery, with 3 bars shown on full throttle, and the 4 full bars shown when I came off it a bit. I was going to have to go a little more gently.
At the first temple we stopped at, a quick walk around the outside followed by a couple more that lay in close proximity were all we needed to get the urge to move on a bit more. A quick scoot up the road lay another one with hopefully better views, so we pulled over here to take a quick look around.
Whilst I was quite happily looking around the outside, Vicky had made contact with one of the people employed to look after the various structures, and was busy being buttered up ready for a later sales pitch, being allowed to climb to the top of the structure to look at the scenic views below, and before too long I had been beckoned to go up and join them..
Despite the temples being in a crumbling state, it's still expected for you to remove your shoes before you enter it. This causes something of a dilemma for me as being a diabetic, it is ground into me how important it is for me to look after my feet, especially in relation to getting any nicks or cuts on them which may lead to an infection, in turn leading to (in a worst case scenario) amputation partly due to the diabetics decreased immune system. I already have a reduced sense of feeling in some of the areas of my feet caused be this condition, as well as eyesight that I could maybe class as a little problematic, and these things combined mean that occasionally I need to trend carefully if I can, or not tred at all. if I can't. Hell my specialists back in the UK has a headfit if I ever tell them that i don't wear slippers around the house. I daren't tell them also that I don't really have the sherlock holmes pipe or velvet lined smoking jacket that one would need to accompany them. It just wouldn't do.
Sensing my hesitancy to step forward one of the people looking after the site in question looked down at my feet. "Socks OK", they said.
"OK" I repeated back questioningly, pointing down at my feet.
I had asked this question a few times over the couple of weeks beforehand. The usual answer is socks are allowed, rarely they are not and on such occasions I then need to decide whether the venue is worth the risk. The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon was one where socks were not permitted, but the floor there was spotlessly clean and smooth, The site maintained to an impeccable standard so the risk there wasn't so large. The Jumping Cat monastery likewise, clean, smooth, impeccable, so I could place the risk as "Low". Here the building was a crumbling mess, outside on bare stone with dirt and rubble a plenty. This was not a place I would have been happy walking without a little protection to my sole, and if the answer coming back would have been different, I wouldn't have thought twice about not setting another foot forward.
"Yes, it's OK" she repeated, waving me forward over the exterior threshold, I was then guided around the side and up some narrow steps to view what I had been called up for. A dry, arid landscape with vegetation in places and more temples and structures with a back drop of a estuary and hills, it had been worth the climb indeed and as we left there a little while after, the young man who had just sold Vicky a painting and was now her husband, told here that it was also the best place to see the sunset of Bagan. We decided we would try to head back there if time and battery allowed.
After a quick stop or 2 at a couple more temples, with paintings, postcards, money collectors and wasps all bringing different levels of annoyances, we sat down and treated ourselves to a burger and chips at Weather Spoons, and this at least didn't disappoint. 2 burgers, 4 cans of soda and a complimentary bowl of fruit later, we re-mounted the bikes for the late afternoon stint, first heading for a viewing tower that we had spotted before lunch so that we would hopefully be to climb it and see some of the 4000 temples of Bagan, in one majestic view of the plains.
After battling through the worst "Roads" so far, pushing the bikes through sand pits and cutting myself on brambles, the tower as it turns out, maybe predictably was shut, and after losing so much time in getting to that point it was now going to be a close to whether we could make it back to the earlier viewpoint for sun down.
Back onto tarmac we opened up the throttles against the fading, mist filled air that was consuming the country around us. It was either mist or dust it was hard to tell, but the effect on the light coming through the trees was much that same, stunning. With my bike battery now showing 1 bar I was nursing it the best I could, trying to get the balance right between speed and efficiency, to catch the view and still have enough power left for the journey that still lay after in the dark, so I also needed lights. We made the temple just before last light, and as the sun crept down over the darkened vista, I managed to capture a few shots for prosperty, for the memory, for the moment.
I wish I hadn't have bothered.
"What are you doing in here?", "Why have you got socks on?", "Take them off immediately" came barking at me from the right.
a fat fellow, rich and privileged unlike the majority of the burmese people who had been nothing but pleasant during the rest of my duration was barking angrily from my right, I tried to reply but was cut off promptly.
"This is the worst insult you can give!! Take your socks off, take your socks off now" he carried on, force 7 on the aggressive scale.
"If he thinks thats the worst insult I can give" I thought, "He obviously doesn't know me".
Still, I would be lying if this didn't catch me a little off balance, so rather than firing in I decided to act courteously, offering up an explanation on how I had been told how it was allowed, a little bit about diabetes which I'm pretty sure his nonsensical brain was completely able to process, It didn't work. This wasn't a man used to 2 way dialogue, or certainly not one used to seeing anothers point of view,
"Who told you? who told you this, where are you from?" he carried on, now registering 9 on the aggressive scale. Personally I was just amazed he had managed to go this long without eating something. Probably why he was getting grumpy.
"Where am I from?", "England" I said, looking him straight in his wonky eyes, trying not to stare too much at his face adorned with the signs of low I.Q incase I started to feel sorry for him, I didn't and I didn't.
"England?" He repeated, then he stopped. For some reason that took him back a little, and I still haven't worked out why. At this point he walked off muttering something in Burmese, and the lady who had told me earlier that socks were ok came over and locked him into discussion. I took this as my queue to leave, but before I left several people came up to me and discussed their shock at the mans actions and overalll aggressive nature, with another young girl who had been present at the temple earlier coming over to make sure everything was ok with the bikes, a sort of "Just checking" gesture which was simple but appreciated.
It's a shame though really, it only takes one person to spoil a party. And for a change that person wasn't me. Absolutely gutted.
As we started on out way back onto the tarmac heading for the hotel, we passed the rich guy, led against his parked up expensive car, speaking aggressively to seemingly not wealthy enough friend no doubt criticising the bloody foreigner who refused to take off his socks and risk his health. I've come into this journey with a live and let live attitude, believe what you like, and as long as it isn't affecting anyone else, then live how you want to live. I feel this is now starting to change. you see, without science or man I would have been born still 42 years ago, without science or man I would probably have died of diabetes or related illnesses in the last 27 years, without science or man, I doubt I would still be able to walk on the leg that I fractured into 5 pieces at 25, or would be able to see anything at all if it wasn't for the numerous operations that have been preformed on me in order to save my eyesight. This last point has probably been the driving point of my desire to travel over the last few years, to be able to see as much as I can, while I still can. And for this I have man to thank, not any god. And so, whilst not willing or actively looking to cause offence to any colour, creed, race or religion in particular, if i do manage to unwittingly offend you at any point in the future, then perhaps, just perhaps, your deserve to be offended. All I ask is that you try looking at things from an alternative viewpoint from the one that you are currently fixed, maybe with the benefit of current information as a basis.
By the time we reached the entrance to hotel, my battery was nearly exhausted, but my steed had carried me home, albeit it limply, and as I dismounted her for the last time and passed her to the stableboy, I was half expecting a shot to ring out behind me as she was put out of her misery. At reception the polite staff were on hand to welcome us back, at dinner the gracious staff smiled throughout and at checkout in the morning the staff joked playfully as we waited for the pickup that would be taking us towards the point where we would be catching the next bus to Mandalay, but the damage had already been done. I had led there awake until the early hours the night before, running the previous nights encounter, trying to reason with myself that I had done nothing wrong, and that every other single burmese person we had encountered had been a pleasure meet in one way or another. but the overall lingering juvenile thought remained present. "If people's minds are that small, or that ignorant, Myanmar could just f.off".
It takes me a while to wind up, but when I do it takes me longer to wind back down unfortunately. I knew the thoughts were incorrectly biased at the time, but it didn't stop them being there. I leant over and took another blood pressure tablet.
Just 8am, as hot air balloons were landing in the fields around the hotel, we commenced a short ride to meet up with the minibus just north of Bagan where we would switch vehicles for the rest of the journey up to Mandalay With just enough time spare to get in a couple of bottles of water and some sunflower seeds before departure we rushed to get back to the van and it was here that I rolled over onto the outside of my left ankle on an uneven surface. A loud crack signalled that the outcome wasn't good, the inability to put weight back through it properly kind of confirmed it. At the hotel in Mandaly, as I led there on the bed with my foot up for the next couple of days waiting for the bruising to come out, I was a little bit gutted that I wasn't going to get to see more of the city, but overall I was looking forward to the flight that would be taking us out of there and back to Bangkok.