My alarm rings at 3:30am. I roll out of bed and pull on some clothes in the dark, careful not to wake my roommate or the puppy we smuggled into our room the night before. I head out alone towards the fields of temples. The sky is still pitch black, the roads are bumpy and filled with potholes, and I’m pretty sure my tiny electric bike has no shocks and only a semi-functional brake (also, less important but still worth mentioning, the nerdiest horn I have ever heard). I have a destination in mind, but I know it’s going to be crowded so I first try another route – but am stopped at a barbed wire gate by a man with a very large automatic weapon. Apparently there are still areas even in Bagan that tourists are forbidden to enter.
I arrive at one of the main temples known for its ideal sunrise views, and join the small crowd already gathering around the stupa as the sky begins to lighten. The plains have been blanketed in thick clouds since we arrived, so our sunrise was more of a general lightening of cloud cover than anything, with the occasional pink spot here, an orange spot there. I find myself feeling thankful that the sky wasn’t exactly spectacular. Had I been staring only at the sky, or looking only through my camera as most of my elephant pant-clad friends were doing around me, I would have missed the trail of maroon-robed monks passing between two temples to the south. Or the huge flocks of white cranes settling around us in stark contrast to the deep green of the plain and the vermillion brick of the temples in the soft light of dawn.
I leave my temple perch before the crowds, and turn my bike deeper into the plain. I spend the next three hours exploring these ancient temples in near solitude. After retrieving my friend and the puppy, we wander from temple to temple, hiding out in them during bouts of rain. We didn’t have an excess of time in Bagan, but that magical morning was enough to further solidify my love for Myanmar.
After helping me wash my muddy feet in a puddle and giving me my own personal tour of the temple he lived next to (no English, only pointing), this sweet Burmese goat herder walked me back through thick, shoe-sucking mud to my bike. He then asked to take a photo with me. We barely spoke, just smiles and a few of the Burmese phrases I had learned, but it was one of my favorite interactions of the trip.
Oh right. The smuggled puppy. I spotted this little thing on the side of the road as we were walking home from dinner, crying pitifully. We looked around for littermates or a mama, but no luck. There was no way we were just setting her down and listening to that sound as we walked away, so I tucked her into my bag and we fed her and cleaned her up in the room…then took her temple touring with us the next day. Such a sweet girl. Had we been taking a bus back to Bangkok, she definitely would have found a permanent home in Thailand. We left her with the guys running our guesthouse – hopefully she’s made some new traveling friends. We miss you, Sausage.