All of a sudden, everyone was getting off the bus. The lights had been switched on, and the driver was shouting as if directing cattle. Megan shook me and showed me her watch.
Neither of us knew more than a few words in Burmese, but we guessed that this was where we were supposed to get off: Bagan.
It was dark outside. Light only came from the inside of the bus that was about to leave. Extraordinarily groggy, we retreated to a little patio behind the bus where taxi drivers approached us.
“Taxi. Taxi? Taxi!”
Finally, tired and irritable, we accepted one man’s offer and trailed him to his taxi. Although, taxi might not be the right choice of words—it was a horse-drawn carriage. There were no taxi cars in Bagan, just buggies. It didn’t matter. At that point, we would have accepted a piggy-back ride as long as it brought us to a place where we could get some sleep.
A short time later, we arrived at May Kha Lar Guesthouse, but were told that check-in wasn’t until 7 a.m. “No problem,” said the sleepy clerk. “You can rent a bike and watch the sunrise over Bagan. Take the main road all the way. No problem.”
It was the perfect opportunity: sunrise over Bagan was high on our list of things to do.
And so, fresh off the bus, we were riding to the historical park before first light on creaky cruiser bikes. We followed the vague directions the clerk had given us. Along the way, we caught sight of another group of eager travelers and pedaled after them.
Unfortunately, we got lost. Normally, this would portend some kind of tragedy for Megan and me; we have predictable moods, and after long bus rides with inconstant sleep, we tend to be cranky. While we weren’t cheerful by any means, we just kept going. Sooner or later, we thought, we would be surrounded by 1,000 year-old Buddhist chedis, the mound-like structures that speckle the fields of Bagan and attract thousands of visitors every year.
A light rain started to fall. Then lightning crashed and chedis appeared in silhouette against the sky. Every ten or twenty seconds, lightning would give the scene an ethereal glow. It was fearsome and breathtaking, a sight that hardly seemed real. However, we began to worry that sunrise might not actually happen.
Finally, we stopped at a small brick chedi in a wide field, and the sun started its slow ascent over the horizon. As black shadows in the distance took the shape of chedis, we heard applause: the group we had followed had made it to the sunrise chedi that all the guidebooks write about. Although it gave a better view, we had our own private venue—private, except for the giant seated Buddha inside the chedi—and that was just as good.
The clouds parted, the sun painted the earth red and it turned out that we had nothing to fear. I was glad then that we had done this bike ride to watch this sunrise.