Bagan Buggy and Boat Bonanza: Myanmar

Our second day in Bagan dawns beautiful and perfect for lounging around the pool, but we have things to do and places to see. We have plans to take a horse and buggy tour around the temples this morning, and our train leaves to Yangon at 05:00 pm. My bookworms take a few moments to enjoy reading their Kindle books poolside.   

The wifi is better in the hotel lobby so you know where to find the techies.  Before we leave I ask the hotel staff if we can save one of our rooms for a late check out, and we are granted our request. 

Sure enough, as promised the horses and buggies have arrived. I am cracking up when I climb on board. I have always wanted a horse and buggy ride but never have wanted to pay so much for it. In Bagan it is cheap and that suits me just fine.

Our horse and buggy driver takes us several miles towards Old Bagan and then starts telling David about taking a boat ride on the Irrawaddy River. Of course we were bummed out earlier when our plans to take the local boat from Mandalay to Bagan had been nixed, since that boat only goes twice a week in the summer months. I had really wanted to boat along the Irrawaddy, and going now would give us an opportunity to enjoy the river a bit. We agree to go to the river to see what it’s all about. 

We were about one kilometer away from the river when the horses stop unexpectedly. A man is stopped at the side of the road with his motorcycle, and there is a rather large middle aged woman sitting behind him. The driver explains that this is the man who can arrange the boat ride. 

We ask for a price, and of course it is ridiculously expensive! We offer half. He feigns surprise at our low offer. He counters. We counter. Finally we settle at 22,000, but we want to see the boat first. The woman seems keenly interested in the negotiations. 

We get let off at a temple above the dock, and walk down a long flight of stairs towards the river. There are many women beggars on the steps with their children, and several even have their babies nursing on their breasts as they push their dented tin cups towards us. These are the first beggars we have seen in a long time. It isn’t easy to be cold and cruel and simply walk past these desparate souls. It makes my stomach churn. 

At the bottom of the stairs we find there’s really not a dock, but rather a row of old wooden boats tied up on the beach. The boats look pretty rickety. The man proudly shows us the boat that would take us out. 

As we stand there and contemplate whether we dare to go onboard or not, the large woman from the motorbike is yelling down towards us from the temple high up on the riverbank. Of course I can’t make out what she is saying, or even who she is yelling at. The commotion and the pitch of her voice is grating on my nerves and making me a bit worried. What the heck is she yelling about?  

In my overactive mind I wonder if she is making a deal with the boat operator about how to rob us, slice us up and throw our bodies into the river. The muddy river water has a very strong current and who knows if our bodies would ever be found. 

The woman keeps yelling, and I have to wonder why she doesn’t just come down the steps like a normal person would, to talk in normal tones. Does she want everyone to hear her plans for ripping us off and murdering us? 

I cringe at the thoughts and tell myself sharply to snap out of it! As if they would plan to murder us. That’s just silly! I ask David if he wants to go on board, and we decide it is a go. 

The boat roars to life with a huge plume of black smoke, and before long we are off. The boat ends up being kind of big for our crew, so we get to spread out. Just watch out, kids, so your clothes don’t get snagged on loose nails or splinters.


The walls look like they have seen better days, but I don’t see any leaks.


When we take off we stick close to the shoreline.



As we cruise along we find some interesting things happening along the shore.

David seems to be at ease, and his enthusiasm helps shut off the nagging thoughts I have about the safety (or lack thereof) of our boat trip. I relax a bit.



We see this boat that is loaded full of something which these people put into black baskets. They carry the baskets on their heads to the dump truck and empty them into the truck bed, and go back for another load. Back and forth they go. It seems very labor intensive.


This boat here looks like it is riding pretty low. I wonder what it has on board?


This woman reminds me of myself! There’s she sits all alone doing TONS of laundry! I wonder if she ever cries because she has so much work to do?


This family is enjoying their laundry and bath day. Somehow the man is swimming while the women do the wash. Strange how these things happen!

We watch as this woman very handily picks up her baby and places the big bowl full of laundry on her head as she gets up to leave. The other woman appears to either be brushing her teeth in the muddy river water, or eating soap.

I think this is the temple where we saw the bats fly from last night as we watched the sunset.  

Our boat driver looks like a nice Myanmarese hottie, not like a murderer and robber, don’t you think?


It seems like we keep going and going and going. Our ride is only supposed to last for one hour, but it seems like we have been gone much longer. The river gets wider and wider. Then our Myanmarese hottie makes me really nervous! He begins steering the boat way across the river, far from the riverbanks. The wind picks up and the water is choppy. Even the clouds turn dark and ominous. 

Where is he taking us? We should have headed back long ago! Are we going all the way across the river? Is that what that loud woman had been scheming with him?

I wonder if this life vest works?


As my nervousness mounts I manage to gesture to the boat driver to ask if we are turning around, and he assures me we are. He was simply taking a wide berth to turn. Phew! Now I can smile!


After two years of living in Finland Aundrea is enjoying the sun.

This must be the riverboat bus or something. If you ask me it looks pretty unsafe!


As we approach the shore I notice that the current is very strong. I hadn’t noticed that before. The temple from where the woman had been yelling from glistens brightly in the sunlight. Oh, no! There is no room to park our boat!

Don’t worry, silly me, one man jumps into the green boat and starts its engine and pushes a row of boats upstream to make room on the left. Another man stands on the green boat’s roof and uses a long bamboo pole to push the boats downstream on the other side. After a few moments an opening large enough to accomodate our boat has been made, and we are safely back on shore!  We pay our little Myanmarese hottie a little tip before the fat lady can see the exchange. His smile lights ups his face.


Our horse and buggy drivers are waiting for us. I think that the horses were happy to have a break. David is a little large for the buggy. Then pile three  of us on board? The poor horses must be dying in this heat!


We stop at a few more temples.


This driver shows his great sense of fun, and has the kids driving. I don’t know how safe it is since they know exactly nothing about controlling a horse. And I definitely don’t like my kids whipping a horse!

I take one final great shot of the sunset temple.


It is time to head back to the hotel.

David being a rather observant engineer had noticed many of these unusual stations at the sides of the road in Myanmar. The driver explains to us that they are places for travelers to rest. The pots are filled with fresh water every day by locals so that travelers can get water.


And the bamboo platforms can be used as a table for a picnic or for resting on.  David tests it out.


Lo and behold, here are some travelers using the wayside rest!

Bjorn gets a chance to drive…he is giddy with excitement.

His steering skills aren’t that stellar and he gets a bit off track. 

When we get back to the hotel we take a nice dip in the pool and relax a minute…..shower up…..we check out at 3:30 pm.

We need to grab dinner early before we get on the train to Yangon. We start walking to our restaurant…..but gosh, it’s hot and dusty…..and we are short on time!  Just as I am wondering about the wisdom of leaving our dinner to the last minute, we see two horses with buggies coming down the road. What a surprise! It was our drivers from this morning! They laugh and tell us to hop in….and off we go for a free ride.

The driver recommends a good restaurant with cheap prices, and brings us to Star Beams, which is right next to the restaurant we had been going to. The food is unbelievably delicious! We enjoy every last bite!

A taxi van is waiting for us at the hotel. Our original quote for the taxi had been $15, but in the meantime the hotel manager had found a better price for us at $10. I realize that I had left my watch on the room when I checked out about one hour ago, but it is nowhere to be found.

When we get to the train station the Station Master is pleased to unlock the Tourist Lounge for us! There is an air conditioner in there, but my engineer can’t even figure out how to turn it on.


The train is about an hour late. As we sit in the lounge I really begin to wonder what I have gotten myself into. Should I call up the luxurious JJ’s Bus company? It’s probably not too late yet! The bus leaves later than the train so there must still be time! Should we have flown? I have heard the airlines in Myanmar are not the safest. 

What’s crazier? Careening wildly down the road in a bus? Flying high in the sky in a poorly maintained aircraft? Or clattering your way down a railroad and facing potential derailment?

I don’t know. I guess we are going to do it. We are here now, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or so I hear! I can hear the distant sound of the train approaching the station, and I can feel the ground beneath my feet shaking. The train has arrived! Come on guys, let’s hop on board!

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