Walking up from the boat landing, finding a horse-drawn mini-stagecoach / gypsy-wagon thing is easy if not inevitable, there are dozens parked a couple hundred feet up the road from the landing. We start haggling with the different drivers, it seems a bit expensive and they’re all in cahoots, we can’t play them off each other to get a bargain, but this seems to be the thing that all of the many white people here are doing so we say fuck it, shell out the cash and join Team Gypsy-Wagon.
Our wagon is a rickety old thing with room enough for two of us in the back and one more to ride shotgun. It feels like it might break as we’re climbing in, blue paint is flaking everywhere and some of the boards are splintering. Our driver gives the reins a snap and we start moving slightly above walking speed. We all feel bad for the horse, it’s old and small and doesn’t look like it’s up to the task of hauling the four of us and the wagon (five including Narco).
The traffic consists almost exclusively of other stagecoaches carting around fellow sunburnt tourists, with only the occasional scooter or pickup kicking up dust as it passed us. I’d assumed this was because we were on an island without road connections, but looking at a map later I discovered there was a bridge we could have taken a few miles downriver rather than boat it. Our wagon was jostled around by huge potholes that neither the horse nor driver paid any mind to. We passed by small farms, homes, banana plantations, occasional convenience stores not much different than those we’d seen in the rural areas of the mainland – really, despite the entire area being a UNESCO heritage site (the entire area is a former capital of Burma), at the surface level it didn’t seem much different from other rural areas we’d passed by to this point if you didn’t notice the stupas along the horizon.
Our first stop was a small, decrepit-looking brick site with a handful of stupas.
You can see some indications of what these used to look like – the patterns around the doorways – before time and the elements (and possibly people?) took their toll. Between the stupas, vendors were selling paintings, tourist trinkets, the typical merch, but fortunately no where near as aggressively as the luckyluckylucky folks we’d encountered earlier in the World’s Biggest Book.
We jumped back in our stagecoach and headed to the next site…
… a wooden monastery, apparently one of the oldest operational wooden monasteries around. Our driver dropped us off a few hundred yards from the entrance, the remaining stretch of the roadside being overrun by drink, snack and trinket sellers. Right before we reach the entrance we hear someone yell, “TICKET TICKET TICKET!” We turn and there’s an unhappy looking dude in a booth waving tickets around. It’s like $10 to get into this place? It doesn’t look like that big of a deal:
We talk it out. Reckon it’s worth $10? He yells at us again even though we haven’t moved – TICKETTICKETTICKET!! “Hey, cool it man, we’re talking.” A couple of older tourists are on their way out so I ask them whether it’s worth it, the guy kind of shrugs but the woman says “Yes you absolutely must!” That short but glowing review seals it, we head inside.
It’s nice and definitely very different from the typical temples and monasteries we’ve visited previously. We tip-toe around carefully as we’re barefoot – no shoes or socks allowed – and some of the boards bend as we step on them, heads of nails protruding out. I’m especially careful on some of the stairs – they look like they were built to just carry the weight of a 120 pound monk but not a hefty liquor monster like myself.
Unlike the monks we’d walked around with and spoken to earlier in the day these guys don’t seem to notice us as we walk around snapping pics, but I imagine that’s unsurprising given that it looks like hundreds if not thousands of other tourists are in and out while they’re trying to study.
On the way out we notice the ground is covered in rust-red splatters and our adventure detective senses kick in – these are the tell-tale signs of betel nuts being chewed up and expectorated. I walk through the drink and snack booths, looking for anyone who might be selling some; the ones the boys had picked up in Taiwan looked like a large peanut wrapped in a tight little leaf-bow, so without knowing the word I first look around and then resort to miming the actions of chewing betel nut, which are basically pop something in the mouth, chew, spit, chew, spit, repeat.
No one seems to have any idea what I’m doing but at least I’m amusing them. After I pretend to spit they offer me gum. Thanks but I’m okay for spearmint, I just want a dip. After a few minutes of being a goofy bastard I give it up and we head back to the horse.
We’ve mostly been traveling down unpaved roads to this point but as we’re riding next to a banana field our driver steers the horse hard-right and down a path into the field. This seems weird, as far as we can see there isn’t even anything out there. We shrug and go along with it.
After about fifteen minutes of plodding through the fields a tower emerges over the tops of the bananas. It’s got a serious lean to it – hard to see in this pic cause it’s leaning towards us – but there are a handful of other tourists scrambling up the stairs around its exterior so we head up as well.
The lean is very noticeable climbing the stairs, and especially once we reach the top, great view though.
Click click, okay that’s it, back to the horse!
Our last stop is a complex with multiple temples as well as a bunch of restaurants and shops around it. As is the case with so many of these places we really have no idea what the significance is, how old it is, anything really, so we just walked around in and on it and under it and snapped some pics:
After jumping across the road to scarf down some late lunch we headed back to the horse and it was a quick trip to the river, where we jumped the next boat and reunited with our driver on the other side.