Myanmar Day 2: Popa

We beat the traffic with our early flight. We fly on KBZ Airlines out of the domestic airport aboard a Canadian prop plane. We have 1 stop in Heho along the way, and it’s a dusty town. I kind of like this airline though, they give us snack boxes each time we take off followed by tea, and every one of them is tasty. They also give us these hard candies, and I take a couple, but I wish I’d taken more, when I finally get around to eating one, they’re delicious.

At the airport I have to hit the ATM again and pull out the maximum (more than the highest listed amount). It comes to about $220 US, but with a 1350:1 exchange rate, that is quite a lot of 500 kyat notes. I can’t even really get my wallet closed! Only so far over our first day, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get us too far. It really feels like the dollar doesn’t get you as far as 6 years ago when I spent maybe $4 a meal despite the dollar getting stronger across the board. I think the cost of living has just gone up that much? Turns out though before we leave the airport we’re required the buy Archeological Area Permits for 25,000 kyat each. There goes a few of those bills, and my wallet now closes.

I thought I’d arranged a tour/transfer that would pick us up at the aiport, drive us to Mount Popa, and then when we were done drop us and our bags at the hotel. I’d been asked to confirm I was happy with the price, and I did, but there wasn’t anyone waiting for us. After looking around for a big, I asked inside if they could call for me. They looked up the number but then handed me the phone that was so quiet I couldn’t hear the person on the other side, between that and the language barrier it wasn’t able to be resolved. So I just gave us, we picked a taxi with a van, and got ourselves to the hotel. Along the way we asked about how much to take us to Mount Popa from the hotel. We were quoted about $38 US which beats the $45 the hotel was quoting.

I complained about the situation at the hotel Bagan Thande, and they were very apologetic about the mixup and gave us free dinner. In the end we really ended up coming out quite ahead. The hotel held our luggage until our rooms were ready, and then we were off.

On our way, our driver switched cars with a younger man saying the van we had taken to the hotel was too expensive, and that the smaller car was much better. We had picked him for his van, but there isn’t much argument now.

The road to Mount Popa was 36k and very bumpy with many big bumps and dips. The smaller car really did soak them up quite well. He tried to stop at a tourist trap but we waved him by. He also had to stop a few times to pay people for something. We drove through a number of small villages, and I felt like we were really getting out there. The drive took quite a while, but was worth it as we turned a corner and Mount Popa revealed itself.

A piece of rock seemingly out of place stuck to the side of a green volcanic mountain with a golden pagoda and temple on top. Like mole, or maybe a golden tipped mole? A long set of covered stairs wind their way up the side.

At the bottom, there is no room to move, and we had to squeeeeze past a bus with centimeters on a side.

Chuck’s feet were pretty sore after walking all our the pagoda yesterday in Yangon, so it was quite a disappointment that not long up the stairs we were asked to take off our shoes again. It was already quite enough for him to be doing so many stairs, but barefoot? He sucked it up and stowed his shoes.

The stairs lower down are lined with shops, but as we get higher those disappear. People halfheartedly keeping the stairs clean ask for donations for their work, but the stairs are not particularly clean, partly from the monkeys running all around opening little packets of monkey food (shelled peanuts wrapped in newspaper). At points the stairs kick up to being quite steep and made of metal instead of smooth concrete.

At the top though our view was superb, but the temple itself looks much more impressive from below than at the top. I’m glad we came, even if it was a tad underwhelming, especially after yesterday’s pagoda. It’s pretty cool, if you donate a certain amount, they make a little sign with your name and home with how much you donated. I’m not sure how you make sure your sign goes up, it would have been cool to donate one for someone and have a picture to show them.

We had to hit the tourist trap on the way back, but we needed to use the restroom, and maybe get a coke. Sadly no coke, and the restrooms were just pits, so we passed on that too. But we did get some treats.

We checked into our hotel, the rooms were a bit weird. The only reachable outlet for instance was behind the beds. Along with the main light switches. The beds are less than a foot from the desk with an old CRT TV on it. The sink isn’t level so the soap would slip into the sink, and no soap dish. There are two sets of curtains, one sheer and one not, only we only have the thick ones for half of the window. Things like that.

The first thing we did was dip in the pool though, freezing again, I still don’t understand how. Pam, Jenn and I hashed out what we should do. Tomorrow we have a 5:30am pickup for hot air balloons, so we need to be to bed early, so an early dinner. We hadn’t had lunch, so that sounded great. We had planned to get laundry done, but they charge $3 a shirt, pants etc. and $3 for 2 small items like socks, underwear etc. I have about 8 outfits needing washing, and that’s going to add up. They said they’d cut us a deal because of the pickup, but in the end Jenn and I decided since we have 2 ½ days here, we’re going to do them in the sink. Pam though elected for their service, but I don’t think she did a ton, and it came out to $38 I think.

So here Jenn and I are, doing our laundry with the hotel shampoo and our bodywash, hanging them up on a portable clothes lined, arranged in front of the AC unit, and some more arranged around our shower curtain rod. All in all we got it all done, and it just had to dry now.

Unfortunately we had told Chuck our plan was to go to the bar until the 5:30 dinner, but we were waiting on them to come to our room, and tell us they were ready and it just didn’t happen, so we headed to the bar around 5, and hour later, and Chuck had been waiting there the entire time for us! So we had some drinks, then when dinner service was starting we moved to the restaurant. There aren’t many good food options around, and this wasn’t too bad.

As flakey as the internet has been for us so far, Bagan reaches a new level. I can’t even download my next book, the 6th and most recent book in The Expanse series. It’s only 3MB but that’s too much for it. I see it get all the way to 93% once but fail. It takes about 5hrs but finally it manages to not error out! I’m really not going to be able to upload my next journal entry, and I’m finally up to Hoi An on my computer.

Thank god we got to sleep easily.

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