Monday, February 16: My driver Meemo tells me that we’re going to have lunch near the Myitnge River Crossing, after which I’m going to cross over a small river by boat and then take a horse cart through Ava, also known as Inwa. Since 1364, Ava played its part as a royal capital in Burma four times, and it has often been referred to as the “Kingdom of Ava.” According to Lonely Planet Myanmar, “the royal court finally abandoned Inwa for Amarapura in 1841.”
We drive down a long tree-lined road to the river crossing.
After I eat a lunch of chicken with vegetables and rice at a local open-air restaurant, I walk down a steep incline where I get on a small boat for an 80 cent fee. It only takes a few minutes to get across.
On the other side of the river is the eastern jetty and horse cart waiting area. There’s quite a bit of hubbub as all the tourists arrange their private horse carts for the tour of Ava.
A Korean woman dressed in a royal blue traditional longyi and matching top, asks if I’m alone and if I’d like to share a cart with her. She’s on holiday from Yangon where she works as a nurse. We make arrangements with a young man who has orange-dyed hair; in my opinion he looks a little drug-crazed. He asks us if we’d like the one-hour tour for $8 or the two-hour tour for $16. The Korean woman is anxious to save money and split the cost, so we agree we’ll take the one-hour tour, with each of us paying $4.
The young man has a scarf around his neck, a skeletal white horse, and a violent temper that soon becomes evident in the way he beats his horse relentlessly when there is no need to do so.
We break away from the crowds at the horse cart waiting area, and soon we’re out in the countryside.
We make our first stop at Daw Gyan Pagoda Complex. I get out and wander around to take pictures. I see several people have left their shoes behind, as in common at Myanmar temples, so I do so as well. However, the dirt path is full of brambles and thorns, and I soon regret leaving my shoes behind. I still wander, stepping on tiptoes through the brambles.
By the time I return to the cart, the Korean woman is standing at the cart, taking pictures of the driver and the horse, and asking him to take pictures of her. She also asks if I’d like a picture of myself with the horse.
We then get back in the cart, and continue on our journey. I see this cow or ox, I’m not sure what. Later I find the picture is so strange as his back half seems to have disappeared!
We pass a lot of other carts along the road. While we are driving along, the Korean woman advises me that I should wear the longyi while I’m in Myanmar. She comes across as a bit of a know-it-all and has no sense of humor.
We pass by numerous pagodas as well, but we don’t stop at all of them.
We go down another long tree-lined road through rice fields and more pagodas, where our driver parks the cart and motions for us to get out.
We walk past a long line of horse carts parked along the road.
Finally, we reach Bagaya Kyaung, a 1934 teak monastery. Two hundred sixty-seven teak posts support the monastery. Inside is a prayer hall that with smooth wooden floors and walls; it feels ancient. This is actually a working monastery, where young monks study.
We even find some of the monks’ school notebooks.
Soon, we’re on our way again. This time, when I’ve returned to the cart, the Korean woman is already sitting in the cart waiting impatiently and looking bored out of her mind.
We then make a stop at Nanmyin, also known as The Watchtower. About 90 feet (30 meters) high, it is a solitary masonry building that remains of Baggidaw’s Palace built in 1822. Due to the earthquake of 1838, only the lower part was left but it was restored in the style of the original structure. The Watchtower is an example of the Myanmar architectural style of the early 19th century. It’s nothing special to see, but apparently when open, which it isn’t, a climb to the top offers excellent views of the countryside.
Finally, we get back in the cart. I’m getting extremely irritated with our driver as he keeps angrily beating his horse with a bamboo stick. The horse is already moving along as well as can be expected on the rutted dirt roads, but the driver seems to want him to move faster as carts are passing us quite often. Maybe the driver is anxious to get back to the horse cart waiting area so he can pick up another fare.
We stop next at what a sign identifies as Mahar Aung Mye Bon San Monastery (known as Me Nu Oak Kyaung – Brick Monastery). Lonely Planet Myanmar calls it Maha Aungmye Bonzan (OK Kyaung). Close enough. It was built in 1822 by Nanmadaw Me Nu, Chief Queen of King Bagyidaw. It was also damaged by the earthquake of 1838 but was repaired in 1873 by Sinphyumashin, daughter of Me Nu and a queen of King Mindon. A sign at the site says this monastery is one of the finest specimens of Myanmar architecture during the Konbaung Period (19th century). Its architecture is a simulation of wooden monasteries with multiple roofs and a prayer hall of seven-tiered superstructure.
I overhear someone say that their guide told them that the peacock motifs represent Buddha’s past lives.
Directly east of the monastery is the fine white Htilaingshin Paya, with its beautiful array of gilded stupas, some dating back to the Bagan period.
We finally get back in the cart and continue on our way. It’s clear this time that the Korean woman has barely gotten out of the cart and seems to have no interest in this tour at all. I think to myself, why did she even come here at all if she has no interest?
As we’re driving back to the river, our belligerent driver keeps hitting the horse harder and harder. About 1 km from the river, he stops the cart and tells us in his bad English that the tour has been two hours so we owe him 16,000 kyat (about $16). I don’t wear a watch and haven’t looked at the time, so I have no idea if he’s right or not, but never mind, the agreement was that we wanted the one hour tour. He agreed with this, so he should have only taken us to places that would have made up a one-hour tour! He refuses to move along until we agree that we’ll pay him the 16,000 kyat. I tell him we only agreed on a one hour tour, so he shouldn’t have stopped at so many places. I don’t appreciate being threatened and held captive, so I promptly get out of the cart and start walking down the road, but I have no idea how far it is to the river. He is very angry and keeps pounding the side of the cart with his fist. What an ass!!! I can tell the Korean woman is very upset by this argument between me and the driver, but I can also tell she’s upset at the prospect of paying 8,000 kyat each, as she so desperately wanted to split the 8,000 kyat cost.
Finally, I get back in the cart because I don’t know how far or in which direction to go, but I am fuming. When we return to the horse cart waiting area, I throw my 8,000 kyat at the driver, as I am so pissed off at him after all his violent anger toward us and to the poor horse! The money lands on the dusty ground; I want to show him my complete disrespect. I tell him he is a liar and a violent and evil man, although I’m sure he doesn’t understand a word I say. And then I walk away.
This is the only bad experience I have with anyone my entire time in Myanmar, and I truly feel the man either had some kind of psychological problem or was on drugs.
After that disagreeable altercation, I was happy to get in the boat and return back to my kind driver Meemo. At the riverside, where I had promised a boy I’d buy a jade elephant necklace when I returned, I seek him out and buy the necklace for $2.
Meemo and I hop back in his car, where he takes me back to Amarapura to see sunset at U Bein Bridge.