After a late sleep in, I lazed around Chaung Tha beach, reading on the deck of my hotel shoreside (‘The Golden Bowl’ by Henry James). Chaung Tha is the beach of choice for middle class Yangonites and I was once again the only white person in the place. It was also a re-introduction to the ocean, as I had not been in the sea since leaving Australia in October last year.
In the afternoon, I decided to make the trip to my beach of choice, Ngwe Seung. Buses weren’t running directly from Yangon due to it being the low season, forcing my choice for Chaung Tha. So transport was the back of a motorbike (again, denied permission to drive it myself; they must think foreigners are terrible drivers).
It was almost two hours one way, through small villages, mangroves, estuaries, magnificent deserted beaches (including one with a large population of little, bright red crabs that scuttled madly out of the way as we approached on bike) and three ferry rides, which were small wooden boats puttered by little propellers. By the time I made it to Ngwe Seung, I had only 40 minutes before I had to return, as the ferries did not run after 5pm.
But it was worth it, for the deserted beach, with fine sand and the clear water of the Bay of Bengal, and speeding through the remote areas of the Yangon River’s mouth. It started to monsoon on the ride home and I made it back to Chaung Tha soaked, but ecstatic.
The following morning I had one last swim before hopping back on the bus for a seven, yes seven, hour bus ride back to Yangon, with tortuously saccharine Burmese video clips running the whole time on the bus’ TV.
This morning I had been hoping to escape to the beach, but alas, because it is the low season, buses were infrequent, and I had to wait for the 9pm bus later in the day. Which meant killing a day in Yangon, not the most attractive prospect, given that the city is by far the least interesting place I have been in Burma. You only really need one day there and I had knocked everything off my list already when I arrived on day one.
I wandered around the streets, walked through markets and shopping malls and nibbled on tasty food (including South Indian dosas for lunch), but all in all, I would have rather been at the beach.
The 9pm bus to Chaung Tha beach left 50 minutes late, and then it was a restless night, sharing a two seat with a mother and her six year old son, who spent various parts of the night lying half on me, and half on her. I got to the beach and checked into the nearest hotel at 4am and collapsed into bed completely wrecked.
Looking for a change of pace from temple hopping, on my third morning on the Bagan plain, I opted to do the Mt Popa hike. Situated an hour and a half from Nuaung U, the landscape transforms from dry low lying shrubs lush rainforest. Mt Popa is an extinct volcano that last exploded about 250000 years ago. The top of the volcanic plug is now home to a Buddhist temple reached via 777 steps, walking the gauntlet of a large resident colony of energetic macaques. It is the spiritual home of nat worship in Burma. A nat is a spirit being that predates the introduction of Buddhism to the country. Nats are thought to rule over certain places, people or fields (e.g. learning, drunkenness). Their worship became integrated into Buddhism in Burma, there are 37 recognised nats and Mt Popa is the place to go to pay homage, particularly during nat festivals.
The monkeys jump all around you as you make the climb though the technique for not being attacked is the same as in Nepal: don’t make eye contact and don’t carry around attractive or tasty things in your hands. Due to heavy rain the previous night, the monkeys had their own impromptu swimming pool in a landing on the way up.
While there was a lot of cloud, the top provided great views across the forested plains and rolling hills.
In the afternoon, I went for one last viewing of the temples on bicycle. And then it was farewell magical Bagan, and back to Yangon.