So water festival break is almost over and it's back to work for the last three weeks now, time is flying by!
Bagan was really nice, a quaint little area, just getting there was half the fun of the trip! Our boat journey took 18 hours, we left Mandalay at 5:30am and arrived around midnight! The slow boat was crammed full: a few foreigners, loads of locals, bags of rice, watermelons and sheet metal among other things! There was an area with plastic chairs at one end of the boat for foreigners, the locals were sitting on the floor on mats (not a very fair division but it's all part of the way they separate foreigners and locals here). The boat stopped every half hour or so at little villages where people got on or off with all their goods. At around 8pm, as it was getting near our ETA the boat hit a sandbar (at this point we were moving even more slowly as it was dark and the boat was being guided along by a man with a spotlight and a stick checking water depth!), apparently this happens a lot during dry season with the water levels so low. We noticed some locals with bowls of rice and we discovered a little stove area at one end of the boat where they had some dishes for sale so we got some rice to mix with our tinned sardines for dinner! We gathered from a lady working on the boat who spoke a little English that they had called another boat to rescue us but we had no idea when it would arrive. About an hour or so later the generator cut out and we were in darkness. So we took our cue from all the Burmese who were laying out their mats for the night and we were just about to put our blankets on the ground when we spotted a cockroach and then a mouse scurrying past! After trying and failing to get comfortable enough to sleep on the plastic chairs we gave in to sleeping on the floor and laid out the blankets, accepting that we probably would be spending the night there. Around an hour later we hear a distant engine and some torches were shone in us and were told to move into a little longtail boat that had arrived. The boat nearly broke down after a few minutes (something to do with the engine leaking!) but they managed to fix it and we were off again the darkness by the light of their torches. Luckily we'd prebooked our guesthouse so there was someone at the jetty to pick us up and take us there by horse cart! What a journey!
So we spent the first day in Bagan cycling around, stopping to explore various temples and admire the views of the hundreds of pagodas dotted across the landscape. It was really hot so we stopped often for drinks and snacks, but the area was much smaller than expected so we saw most of it that day! As we cycled back in the afternoon the locals were out at the side the roads with hoses, water guns and buckets of water as is the tradition for the three day celebration of Thingyan (myanmar new year water festival) Water was being thrown at all passersby, we got soaked wet! The next day we decided to just chill out at the rooftop of our guesthouse and stay dry so we watched the water splashing from a safe viewpoint, and ventured out when the streets got quiet at lunchtime and after sunset! By now we had figured out the peak water throwing times! On Saturday we rented a van to take us to Mount Popa where we climbed to the pagoda at the top to see the views of Bagan. The van had no AC so we had the windows open but had to watch out for people with buckets and hoses and close the windows in time, but we weren't always quick enough! Then on Sunday we took the train back to Mandalay, we chose the ordinary class seats as we had pillows and blankets with us to make the wooden benches more comfortable. The train was really rickety and old, it swayed from side to side and bounced up and down most of the time! Like being on a funfair ride! At every stop women would come on board carrying baskets of snacks on their heads: watermelon, samosas, doughnuts, fried beancakes, sour dried plums and soft drinks. The views were amazing, central Myanmar is dry and desert-like, and as we got nearer to Mandalay we could see the landscape become greener, with rice fields and lakes. It was still water festival so buckets of water were being thrown at the train as we passed stations and settlements. Our carriage had open windows with shutters so we often got wet when we didn't get the shutters down in time! Or they would throw the water upwards so it would still get in through the slits in the shutters! Never a dull moment! We got back to Mandalay in the afternoon and saw first-hand why the say it us the place to celebrate Thingyan. The streets were crowded with people, there were bands playing on every stage, music was blaring, the streets were puddled with water! People had set up camp on every available patch of grass at the sides of the streets, whole families were sleeping, cooking and eating at these makeshift tents! The main stage was right in front of our hotel and people were even gathered in the front lawn, dancing and celebrating. The music went on til about 9pm and then started again at 8am the following day and continued til midnight when all the fireworks went off to signal the end of the festivities. After hiding out at the hotel for the past few days we finally ventured out today and gladly the water throwing had ended but the temperature seemed to have increased dramatically. It was so hot, this is why they say April is the cruellest month! We spotted damaged fences along the side of the moat and there was even a whole bit of the fence missing! We saw people taking plastic bags of water out of a truck beside the moat and we guessed they were putting the fish back in the moat! (fish getting stuck in the hoses would have put a damper on the water splashing during the celebrations!) The place was quieter than ever; most shops, restaurants and tea shops were closed. Apparently a lot of people have gone up to Maymyo in the mountains, where it is cooler, to continue the celebrations!