Day 6 started peacefully, waking up to a blue sky and spectacular view of Mount Popa. We enjoyed a late breakfast alone at the resort and then retired to the pool in the early afternoon. Sometimes we forget to be still on vacation and take it all in. Sitting at the pool was just what we needed, and then we checked out around 3:00 p.m.
Popa Mountain Resort had offered to arrange our return travel to Bagan for us. We had no prior plan as to how we were going to get back so we agreed, wondering what they would arrange for us. Private air conditioned van? Not quite. Since we had arrived in the back of an old pickup truck, that’s how we would leave. Same same but different, as people say around here. When the driver pulled up to the hotel, the concierge had him back up under the portico so we wouldn’t have to walk out into the sun. What service! Then he opened the front passenger door so we could squeeze in, three across, in the front seat with our driver. It’s so hot in Bagan — we declined and climbed in the back in the open air, but this time there was no mattress. Just a nice green tarp on metal. Guess these are the prices we pay for adventure! We leaned back, waved goodbye and bumped on down the winding road.
Amazing pastoral scenes of Bagan passed by as we worked our way down the mountain back to the plains. Our driver was probably in his fifties — 30+ years older than our first driver, and thankfully a little slower and more careful. I pondered the safety of riding in the back of an open vehicle in a third world country — not the safest choice, but possibly the funnest. We watched huts and goats and people and palm trees and carts loaded with stuff drift into the distance as we descended the hill. We passed a notable swath of disturbed land, with enormous sections of pipe waiting to be laid and connected. We wondered what intrusive development it could possibly be, and learned upon our return (through a story on BBC) that the Chinese are laying a natural gas pipeline through Myanmar, much to the consternation of the locals. Wow. Knock, knock. It’s the future at your door, and not even at the hands of your fellow countrymen. It was undeniable evidence of things to come in Myanmar.
We neared Bagan and the four-way intersection at the road to our hotel. Our driver knew roughly where we were going but missed the left turn. Jay pointed out the side of the truck to show him which way to go as he began making a U-turn. ShhhkkkkkkhhrrrkkkkkkkrrrkkkchchKKKKCRASH! The young man in the vehicle behind us had tried to start passing us when our driver started making the U-turn, and we were sideswiped in the process. Nothing major, thankfully, just a few splintered pieces of plastic and a rearview mirror that was now facing the driver. Jay had seen it coming and pulled his hand in before impact. Our driver stopped the car and discussed the crash with the other driver. “We’re good! We’ll walk the rest of the way!” we said as we paid the guy and left the scene before we were involved in anything we didn’t need to be.
Back at the hotel we checked in, took a dip in the pool and hired our old friend Naingshwe for one more evening temple tour in the relative safety of his horsecart. We set out just before sunset.
We stopped at Shin-bin-tha-hlyaung, also known as the sleeping or reclining Buddha.
This Buddha is shoe-horned into a long, rectangular brick building with a walkway along one side. Light filters in from three doorways and a few windows, lighting up the Buddha with that magical, warm light of Bagan.
Back in the cart, Naingshwe hurried us off to the final temple while the sun dipped in the sky. We stopped for silhouette photos against purple clouds before climbing up one last staircase for a final view of Bagan. The temple was quiet, except for one American couple at the top — Morgan and Rafael who had been traveling for 13 months and were soon on their way to Sacramento. We traded stories and tips about Yangon and enjoyed each other’s company as the sky turned dark.
Back in the Thiripyitsaya hotel room that night, we packed and readied for tomorrow’s flight back to Yangon. Lights out at midnight, and alarm set for 6:00 a.m. I laid in bed, hearing a small, unfamiliar noise tick-tick-tick for 15 minutes. Bugs being zapped by the bug killer? No. Geckos? No. Water dripping? BANG! CRASH! Second time in a day! We both immediately sat up at attention in bed and felt around for the light, wondering if we were under guerrilla attack in the remote backcountry of Myanmar. Light on we saw the culprit: a stressed out air conditioning unit had completely frozen and then broken, shattering ice and spilling fluid all over the floor below. That’ll wake you up! We called the front desk and were soon moving our belongings to another room at the hotel, and back to sleep within a half an hour.