From Hpa-An, we wanted to go to Bagan, which is quite far away. As we don’t want to travel for 15 hours in a bus, we broke it down and decided to spend a night in Bago and another one in Pyay, meaning we would “only” have between 6 and 8 hours of travel each time.
Once in Bago, we had a first bad surprise, the bus leaving next day was full… So we had to stay an extra day there. We spent it walking around the many temples. Bago is famous for being important historically and many people visit from Yangon on a day trip. I think it definitely is a good idea to not stay there overnight. There is no good place to eat, no local market that we could find. The few guesthouses are all built on the side of the extremely noisy highway, they’re expensive and pretty disgusting (the first one directly entered our top 2 of the worst hotels we’ve stayed at – worst one will hopefully remain the “love hotel” of Lao Cai in Vietnam where I got my high fever). It was so bad that we refused to stay a second night. Locals were not nice and even a little aggressive. Kids work in Myanmar, it’s common to see a young teenager work in a shop or at a restaurant. This is disturbing, but Myanmar is not “developed” yet, it’s difficult to fully understand everything entailed and we I try not to judge by western standards. In Bago, everywhere, adults seat on their fat ass and kids do the dirty job. At the hotel, at the restaurant, in the supermarket, during the day, during the night, etc… It’s difficult not to be a little upset because there is no alternative for us to go somewhere with adult workers.
The temples were interesting, as always. We saw a very bad reconstitution of a golden palace used by kings of the 13th and 14th century. There are two reclining Buddhas, one old and one new. The new one is outdoors and very beautiful, kids play around it and climb on it. What I liked the most, and that could justify to stop between Hpa-An and Bagan alone, was the snake temple. A huge Burmese python of over 100 years old is believed to be the reincarnation of a monk. It is kept in a large room, lays on a comfy bed with dozens of pillows and has a very nice swimming pool. People come into the room, stare at the snake, pray and throw money at it. There are families with little kids, old people, anyone really. There are pictures of old monks posing carrying the python on their shoulders on the wall, everyone wants to get as close as possible, they touch it with awe, take photos within 20 cm of its face etc… And it seems completely normal to everyone. There is a guy keeping company to the python who prays whenever someone gives money, in the 5 minutes I was there, it got A LOT of bills! At some point the snake raised his head from its pillow and moved it towards me, showing off its pretty tongue. I’m sure it wanted to chat but it was not so reassuring. It quickly went back to its lazy nap but still! I was so disturbed that I dropped my gopro on a kid’s shoulder, which probably hurts since he was 1 meter lower. His mom turned to me and apologized 10 times with a big smile, because, I think, I let it fell while I was letting them go in front of me… Most people in Myanmar are like that, VERY nice.
After this visit which really made that whole stop completely worth it, we checked in a new hotel and left early in the morning to catch our bus. We had very little time in Pyay so did not visit more than the market, but we met a couple of Germans willing to finish the road to Bagan by boat. Unfortunately, there are no longer public boats doing that trip. We decided to hire a private one, but I backed down when we were shown a tiny wooden
bark supposed to take all 4 of us for an 8 hours journey.