This ever popular listing is for those looking for room to grow. Built in this Khmer style in the late 12th century, Angkor Wat will be the envy of all your neighbors.
With an expansive interior courtyard and impeccable landscaping, you’ll love looking out your hundreds of windows towards so much green. If you’re concerned about security don’t worry, the super wide moat will protect you from all kinds of raiders and invaders.
There are millions of visitors every year, so hopefully, privacy isn't a priority. But don’t let that deter you from picking up this prime piece of real estate.
A bit of a fixer upper, but great for the adventurous type. Ta Keo is not for the faint of heart. Once you are here you may never want to leave, mostly because the staircases are so steep, that going up is much less daunting than coming down.
Not one, not two, but five sanctuary towers adorn the top of the temple giving you plenty of space to spread out.
For the eccentric of the bunch, the decoration of Bayan will thrill your interior design sense.
You’ll never feel alone with the over 200 faces that line the walls of this beautiful temple, and a series of bas-reliefs complete the art gallery feeling of the space.
This most beautiful of Temples is bound to turn heads.
Celebrity lovers rejoice. Sighting of famous actors and actresses have increased the visibility of this listing ten-fold. You’ll relish the opportunity to tell your visitors that Angelina Jolie once roamed these halls.
That is, the halls which are still standing on their own. Many have been taken over by trees and I wouldn’t want to be the one to find out what happens when you move them.
If none of these appeals to you, instead you can always stay at the fabulous Saem Siem Reap Hotel. Here you’ll not only find modern conveniences like air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and internet, but also a series of other outstanding amenities. Take a dip in the crystal clear pool, unwind with a relaxing massage, or try the local brew at the bar. The decor and furniture are first rate and make you feel like you’ve entered a paradise in the center of Siem Reap. The outstanding staff will do everything they can to make your stay the best they possibly can. You will definitely love it here.
Thai Island of Dreams
Was that experience even real? It feels like we were in a dream for two days. And as with the best dreams, there’s nothing worse than when you know you are waking up from one and there is nothing you can do to stop it. I hesitate to even write this blog because we want to keep this place a secret.
My goal when choosing a Thai island to visit was to find a place we would enjoy, but I didn’t know we would fall in love. Checklist: No hordes of backpackers, no “full moon parties”, no mega resorts. We just wanted simple surroundings, quiet beaches, good food, and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Well, we got that and much much more.
We knew it was something special as soon as we got on the speedboat and began the journey to the island. Three or four stops later (we lost count enjoying the view) we had arrived. After a long day including being squeezed in a packed minibus for 6 hours, hanging off the back of an overcrowded truck, and strapping ourselves into lifejackets next to a Buddhist monk on the boat, we had finally arrived at Koh Mak .
The next morning we were up early because the massive Thai meal, of course, had put us to sleep very quickly, but also because we didn’t want to miss the beautiful island sunrise from the beach right in front of our door. Out on the resort’s dock, the colors were stunning as they shifted from pink to orange to red. If that sunrise had lasted 8 years we would have sat in the exact spot and watched it the entire time, unblinking. One lone fisherman bobbed along in the water as the sun quickly rose over the mountains of the mainland in the distance.
We only had one full day on the island and we were going to make the best of it. We rented a motorbike from the resort and after a bit of negotiating to decide who was going to drive we were off exploring. There were only so many roads on the tiny island so it seemed like a good plan to just ride them all. We must have been quite a sight for the locals who greeted us with smiles, laughs, and looks of amusement. Both because two giant men on a tiny motorbike are naturally ridiculous, but also because we demanded helmets which locals regard as entirely optional, especially on an island with no traffic whatsoever. Oh well.
We rode through rubber tree plantations, forests, on dirt roads, among coconut trees, along the pier and as far as we could go on our little motorbike, It was freeing and wonderful. Our lunch at Koh Mak Seafood was simply delicious. Barefoot and looking over magnificent scenery we enjoyed every bite of the Thai cuisine on offer.
After a short visit to the Koh Mak Museum attached to the restaurant, we were back on our motorbike exploring the rest of the island. Although we passed by quite a few restaurants on the tiny island we decided to head back to our resort to try some of the other dishes on the menu, which turned out to be a great choice since this dinner was even better than the first. After such an outstanding meal we were sad to think about departing the next morning.
We telepathically knew what each other was thinking as we packed in the morning, we would be back as soon as we could! Koh Mak is truly an island of dreams and everything we could hope for from Thailand. We can only hope our experience wasn’t a fluke and that the next time we return it will be just as amazing.
A Tale Of Two Continents
If you have followed our blog posts to date you will know already that we do crazy travel things. Sometimes these are driven by cost considerations; at other times by committing to different trips at different points in our schedule. The worst was seven flights to get us from London to Yangon at the end of 2016. This time it wasn’t quite so bad with only five flights to get us from Singapore to Turkey. Are we learning?
For the first part of this latest trip, we were headed to a semi-rural location outside of Fethiye to look after a dog called Opus while his owners were away. We had heard that Turkey’s Opal Coast is beautiful but had no appreciation of what we would find as we landed at Dalaman airport and drove along the coastline towards our destination. For the next week, we would enjoy living in an extremely comfortable house up in the hills overlooking the most beautiful scenery. We had everything set up perfectly for a relaxing yet fulfilling trip. Up the road, even walkable with Opus, was a small local town with everything we needed from a choice of multiple restaurants and bars, a bakery, small supermarket, to even a couple of barber shops.
Just one word of advice if, as a man and just as I did, you ever need to get a haircut in Turkey. Don’t be nervous when a big wax candle is lit and then slapped intermittently with the barber’s hand across your cheeks and ears. It’s actually quite an efficient way of burning off any residual hair and not some weird ritual that will leave you going up in flames. What great entertainment at just 10 Turkish Lira (under 3 US Dollars or Euros), lira for a haircut and fire show literally right in front of my eyes.
The amusing ordeal over, only 20 minutes drive down towards the coastline is a pretty much deserted beach called Akmaz. As well as great views it houses a beach restaurant serving the best Turkish breakfast. Our hosts had taken us there on our first morning before they left and subsequently going back there became an almost daily ritual. We had the valid excuse that Opus could exercise by running along the beach, but also we could not resist the feast. It seemed, too, that our small-framed German Shepherd rescue had already seduced the restaurant owners who would bring his morning snack along with our meal. After breakfast, more beach exercise for dog and humans alike. Then in the afternoons so many options: relaxing by the pool, reading, sightseeing (see below), walking in the woods, playing with Opus - life couldn’t have been much better for this relatively short stay one week stay.
There’s plenty in this area to keep a visitor busy and happy. Fethiye itself is a bustling town, with markets, multiple bars and restaurants, a waterfront, and all the other amenities you might expect of a place this size. The views out to the sea here are beautiful, but become magnificent when you head down the coast. Parts of the road are pretty elevated; they look out over a bright blue expanse of water with small islands scattered here and there. At other times you find yourself inland passing through pastures and woodland with green scenery all around you. We really enjoyed driving this route and, after about ninety minutes from Fethiye, we got to Kaş, a town that is over 1,600 years old. The Romans were here, the Greeks too, and now the Turks have reclaimed and enjoy this small and pretty waterfront town. Interestingly, as you look out to sea while sipping on a cocktail, right there in front of you just one mile away is the Greek island of Kastellorizo. Why, you ask yourself? Well, up until the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, this and many other islands with predominantly Greek populations had been annexed by Italy and then occupied by Allied forces during WW2. After that, Greece managed to get it back despite its proximity to the Turkish mainland. There is so much history and also territorial conquests and change that have taken place in this region over the centuries - too much to even start to explain in this blog.
The Greeks did not have it all their own way though. They were less fortunate at Kayaköy. On another day we visited this deserted ghost village just five miles south of Fethiye on the mainland. It’s just a little eerie and remains almost exactly as it was left when finally abandoned in 1922 by its Greek population. Then there was our trip to Ölüdeniz, a small beach town just 30 minutes from Fethiye to eat, drink and watch more active folks paragliding from up high down onto the golden sands of the crescent shaped beach right in front of our eyes.
We were checking off daily the list of recommended places our homeowners had provided us, and a good selection it was to gain an appreciation of this part of the world. If you want beautiful scenery from snow capped mountains in the background to golden beaches along the coast and bright blue water beyond, this part of Turkey is definitely worth a visit. But after a little over a week that left us wanting to return some day in the future, it was time to head to Europe next, and to that great and grand former capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. We were off to Istanbul to truly sample one city straddling two continents.
If you go to Istanbul you have to visit the Sultan Ahmed Mosque often referred to as the Blue Mosque, built by Ahmed I at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Just avoid prayer times (unless going to pray, of course). Right next door is the beautiful Topkapi Palace and Museum. It was constructed after the fall of Constantinople in the fifteenth century as the main residence of the new rulers, the Ottoman sultans. From there you can walk down to the waterfront and cross the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, then wander along to Taksim Square. It is often thought of by locals as the center of the city, a place for celebration but also where various riots and protests have taken place over the years. Here you will find the Monument of the Republic built to commemorate and symbolize the beginning of the modern Turkish state in 1923.
With magnificent mosques, their minarets pronouncing prayers throughout the day, lining both banks of the Bosphorus, the views of Istanbul from the ferry crossing from Europe to Asia and back again are spectacular. The European side seems more touristy with its famous palaces, mosques and other monuments, not to mention tourists themselves from all parts of the world. The Asian side gives the impression of being younger, more lively, more hip, more local. Next time we visit Istanbul - and we will - we should stay on this side of town and enjoy the local restaurants, bars, cafés and generally buzzing vibe.
Don’t forget to visit a local hammam for another of those seemingly torturous experiences that turn out to be great. With two strong, fat, hairy, toweled Turk men ready to scrub us clean on a marble slab that looked like an executioner’s table, I was lying there wondering which would be preferable: being beaten to death here, or burned alive at the barber shop back on the Opal Coast. As it turned out, I had never felt better when emerging again into the daylight of Asian Istanbul after my first Turkish hammam experience. It was time for a balık ekmek, the local fish sandwich available from any number of street vendors or stalls along either bank of the Bosphorus. Sorry McDonald’s, but it's got your Filet-O-Fish 1,000% beat.
And so came to an end our two weeks in Turkey. From dog sitting Opus the German Shepherd in a beautiful rural hillside location just minutes from the coast with the sun shining all day, to charging around one of the world’s largest and greatest cities with clouds and just a bit of rain, Turkey exceeded all our expectations. It left us yearning for more as got ready to head back to Singapore - via London, of course, just to add more flights - so that we could resume our Southeast Asia tour, the first chapter of which you can read about in our earlier Singapore blog post.
An island, city, and country all rolled into one. Singapore manages to pack all the features of a much larger country into just 277 square miles (719 square kilometers). Its reputation as an excellent travel and living destination is completely warranted. There is plenty to do on this little isle - countless museums, world-renowned resorts, numerous nature reserves and parks, beaches, theme parks, zoos, and world-class dining. Plus visiting is made easier because it has one of the world’s busiest and best airports and extensive, modern transit system.
Singapore’s reputation for being a strict and straightlaced country might turn some people off from visiting, but I think it’s been a bit exaggerated, and that this country is really a “can’t miss”. Singapore is a crossroad of eastern and western culture done right.
People also tend to get into their heads that Singapore is very expensive, and its listing as the world’s most expensive city doesn’t help. But this is mainly for people planning to live there as housing costs are sky-high. Yes, the country is a lot more expensive than other Southeast Asian Countries like Vietnam or Thailand, but you can still find great deals on food, clothing, and shopping and there are a lot of completely free things to do if you are trying to save money (just don’t try to buy a beer in a restaurant). So here is our Singapore guide broken down by your ideal budget level.
Backpacker / Thrifty
Singapore offers plenty for the thrifty traveler. For people from countries in the EU or places like Australia and the US, you will find the prices at the same level or even slightly cheaper than at home. So if you plan on visiting, budget accordingly. There are plenty of hostels in Singapore and while you won’t get a bed for $5/night like in other places, you still won’t break the budget either. Popular places are Beary Best! or Wink hostels. Another good option is a pod hotel if you’re not planning to spend your downtime indoors.
Getting around Singapore is so easy and surprisingly cheap even compared to places like Bangkok. The MRT system spans the island mostly by subway, but to some locations further out you will need a bus. Busses and trains come very often and the whole system is distance based so if you transfer from subway to bus you won’t be hit twice. You can even go all the way from and to the Airport making arrival and departure easy.
Your best food options will be the numerous hawker centers that dot the city. A Hawker center is basically a group of food stalls all combined under one big roof. They normally have a variety of cuisines and all the stalls are licensed and hygienic so you don’t have to worry. You can get almost anything your heart desires and for under S$5 you will walk away full. They often have cheaper beer here on par with the prices in the convenience stores or supermarkets. Most centers have at least one dedicated vegetarian stall so even if communication is tricky you can just ask them to pile up whatever’s is behind the counter without worry. You can also find stalls for other special diets too. The Telok Ayer Market Center downtown is a busy hawker center and has some unique options.
Your entertainment need not be a drain; in fact, the city has multiple options for free things to do throughout the day. Gardens By The Bay is a 101 hectare garden set in the center of the city, but it is so much more than that with numerous exhibits laid out amongst the beautiful plants. The main attraction for many people is the free nightly light and music show which brings out large crowds who find a space in the Supertree Grove to sprawl out and watch. There is also a hawker center located in the depths of the park for when you are hungry after the show. Continuing our garden theme, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is a must-do! It’s beautifully laid out, large, and admission is free. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, if you want to see the National Orchid Garden, the Orchid being Singapore’s national flower, it’s just a S$5 admission.
While on the West Coast if you’re looking for something a little more off-beat you should visit Haw Par Villa. The villa was built by the Tiger Balm family fortune and can not easily be described, it just has to be seen. There are numerous life-size sculptures dedicated to Chinese morality, folklore, mythology, and many other scary/interesting/obscure things. If you don’t have lots of time to visit just hit the “10 Courts of Hell” a tunnel which has dioramas depicting the punishments that await sinners in hell (personally my favorite is the “Hill of Knives”). Just maybe leave the children outside for this one.
Surprisingly for a country that is almost completely urban, it’s the green spaces and parks that are the best attractions. The many many parks, are impeccably kept and are some of the best in the world. West Coast Park, appropriately named for its location on the West Coast, is one of the great ones. Its 50 hectares contain numerous walking trails, bbq pits, camping plots, a jungle walk, and a great view of the coastal ports. We stayed on the West Coast overlooking the park while house sitting and spent many hours here walking Pablo And Blake up and down the paths to the huge dog run at the south end of the park.
If you need some beach time Singapore is a little lacking but you can still find a nice man-made beach on the east coast. East Coast Park is the largest park in Singapore and in addition to its man-made beach it has a famous seafood center (the best place for Chili Crab), skatepark, and camping areas.
Mid-level / Flashpacker
For travelers a little less concerned about cost but who still want to get the most for their money, Singapore is a perfect stop. In addition to everything we mentioned in the Backpacker/Thrifty section, which you should visit no matter what your budget, there are some more options if you have a little more cash to spend.
The Singapore Zoo is a place to see exhibits of exotic species in gorgeous green setting. Prepare for a long hot day as you need a long visit to truly experience it. Don’t skip any of the shows, even if you think you won’t like them, as they are very well done. Most importantly the animals look happy and healthy which is always nice to see. The zoo compound also has two other parks, the River Safari and Night Safari. They are under separate tickets but absolutely worth the price of admission as they expand on the exhibits of the Zoo but also offer their own specialties. For shopping needs try the markets in Chinatown (souvenir central) or the shops of Arab Street (pashminas and rugs abound). In Chinatown, the temples are normally packed with tourists but the most popular is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple which is exactly what it sounds like. Near Arab Street, take a guided tour around the Sultan Mosque and for an interesting lunch try the Deer Murtabak at Singapore Zam Zam. It’s a culinary treat you can only find in Singapore.
After a long day out hit Holland Village. Self-described as “Singapore’s Bohemian Enclave”, it is the place to be for dining and drinking. A mix of visitors and locals crowd the bars that stretch out into the street and chow down at the hawker center. For some really good ice cream cross under the road and get a cone at Sunday Folks.
If Holland Village is too far out for you, then you can always hit Clarke Quay just north of Chinatown. On the banks of the Singapore River, this place explodes with crowds at night shuffling in and out of dance clubs, karaoke bars, and restaurants. The price of alcohol might throw you for a loop, but even if you just enjoy the river view and people watching it’s a good time.
If you are ready to splurge then there is no better place to do it than Singapore. With a mall on every corner (sometimes two) you will find plenty of places to spend your hard earned dollars.
For your lodging, Singapore has got you covered. The hotels here are top notch and not to be missed. The famous Raffles Hotel is the haunt of writers and celebrities (Ava Gardner, Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward, John Wayne to name a few) and you can stay just like them in their eponymous suites. The Fullerton Hotel in the historical Fullerton Building offers travelers design, comfort, and location all in one. But the most recently built and well-known hotel is, of course, the Marina Bay Sands which contains in its grounds an opulent shopping mall, glitzy casino, bars and dining establishments, and a magnificent rooftop infinity pool. Exclusivity is the name of the game at Marina Bay Sands. The Conrad Centennial is highly rated 5-star hotel that won’t leave you completely bankrupt. It’s luxurious, but not obscene, and offers a great breakfast buffet, quick access to shops, and if you’re lucky, the best view of the Fountain of Wealth. The hotel is under the Hilton banner so great for those wanting to use or collect Hilton Hhonors points.
Get lost in shopping heaven as malls intertwine in Downtown Singapore. Whether it’s Raffles Place, Bugis, Suntec, or the numerous malls and shops on Orchard Road you should have no trouble finding your favorite branded stores next to boutique shops, fun restaurants, and even the occasional movie theater. Large, bright, clean, and excessively air conditioned, Singapore does malls right.
If you’re looking more to relax and have fun with the family then head to Sentosa Island. Sentosa is a man-made and reclaimed island off of Singapore whose raison d'être is entertainment and fun. When you think Sentosa think sun, sand, golf, theme parks, and attractions for people of all ages. Whether you stay at Resorts World or the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort you will find world class amenities and dining. The breakfast buffet at the Silver Shell Cafe is a particular treat. Take a spin around the Island on the shuttles, and for a really great day pick up tickets to Universal Studios. A compact but quality theme park which has some classic Universal attractions (think The Mummy) along with some original rides exclusive to the park.
For some of the best of Singapore’s hometown dish, Chili Crab, visit Momma Kong’s where you can even get the crab shelled for you (for a small fee) to cut out all the hard work. Get what is possibly the world’s cheapest Michelin star meal at the Liao Fan hawker stall. Chicken Rice, another Singapore special, is the only thing on the menu you need to worry about. And at just a few S$ a plate it can’t be beaten. If you’d prefer comfort, speed, and air conditioning they now also have a brick and mortar restaurant you can visit just a few minutes away. The dishes cost a little bit more, and they technically don’t have that coveted star, so maybe stick to the original if you want a good story to tell.
This is really just the beginning of the list of everything Singapore has to offer but hopefully, from these suggestions, travelers of all styles and budgets will find something to enjoy in Singapore.
Back to Bagan
Sitting outside in the glorious sunshine in March looking at hills with plumes of smoke rising from small bonfires and majestic mountains in the background, I’ve had time to reflect on a few things. First, how our discovery last year of house sitting has opened so many diverse travel opportunities for us and satisfied our thirst for exploration and diversity of existence. And second, how by sharing these experiences with old friends, and new ones we’ve made along the way and, of course, here on the blog, we are in some small way able to relive them, and cement all those feelings (good and bad) to our memory. It was actually in one of these sharing sessions with friends over a few beers that we remembered we had never had a chance to write about one of our favorite travel experiences thus far.
The night before our friends and hosts left on vacation, we hit the subject of Myanmar (Burma), where they had been in 2002, back when few tourists visited, and from which we had just returned 2 months ago. Of course, a note comparing session was in order. Back in 2002, far fewer tourists visited Myanmar. Our friends were the exception. Today, the country has opened up, the number of visitors is creeping up daily, and with local SIM cards and 4G data costing next to nothing, people are touring around more and encouraging others to follow. While Myanmar will always offer great history and spectacular views, as planeloads of foreigners pile in, it will, like most hidden gems, lose something that was once there. One thing we could all agree on was the wonder and beauty that you can still be found in Myanmar to this day, particularly in Bagan, land of over two thousand remaining temples and other religious structures built between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. It was interesting to us that more English - the de facto language for international travelers - is spoken there now than in the commercial capital, Yangon. Whereas our friends had visited multiple pagodas in a horse-drawn cart, we charged around on rented eBikes. They stayed in rudimentary hostels; we passed multiple large hotel complexes being constructed. It’s not too late though and, if you are visiting Myanmar, it would be criminal not to find the time to hit up Bagan. Here’s what we managed to achieve in a mere 36 hours in this beautiful place.
Yangon to Bagan - the inexpensive way
Everyone told us to fly - a quick one hour journey in the air. So, of course, we had to do the opposite and take the 8 hour bus to Bagan. The overnight ride from Yangon was an adventure in itself. We splurged on the “VIP” bus for an exorbitant US$3 more each in the hope of getting leg room for two 6’5” (1.96m) guys. Of course, we had to be sitting behind the one person who wanted to make our life difficult. Her broken seat, when reclined without care, went almost completely flat and into an area most people would prefer not to place their head. After a polite conversation, she only went halfway down during the first few hours of the trip. But sometime after midnight we were woken up to her protests that she was entitled to go all the way because she “paid extra for that feature” (ahem, 2-3 of her precious euros). After a heated conversation, her pushing her chair all the way back, my knees rapidly thumping the back of her seat, and finally her just laying on the bus floor martyred, we continued on our merry way to Bagan. Finally, we were able to enjoy the most camp-decorated long distance bus we have ever traveled in to date. In retrospect, should we have flown? Verdict: No. The journey alone was an adventure - not to be missed - which afforded us maximum time to explore when we got there. No regrets and lots of dollars saved from same-old boring flights to spend on other travels.
Day One - Early Morning
We arrived at Bagan Bus Station at around 4:30 in the morning. The sky was still dark outside and, for the first time since arriving in Myanmar, we actually felt a chill. After shuffling off the bus and calling our hotel to send the driver over to pick us up we were on our way…That is until we pulled over to the side of the road because we had to pay the Bagan Archaeological Zone Tourist Fee, an actually exorbitant (for Myanmar) 25,000 kyat (US$18/€17) each. Considering we had never heard of it before we were lucky on two counts: 1) To have cell service so we could look it up and make sure we were not being taken for a ride, and 2) Enough local currency to pay for it. They should really get rid of these tourist fees or add them as a tax to the tourist activities because it puts a really bad taste in your mouth to have people badgering you for money when you have just arrived and are still half asleep. Plus most travel horror stories start with a taxi pulling over in the middle of the night in a place you have never been to before and random guys asking you to pay a fee you have never heard of. What if we had been out of cash?
Having dropped our bags at the hotel, too early for a room and still dark outside, we figured why not just go for a walk. We asked the hotel manager for a suggestion on where to go and then headed out in search of the Shwe Leik Too Temple for sunrise. There wasn’t much going on at this time besides the odd person stoking a fire at the side of the road sending plumes of smoke rising into the night sky, or setting up their eatery for the early morning crowd. We were propositioned by the occasional horse-drawn carriage driver, but after being on a bus for 8 hours we just wanted to stretch our legs. We walked and walked until we turned off the road as the sun was about to rise and there, before us, were literally hundreds of pagodas stretching out as far as the eye could see.
Having reached Shwe Leik Too, we saw some sandals outside but no evidence of life. We entered and walked around but could not find where all the owners of the sandals were until we looked up. Several people - mainly locals - were sitting on the roof above in silence, praying, meditating, contemplating. Quietly and respectfully, we ascended a tiny staircase, bent over double to fit through an archway made for twelfth-century humans, and sat under the stars in awe watching the sun slowly rise over one of the most magnificent and spiritual views we have ever experienced. Then, right after the sun, came the hot air balloons which, although an expensive tourist gig, held their own magnificence as they gently rose, one after the other, and drifted away in the gentle wind.
Emboldened by the warm rays of the sun, we continued our journey a couple more miles down to the Ayeyarwady River that separated Mandalay region, which Bagan is in, from Magway region. A bustling outdoor market selling all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and various foodstuffs was getting up and running, and the tourists - albeit most seemed to be from Myanmar itself - were arriving. With a long walk ahead, and before the sun got too high in the sky, it was time to beat a retreat to our modest but excellent small hotel.
Day One - Afternoon
We napped. After an amazing and very full morning of temple spotting, grabbing a quick bite at The Moon all-vegetarian, walking miles and really starting to feel the effects of an “all-nighter” on the bus, we slept. But just a little.
Day One - Evening
There are four ways to explore Bagan. You can walk. We had already done that in abundance and, while mostly healthy, your scope is limited. You can take one of the horse-drawn carriages. Touristy; likely overpriced; who knows where you will be taken (the driver’s uncle’s shop?). You can get pushbikes. Fun but tiring once the sun comes up and it gets hot. Or you can rent eBikes. For 20,000 Kyats (under US$15/€14) for two eBikes for 24 hours it was a no brainer.
What amazing fun. We were mobile. We got to ride around Bagan that evening, sampling the sights and smells, navigating through the hundreds of motorbikes, cars, people, and animals, feeling the wind in our hair as the day cooled off. We visited the Dhamazeddi Pagoda where loud music was playing out of speakers (but no evidence of more than a couple of people); we had our first dinner at a restaurant called Novel; and because we can sometimes be greedy (but remember we had walked mile after mile earlier in the day), we had our second dinner sitting outside at La Pizza on restaurant row (officially Thi Ri Pyitsaya 4 Street in Nyaung-U), keeping warm, as the temperature fell, next to the roadside brick oven that turned out some of the best pizza we have ever had outside of Italy itself. If you are craving good pizza on your travels to Bagan, this is the place to go.
Day Two - Morning
After a quick breakfast of eggs, toast and fresh fruit all included in our US$34 room rate at the very welcoming New Park Hotel, it was time to upgrade our transportation. You see, I had discovered by being left behind that one of the eBikes was much quicker than the other. In an effort not to be selfish and hold him up, I felt the need to upgrade my motor. So it was back to the eBike store, and an incredibly smiley and helpful owner immediately gave us his own without question. Talk about great customer service from the Tet Sein eBike Rental Service (conveniently just up, and on the same side of, the road from La Pizza).
Then, more temples, this time farther afield, lots more. Small ones, larger ones, avoiding in the main the most touristy ones, we toured around in the sun visiting literally deserted structures hundred of years old (yet someone maintained by at least someone with fresh flowers). Many were down dirt tracks; others vibrant places filled with locals and foreigners being sold modern day artefacts (and, sadly, tat). We could list the ones we visited but, to be honest, there is little point. One of the joys of Bagan - and this we suspect will last for a while due to their sheer quantity - is not having to visit the larger pagodas already filled with tourists, their guides, and merchandise from who knows where. With thousands to choose from, just get off the beaten track, explore and enjoy. The chances are that you will be on your own or just bumping into the odd local.
Day Two - Afternoon
Did I mention that we had one of the best pizzas ever in Bagan? Time to go back for more before our short visit came to an end. So back to La Pizza it was. A pizza each and then, just for good measure, a third to share instead of dessert. Shame on us, but to be fair, the alternative tourist-focused food on restaurant row, was no contest. We did learn our lesson though because, as the third pizza came out, a German tourist lost control of her eBike and came crashing into ours. No damage was done to her or the eBikes, but perhaps we should have left after the first round of pizzas.
With so little time and so much to explore, it was then back on the eBikes to get lost just a little more as we rode the long way around Nyaung-U, then took a dirt track to find all kinds of other temples. Now, sometimes the Gods are looking out for you, but here comes a warning. For it was not on one of the dirt tracks, but on a “main” road heading back towards our hotel road that Blair’s battery suddenly and unexpectedly died. What to do, but for him to push the eBike uphill and for me to follow? We still do not know how this happened, but after about 15 minutes our friendly, still smiling, Tet Sein eBike store owner suddenly appeared with a freshly charged bike that he handed over. Had someone seen us and called ahead to tell him? No idea, but we rode off, grateful. Then, not even five minutes later we passed a young couple pushing their shared eBike. Battery dead? Yes. Time to repay the favor. So Blair gave the girl a ride to their store in Old Bagan with me following, while her companion remained with the dead contraption awaiting her rescue once she has collected a fresh one. I am not sure why I was surprised given what had just happened, but then suddenly my battery died as I watched Blair and his passenger disappear off unaware into the distance. Oh well, I guess with hindsight, I should have known that “fuel” gauges, and in particular battery ones, lie when they get low. Luckily it wasn’t too far back to the store.
Day Two - Evening
So ended our 36 hours in Bagan. We arrived in the dark and we left in the dark the next day. Yet in between, it felt like we had covered a week’s worth of really positive experiences and adventures. Bagan is an amazing place - magical, mystical, beautiful. But something tells us that Bagan will lose some of its allure quickly now that tourism is opening up in earnest. While fourteen years ago it must have been even more fascinating for our friends, we are both so glad we made it there in early 2017. If you are planning a trip, go now. It likely won’t be quite as nice, or nearly as cheap, five years down the road
The Roaming Blog
From Europe to Asia. From cities to villages. From mansions to cottages. Follow us on our journey as we celebrate a new type of travel - House Sitting. Learn how to start you house sitting career, tips for making the most of your travel, and the tricks for being the best house sitter you can be.
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