Monks are chanting again as we wake up. I’m tempted to think they take their jobs super-seriously but it’s more likely that the temple across the street just has a cassette deck with a snazzy auto-repeat feature. Murphy is sick as fuck, even sicker as fucker than yesterfucked. Not only is his tuberculosis still out of control but apparently he’s got pinkeye now too, his eyes are crusted up and gooed over like a Japanese bukkake princess. I’m not going to tell him what I did to his pillow.
After a noodley brekkie we saddle up. The vast majority of bikes in Bagan aren’t proper motorcycles or even scooters, but electric scooters. They look and operate more or less the same as regular scooters but with even less grunt. The boys had driven them in Taiwan but this is my first time on them and they’re very milquetoast, but at least I’m not pedaling shit in this heat like a total sucker.
Before we hit the temples Murphy wants to find a doctor, can’t understand why, it’s fine fine fine, but we follow him nevertheless. Our search for medical attention comes up empty and even though he wants to try a few more places around town, Drisdelle and I reckon his prognosis is grim at this point and we’re all better off just having fun and taking his mind off his impending doom. Let’s go see some temples!
With plans of a grand circular tour in mind we leave town in the opposite direction from the main temples of Old Bagan and into the jungle and fields southeast of town, where there are a smattering of temples and villages with traditional lifestyles. We pull up to the first big temple we see, de-shoe and take some pics.
They don’t seem keen on us crawling all over this particular temple, judging from multiple signs that stress no climbing is a thing, but we hop back on our bikes and a few hundred meters away is a building of some sort that all sorts of people are climbing and selling shit on, so we follow suit to get an elevated look at the neighbourhood.
That’s a metric shit ton of temples – and this isn’t even the “main” part. We decide that there’s way too much here to realistically see so we should focus on the best spots or else we’ll be templed out by the time we get to them. We pull a 180 and flip back into town, perform several illegal overtaking maneuvers on each other and innocent bystanders, go flying out the north end of town and toward the main temple drag.
We find another spot where we’re allowed to climb on some ruins, an appetizer before the main walled city, and although the view of the river and the other temples isn’t much, it’s fun because it seems kind of unsafe – a local woman selling paintings leads us up a narrow path of brick steps without any handrails. The temple immediately next to us is being repaired as an earthquake rocked this place a few months earlier and damaged quite a few of these things. Doc Brown and I express our displeasure with douchy stankfaces.
We passed through the old walls and swerved into a modern-looking building that turned out to be the archaeological museum.
Drisdelle is unusually excited by this educational opportunity!
While Murphy and I are enjoying the mural above, a dozen or so high school kids are wheeling around taking pictures of it and each other as well, and even though we’re trying to get out of their way they seem to keep moving to get us into the pictures. Eventually a few of them start coming up to us and just taking selfies with us in front of it. This turns into group selfies, stupid-looking facial expressions, high-five selfies, literally dozens; I think it’s safe to say we’re both Burmese Facebook superstars. Before the meddling kids disperse Murphy snaps a group pic of our own:
We spend the next half hour strolling through the place; I’m taking it all in, Murphy and Narco are re-writing Southeast Asian history, and Drisdelle disappears to (I assume) engage in some rough nipple play in the bathroom.
With our minds and areolas expanded we hopped back on the bikes and ripped into the temples proper. The paths in were poorly marked and many consisted of loose dirt that we were kicking out on and being tools – or, more likely the case, we just had no idea where we were going and were inadvertently fucking around off-road. Regardless of the circumstances and the gutless rides, it was a total blast.
Although we’d only scratched the surface by this point we were all getting kind of templed-out. They’re cool places and all but we’ve been kicking it through Buddhist temples since Bangkok and even though this was probably the coolest temple-dealie we’d ripped through (arguably with the Hindu exception of Angkor Wat) you can only stay interested by gold-leaf Buddha statues and brick stupas for so long. Unless, I suppose, you know something about Buddhism, but knowing things about stuff isn’t really our forte.
We veered off the temple route and down what started as a small farm road and quickly turned into a sandy, shitty mess. Our feet dangled off the sides of our bikes more often than not as our wheels kicked out and sunk into the sand. Our slow pace turned into a crawl as we got stuck behind a farmer with an ox-drawn cart. It was impossible to pass as the cart took up the entire path, the adjacent fields and forest were far too rough to try to smash through with rigs like ours, and our mouths filled with dust kicked up by the cart and each other.
At one point the farmer looks back and notices us – surprising because the e-bikes made less noise than his cart – and he pulls into a field to let us by. Enthused we punch the gas (?) and I almost immediately crash, my front wheel digs into the sand, cuts hard to the left and I’m thrown up onto the handlebars nuts-first. No damage to the bike or my gentleman region so it’s a lot of hoo-hoos and hee-hees and metaphorical busting of balls and we’re all bombing it along the trail, acting like jerks and having a fucking riot.
To our left we spot some kind of tower over the foliage but there isn’t a well-defined path, so we find whatever gaps we can through the bushes and trees and drive over a bunch of dead branches and small bushes and mudholes with our sadly inadequate machines until we slam on the brakes on account of a water hazard.
It’s opened up next to a pond that seems to belong to a resort or something. There’s a small footpath running the perimeter of the pond, Murphy jokes we should race but neither Drisdelle nor myself get the joke and a race ensues. There are several close calls where the pond nearly claims an e-bike or two.
The path ends abruptly and our three bikes are now bombing through the resort’s pristine lawn. We’re blowing past each other and fucking around and being total dicks on someone’s nice lawn (to be fair the e-bikes are too gutless to rip it up though, no real damage done). As we’re laughing about how we’re sure we’re not supposed to be here a security guard comes storming toward us. We’re kind of in a corner with some cottages and fields around us so we act dumb like we’re not sure what he wants. He yells at us but he can sense our stupidity and takes pity on us, giving us an exasperated look and guiding us away from the resort and out a back exit using a tone usually reserved for kids who wear hockey helmets on the jungle gym. Drisdelle nails one of the lawn’s sprinklers with his front wheel, it’s reduced to fragments and we drive off like a trio of douche-gypsies.
The path leads back out onto a proper road and we’re opening them up full-bore again until we’re almost to our false-start temple this morning. There’s a little village to our left – one of these traditional-style villages that are promoted pretty hard for tourists to visit – and a smiling woman standing next to a place that looks like it has beer so we slam our bikes in, nail the brakes and jump off to crack a few coldies. Our server, the woman who warmly greeted us, describes the village and says once we finish our beers we should take a gander which we agree to do. Meanwhile a fourth bike pulls in and a beautiful dark-haired and tanned girl jumps off, asks if she can sit down next to us in an accent we can’t quite place and starts chatting us up. Strangely 3 pm is too early for her to start drinking beer but we have a good chat about what we discover to be her home, Mexico City. We kill our beers, she bounces and we head into the village.
It kind of feels like an artificial tourist trap, there are some crafts happening here and there but we don’t really care to stare at anything too long until we see these old ladies rolling gaggers.
Yo lemme hit that yo
It’s a weird smoke consisting of finely-chopped palm wood, tobacco and tamarind in a corn husk. It tastes nice but I’m still unclear of the purpose, it seems like you’re inhaling a lot of wood smoke for no quantifiable benefit. A group of septuagenarian Israeli tourists arrive and initially they’re hesitant to take a haul but we use some of the old peer pressure and in no time they’re puff-puff-passing it around with us.
The same ladies also have the elusive betel nut on the go, but the technique and presentation are slightly different than what Drisdelle and Murphy are accustomed to from Taiwan, and explains why we couldn’t find it earlier – the finished product isn’t a tightly-wound leaf wrapped around nut, but just looks like a folded leaf. The nut is smashed up into little pieces inside of the leaf along with some white paste and a bit of tobacco.
Soon I’m leaving a crimson trail of saliva along the dirt paths of the village. It’s really such a lovely habit.
On our way, after we pay our guide a nominal fee for showing us around, we ask if we can get a stock of betel nut from someone. They don’t have any pre-made but she sends her brother out on a scooter to go pick up a pouch for us, he comes back with a huge sack of the stuff and we’re on our way.
Back in town we drop off our bikes and go for some killer pizza. The boys are both feeling pretty shit – Drisdelle seems to be picking up some of Murphy’s ongoing ailment now – and as they’re both getting up super-early in the morning for ballooning they head to bed early, Drisdelle even before dinner and Murphy immediately after.
I take some beers down to the patio and get drinks on with a random crew; the guy we met from Brooklyn gets tequila shots for everyone, I’m throwing the betel nut around, there are some German girls who seem terrified by most of us and an Italian guy constantly dropping pearls of wisdom like “Beers are like tits, you can never have too many.” The women at the table pretend to be offended but he’s a good-looking dude so they let it slide and go googly eyed as they slam back more and more beer. The bar at Ostello Bello taps out around midnight but the Italian breaks curfew to hit up a bootlegging connection he knows that’ll sell us post-curfew beers and comes back with a shopping bag full of lager.
Around two we’re all calling it quits, we’re all hammered, I’m filthy and sunburnt from the day of e-biking and the legs of my pants are stained with betel nut spittle, but I feel like a million bucks.