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Bagan Temple Marathon #9

Which words and images can I use to describe and illustrate my adventure in Myanmar? Since I opened my laptop at the airport of Yangon, I have been wandering around hoping the words will come up. I partly succeeded, but also needed time on it on the plane, at Guangzhou airport and back at home to complete it.

Cold or hot? 

Having participated in the Great Wall marathon two years ago I wanted to do another adventure marathon. My first intent was to run the Polar Circle marathon in Greenland, but I chose for the Bagan Temple marathon in the mystic country called Myanmar.

When I spoke with various folks about this trip, I noticed that very few knew about Myanmar. I’ll be honest that beside the whole Rohingya situation, I did not know a lot more. Although I have been there for only a week, I got to know just a little bit about this beautiful country with an extremely rich culture and wonderful and friendly people. Well recommended!

A beautiful culture shock

With a stopover in Guangzhou, China I arrived in Yangon early in the morning. Immediately after I came out of the airport I was hit by the heat. A difference of 30 degrees compared to the cold Dutch lowlands! A cab took me to the hotel and while driving I needed multiple pair of eyes to look around. Quite a culture shock but in a positive way. Everywhere I looked there was all kinds of activity: little markets with people selling food, stray dogs passing the street, monks and nuns, and a lot of traffic. Having checked in the hotel I met Thomas and Mister Je, our tour leaders, and three other participants, Greg, Paul and Jill from the USA.

My room had a nice view over the lake and the Shewdagon pagoda. In the nearest shopping mall, I had my lunch and one of the first shops I saw was a Nike store ;). To ignore my jetlag, I went for a swim and in the evening, I tasted some great Myanmar dishes, but I avoided the spice food.

Tour de Yangon

After a rich breakfast (they even had sushi!!) I met the other participants at the bus to start our tour through Yangon. Our group consisted of great people from all over the world. Our first stop was at the Kyauk Htat Pagoda which houses a massive 70 meters long reclining Buddah. The second stop was at the impressive and beautiful Shewdagon pagoda, Myanmar’s most honored Buddhistic sanctuary. Its stupa is 99 meters and dominates Yangon’s skyline, one part has 13,000 massive golden plates and the top has a 78-karat diamond. We walked around in the colonial area and enjoyed a lunch. After lunch we headed to the airport to fly to Mandalay. In the hotel I ended my day with a Chinese dinner together with Greg.

Tour de Mandalay

Our second day we had a tour in the Mandalay area. We started in Amapura where we walked over the world’s largest teak bridge, the U-Bein bridge, visited a monk monastery where the monks got ready to eat (their day starts at 4:00 every day), saw different crafts(wo)men working on Buddha statues, longyis (men) and htameins (women) clothing and gold leaves. After lunch we visited Myanmar second most sacred temple, the Mahamunitemple. In Mandalay we ended our tour with the Shwenandawmonastery and the Kuthodawpagoda, which has the world’s biggest book (729 chapters of which each page has its own white pagoda). Back in the hotel I went for a swim and ended the day in the bar with a couple of Myanmar beers (I just read that this beer is actually produced by a joint-venture of the army and a conglomerate supported by Wa-drug lords….)

Row row row your boat gently down the stream

Wake wake rise and shine. At 5:00 we took to the bus to spend the full day on a boat on the Irrawaddy river to Bagan. A great time to relax and get to know each other and share inspiring stories. In our group we had two Guinness Book of Record holders (married couple with most run marathons: almost 1300! together), three that ran over 100 (ultra)marathons around the world among which the Marathon des Sables (250 km in the Maroc desert), people that lost over 80 pounds, and a brother and sister that ran a marathon in their firemen gear. These are just some amazing facts of some of them. And this is just their sporty side. One thing we all had in common: we love adventure!Halfway we stopped at a village to witness life along the river. Just before 17:00 we arrived in Bagan. Marco Polo described Bagan’s skyline as one of the world’s most beautiful views. I fully agree with him!

Exploring Bagan

Friday the nerves started to come, but there was no time to focus on them as we had another active day. We visited Shwezigon pagoda and the Ananda temple, a whitewashed masterpiece of the Mon architecture. We ended our tour with the Tayok Pyi Paya pagoda and the Minnanthu village. The rest of the day the majority of us relaxed at the swimming pool. In the evening we loaded up our bodies with carbs at the pasta dinner event where the race director gave some instructions: “be careful for the dogs, watch the traffic and take a photo of the snake should you be bitten by it”. The Minister of Leisure gave a speech. Back in the hotel I went to bed to get ready for the big day…..

The big day!

I woke up at 3:45, ate my breakfast with Frederick and Greg, prepared and hopped on the bus to go to the start. At 6:15 just before the sunrise over 500 people from 35 countries started with the Htilominlo temple in the back. The first kilometers were a bit slow as the track was very narrow, some people were just walking and others were stopping to take photos of the various pagodas and the balloons that were floating over the pagodas. This was really breathtaking (which is kind of hard if you need to run a marathon ;)). Once the sun was up it felt warmer every minute. The track varied from paved roads to really sandy parts.

Along the way we ran past many pagodas and temples, farmlands and little villages. Children with big smiles with their thanaka (natural sun protection crème) were giving high fives and flowers, goats and cows were crossing and as it was a normal working day all kinds of vehicles passed, from ox carriages to busses.

After the slow start I got into a good flow and I managed to run the first 21,1 km in 2 hours. Until 27 km I ran a good pace, but at 28 km, just at the time that Greg came to run next to me the flow and focus was gone. Every km became harder, but Greg supported me very well with running quotes and jokes. We even started talking French, did a photoshoot with a Chinese tourist and obviously enjoyed the awesome environment we were running in. My ability to run got worse every kilometer we did.

Finally, we saw the finish line and we finished hand in hand together. Really cool. Thanks Greg! It took me 4:44 to finish. Pretty good considering the circumstances. (no. 35 out of 152 runners). Nicola from our group was no. 1 from the women and no. 8 overall. Really impressive and not a surprise as she has a great positive personality and drive to succeed.

We waited to see some of the other finish and then took the bus to the hotel. After a nice shower I treated myself to a nice lunch and a large bottle of beer. The rest of the group gradually joined and together we celebrated our victories with more beer and cocktails. I ended the evening with my mates, Frederick, Dave and Linda “at the bar”.

Balloons over Bagan

Pretty stiff from yesterday’s challenge we needed to get up at 4:00 to get to witness something which was surreal to the max: joining in one of the 30 balloons that took us over the majestic Bagan complex at sunrise. Robert, our pilot, told us all kind of interesting facts about Bagan. As I am afraid of heights, I got quite scared when we were elevating. The spectacular view made me forget it about it though. After an hour we safely landed and enjoyed a small breakfast with champagne. The rest of the day I rented an e-scooter and drove around Bagan. At 16:00 we had the ceremony party which was really cool. With three boats we ended up at a sandbank where we had a dinner and party with all the participants. The team from New Zealand did a haka which brought back memories of China. What does our world have a magnificent variety of cultures and people! We should really cherish this!

Back to reality

Monday: hangover, breakfast, check-out, bus, plane to Yangon, say good-bye, taxi to the hotel, lunch, walk a lot, dinner, sleep

Tuesday: breakfast, taxi to airport, flight to Guangzhou, drink a beer, write this blog, drink another beer, continue the blog, dinner, blog, plane home, sleep,

Wednesday: blog, luggage, breakfast, train to Apeldoorn, family reunion. 31 hours of traveling from the hotel room to my house…shower and back to work, back to reality.

Kyay-Zuu-Tin-Par-Tal! (Thank you!)

To all the beautiful people of Myanmar, the Albatros team, our tour leaders Thomas and Mister Je and everyone in Group E for the unforgettable talks, laughs and inspiration.


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