My sleep was so deep. It felt like only a second passed since my eyes closed until the moment I woke up. My senses were getting accustomed to the living world when I wondered why my alarm didn’t go off. I reached for my watch and was shocked to see it was already 4:30pm! I jumped off the bed and grabbed my things like there’s no tomorrow. I asked Mime to fetch me at the hotel at 3:30pm for out afternoon expedition at the Central plains including a sunset at Pyathada Paya, but an hour had already passed. So much for the planned itinerary for the afternoon, I haven’t even had my lunch yet.
I was relieved when I saw Mime and Chune outside the hotel. Miss Choo smiled and said “Your horse cart has been waiting for an hour” as I left my keys. I apologized to Mime that I overslept and we hurried on. A few meters away I checked my bag and realized I forgot my battery and memory card case. I told to Mime that we should head back as my camera battery is already half-drained.
When we got back, I left my bag with all my valuables to Mime and ran back to the hotel, grabbed my key and got my case. Then Ms Choo, sounding urgent, asked me if I already paid the US$10 Government Fee. It’s the park fee for tourist when entering Bagan. I was aware of this fee but no one had asked me for it when I arrived so I haven’t paid yet. She said that it’s important that I pay soon or else the government would penalize them for this. I knew I was wasting precious time going back and forth but I can see the urgency on her request so I ran back to the horse cart for my bag and went back to Ms Choo to pay the government tax and finally ran back to my horse cart again. We haven’t left yet but I was sweating already going back and forth.
Finally, we were on our way to Pyathada Paya for the sunset. It’s way down south at the central plains of Bagan. I could hear Chune galloping faster. I grabbed a few biscuits and nuts from my bag to temporarily ease my hunger. From the pavement we entered a dirt road with tall earth-color grasses on the side of the road. Long shadows stretch in front of us as the sun started its descent. Occasionally we would pass by a few temples and with the sun behind us, their miniscule form and spires cast beautiful silhouettes in the distance. I wanted to stop but we were in a hurry. There were also several times we had to slow down when a few herd of goats would cross our way. Despite our hurry, I thought this was the most pleasant horse cart ride I had, having a feel of this backwoods at this time of the day.
Pyathada Paya looks marvellous as we approach. But I also noticed the numerous dangling feet swaying like a centipede’s crawling on top of the terrace walls. Just as I thought, Lonely Planet has written that this Paya is one of the best alternatives for sunset with only a few people and groups visiting, and once it is written on paper don’t expect it to be the same. I knew I should have just stopped there somewhere in the wilderness. But since I’m here, I joined the bus load of people who arrived the same time I did on my horse cart. Pyathada is huge and the pathway to the terraces was lit with candles on each steps.
It’s a good thing Pyathada Paya has the biggest terrace in all the temples in Bagan and was able to accommodate the crowd with enough space to breathe in and move around. I immediately looked for a place at the front terrace and planted my tripod to secure my area. As I set my eyes on the open plains, a few buses, cars and bikers were still on their way leaving behind the dust trails in the air. Much to the dismay of everyone there, or it’s just my thinking, the sunset wasn’t as good as I expected. The lighting was weak and there were too few foregrounds to play around with. But I was still one of the few people who stayed around to salvage what’s left of the light there.
On our way back, I asked Mime to take me to a place tomorrow where it has a good sunrise and not too many people. He told me he does know a temple with very few crowds and only a number of photographers know. I’m putting my trust in his knowledge this time and told him to pick me up at the hotel by 5am. “As long as you make sure you are awake!” he replied with a laugh. Laughter filled the air regardless the afternoon not going as I planned. But in my mind, I do hope that I wake up early the next day.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.