The worst part of visiting the temples of Bagan in Burma was that time it looked like my girlfriend and I might be spending a night on the street.
I should have been better prepared, I guess. In fact, when my beloved Ta told me it was ‘Monk Day’, a Buddhist holiday, my first priority should have been booking a bus out of there the minute we arrived at the guest house.
Alas, I left it too late. About 48 hours before our planned departure from Nyaung U (a modern town, replete with hotels, just down the road from the plain of ancient temples), I asked the guy at reception if he could arrange transport for us.
“The buses are full,” he said. “It’s a holiday weekend and people have come here from all over the country. They’ll all be going home in the next few days. I’m sorry.”
“In that case,” I said, “we’ll need to stay here another night.”
“Well, we’re booked up,” he said. “So are most of the other hotels. You’ll just have to go from door to door, asking if they have a room available.”
(Needless to say, I’m putting fluent English words into this guy’s mouth.)
To cut a long story short, we found a room quite easily. But to get out of this town – more to the point, to reach the southern city of Yangon (formerly Rangoon) and fly back to Bangkok – I had to shell out $200 for a domestic flight, one day later than we’d planned.
As he booked the tickets over the phone with a local agent, the guy at the hotel misread the name in my passport. He read my surname first, so that the person on the ticket was some fella called Ryan David. Despite assurances that no one would mind, this worried me until we reached Nyaung U Airport, at which point – realising that it didn’t even have electronic ticketing – I calmed down.
Our day of sightseeing, incidentally, was tiring but fun. A man took us from temple to temple with his horse and cart, which was charming and quaint enough, but repeatedly climbing in and out of the buggy it in the blistering heat left me feeling like a shattered old codger.
I should also say that Bagan is the only place in Burma where I heard George Orwell mentioned. On two occasions that day, young people tried to sell me a paperback of his first novel, Burmese Days.
I posted this photo on the Orwell Society’s Facebook page, noting that the book was probably bootlegged. Orwell’s son, Richard Blair, shot back with a rueful comment. “Was it ever thus!”