Myanmar: Nyaung U - where dreams are like hot-air balloons

My next destination in Myanmar is Nyaung U/Bagan, I take a flight from Yangon, which is already a hilarious experience by itself. Safety instructions are considered overrated at the local airline Air KBZ. As soon as the flight attendant closes the door of the little suspicious plane, we literally take off while placing our carry-on luggage and ourselves. 





The airport in Bagan is something rather like a hangar where some guys literally unload the checked luggage one by one and bring it on their backs directly from the plane, asking whose that bag is. Inside the airport there is literally nothing, the "check-in" counters are actually something like little hotdog kiosks where I see people dropping their bags on the floor (apparently same strategy works for loading the bags as for unloading them). Finally, the airport "bar" is outside the airport and represents some sort of a wooden construction where one could chill and get some fried rice, noodles and fish soup in the company of a few cats, dogs... you name it.






Nyaung U - the spirit beyond the temples

I take a taxi and head to Nyaung U, which is the little town where I am staying - 20-30 min away from Bagan itself. At my guest house of course no one speaks English, but I realize this is no longer necessary, I am improving my sign language and drawing skills. People are anyway incredibly sweet as always. 

There are few temples, that are located in Nyaung U, which are quite animated due to the continuing full moon excitement.




I find one, which is very rather and seemingly there are no visitors so I take a stroll, until I stumble upon a gang of four monks chilling on the floor, playing cards (which I will later learn is illegal in Myanmar as it is considered a gambling activity) and smoking cigarettes. I am shocked in the beginning. Then I make the connection as I realize it is actually compulsory for men to complete a minimum of one year of monastic education throughout their lives. On top of that, being a monk brings a lot of social and economic benefits, which naturally incentivize monks to dedicate longer time to their monastic education. I must admit this spoils a little my perception of monkhood as I realize that not all of them follow it because of utter devotion to Buddha and pursuit of enlightenment, which for a long time I believed was the case.


So after a few broken dreams of monkhood and Buddhahood, I decide it's time to explore the bar & resto scene in the little Nyaung U town. There is just enough choices for one to be able to find something fantastic. Two places I find particularly special - mostly because in my view, they represent the local expat community, which contributes to and merges very smoothly with the local scene - somehow keeping the authenticity of both.

HTI 

The name means "A Parasol" and the place hosts a peculiar combination of local and Western delicacies, but more peculiarly (what I unexpectedly find out after a beer) - it hosts the pilots of the hot-air balloons flying over Bagan during their free evenings. Most of them are expats coming from England, France, Belgium, Australia, living in Myanmar 7 months a year, outside the monsoon season. 

I get to meet the incredible German lady who is owning the bar and I cannot stop admiring what she is doing - leaving all inherent features of the West behind and creating and developing this place in Nyaung U. After a few drinks and a few shameful games of darts, I quickly immerse in their laid-back environment and I slowly start falling in love with this tiny little place, Nyaung U. While I will regret my hangover while strolling around the temples the day after, I am having one-of-a-kind night (and I even get invited to a bachelor party the day after).




Bagan Zay 

The place is managed by a French guy, who I get to meet earlier at HTI, and who is carrying a strong and unique spirit, translating it into the Bagan Zay. The atmosphere is chilled but at the same time vibrant. One could have a relaxed drink under some reggae sounds....or could also end up having a crazy time with the in-house shots, invented by the manager of the bar. There is anything from cinnamon, lemon grass, lime flavors (and many more) and all of them prepared with rum, infused by the guy himself. It is quite incredible how the passion of a person can manifest onto everything they are doing and how it can impact the environment they are creating. Hence, admirations to those who dare to actually follow their passions.



Looking back at the incredible encounters I have made in Nyaung U (and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, where I have connected with expats) and having had the chance to briefly touch to their stories, I am trying to understand what is the way leading them to take up this life and what this life entails. Probably some people simply do not belong to the conventional life model in the West, probably there are too many things we have accepted as normal, while our souls do not fit in. Probably living a life in abundance has taken away our ability to judge clearly what matters for us alone and what makes our hearts jump. Probably the abundance of contacts and acquaintances has taken away our ability to attach, to give and to invest in our relationships with people. Probably in a world of infinite options, all we need is to have just one. I wonder if this is possible at home.

Hence...dreams are like hot-air balloons, you have to fill them in with passion, otherwise they will fall.

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