One of the nice things about hitchhiking is that you can go at your own pace; if you get left at a peaceful junction that happens to have a roadside liquor stand you can enjoy a beer before moving on. Given that we had a sign for Bagan written in Burmese script and signed by one of the most famous actors and the future prime minister of the country, we pretty much had to try hitchhiking. We lucked out and got cheap public transport all the way to the junction outside of town. For the next 12 hours we got rides of various length and stopped to enjoy ourselves a little between each of them until finally arriving in Bagan around .
Our last stop was in a small town 35 miles outside of Bagan at around . We started walking for the edge of town when we passed an open-air restaurant that featured a man frying very large pieces of circular dough on a flat iron griddle. At first it looked like pizza but then we saw him peeling off layers. He was making samusa wrappers. After watching him for 5 minutes we pretty much had to try one. They were 2 for 100 kyat which is about 6 cents each. We got 4 and started walking. We hadn't even made it past the restaurant by the time they were gone and decided to go back for more. We ordered 4 more and sat down. Then we opened a beer we had brought with us an ordered 4 more. The last time I was in Southeast Asia one of my biggest regrets was not buying more cheap samusas. I wasn't going to make that mistake again so I ordered 4 more. Then they started closing.
As we were getting up to leave I saw them putting all the extra samusas into a bag. I asked them how much they wanted for the whole bag and they just handed them to me. They wouldn't accept any money for them. I think they liked us for a couple reasons, the first being that we obviously liked their samusas and were probably their best customers of the evening. I think they also liked us because we had convinced everyone that we were planning to walk to Bagan that night since there were no more buses and we were informed by locals that the government prohibits foreigners from spending the night in that city. We told people that we were walking so they would stop offering us taxi rides. Not only would a taxi ride have been exorbitantly expensive but we wouldn't have gotten to meet interesting locals. We even turned down a couple cheap bus rides so we could hitchhike. Remember, it's not about the money. Saying we were walking worked for everybody but the guy Brad called Beetlejuice on account of the betel nut he was chewing. The man was... a character. He was definitely hopped up on something and had decided to sit with us. At one point I think he tried hitting on us. In the end I think the restaurant was glad that we had distracted him for a while.
With our bag of samusas in hand we walked to the edge of town and began to wait. Very few cars were passing. Shortly a man from across the street came over to talk to us. As he was approaching I started with "We're fine, thanks" but he responded in very clear English with: "You know, no one here hitchhikes." It caught me completely off guard. No one here even knows what hitchhiking is and we found out there's not even a word for it in Burmese. The man came over to talk to us. Turns out he's a doctor in that little town and was just interested in helping us. He stood with us for 1hr and explained our situation to every car that pulled over until we finally had a ride.
We arrived in Bagan somewhere around and wandered the street for at least an hour in search of a place to stay until we finally found a reasonably priced hotel with one vacancy. We slept until breakfast was almost over then took the rest of the day easy. We met a nice German man and decided to rent bikes to go to a nearby temple for sunset. We brought the samusas, several bottles of beer and some chocolate and watched the beautiful sunset over the ancient temple-filled desert of Bagan. All the other tourists left after sundown and we stayed on the temple and drank beer and ate samusas and chocolate under the stars.
Bagan has over 2,000 ancient temples arbitrarily placed in about 40 square kilometers of land. I'm surprised I'd never heard of it before. It's much more beautiful than Angkor Wat in Cambodia in my opinion. Few of the temples are all too spectacular but when taken together they make quite a scene. It's easy to tour Bagan by yourself if you rent bicycles or are avid walkers like the two Americans we met on a temple who teach English in China and gave us resources to send to our monk friend in Mandalay.
Brad and I have been taking things easy and that's a very acceptable pace in my opinion. We spent 3 days in Bagan and had plenty of time to explore the temples, drink lots of beer and eat lots of delicious food. Burmese food is really good. Most of the things we've eaten here are heavy on ginger and small shallot-like purple onions. Unfortunately none of the dishes have names or if they do they're not printed in English. I feel like I've finally hit my stride which is good because I'm going to have to pick up the pace for the next month. You'll see.Soundtrack: Cuckoo's Nest (Nickel Creek)