Was I taken for a ride in Bagan?

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Last Updated on August 11, 2017 by Christine Kaaloa

horse carriages in bagan, getting around bagan, transportation in bagan.
Was I taken for a ride in Bagan?

It was 3 am (yes, in the morning) and I wasn’t quite feeling the humor of the situation I was in, being jostled in the back of my “taxi”.

My head bobbled between fatigue and silent petrification,  as I bounced  along deserted streets, in the back of a wagon.  What was I thinking? Why did I agree to this?… Was I being taken for a ride in Bagan?

What hotel you going to ?  I take you.

A tall, dark and twiggish man spoke, emerging from the group of Burmese drivers, who immediately faded back into the dark as my bus was leaving.  Passengers were scattering quickly like leaves.  Most of them had been local Burmese. The few tourists on board had somehow evaporated. I was standing alone in a dark parking lot lit by only two street lamps.

–  “Mya Thida Guesthouse. How much?”   I responded.

10,000 kyat. Very far.

My mind quickly calculated the distance it took my Yangon taxi to take me from my downtown guesthouse to the bus station. It was almost a 30-45 minute ride by car and it only cost 7,000 kyaat. Back then I was splitting the ride with another solo  traveler my guesthouse paired me with, a solemn Swedish embassy worker, who was stationed in Bangkok and more interested in leaving Southeast Asia entirely. Some travelers have that vibe. Maybe it was fear and distrust for her foreign environment, which stiffened her face and her conversation; but she was the first person I’d come across who didn’t love being in Myanmar, much less Southeast Asia.

–  “10,000 kyat? Nooo.  7000 kyat! ”  I bargained, testing to see if I was right about the price.

7,000 kyat, okay.

Bingo! With that said, the driver quickly left to get his ride.

Suddenly from the darkness, I heard a clip-clop. It sounded like hooves against gravel.  The driver wheeled out a horse-drawn carriage.

Oh no ho ho, …, ” I back-pedaled. “No, this not taxi.

Yes, taxi!

I didn’t know what to make of  it. I turned to the other drivers, fishing for a car taxi. The Burmese horse- taxi mafia pointed  to him,  backing away and saying:

He is taxi. He can take you. Car taxi come late and very expensive. He take you. He good taxi.

There was only pitch-blackness and no car taxis were in sight. I had no guidebook, so I didn’t know much about Bagan. My only alternative was to wait until sunrise amongst a gang of Burmese drivers.  It was not a comforting option.

A lack of better options

I asked again about the car taxi.  This time my  driver spoke straight-forwardly.

“Taxi is fast. 20 minutes, but very expensive.  Taxi to your guesthouse take twenty minutes. Horse,… maybe longer.”

My 3 am stupor was quickly vaporizing, but that still didn’t leave me with any clear answers. The driver picked up my luggage and I reluctantly stepped onto the carriage.   Was my instinct was taking over or was it my laziness? I wanted to get to my guesthouse  as soon as possible and sometimes you just have to go with what life presents you.

We were off no more than forty feet, when the carriage slowed to pick up another Burmese man … a friend of the driver!

If I felt unstable about  my “taxi” decision before, it was worse now. I was a girl alone with the sound of his hooves, my imagination and two men in carriage,  galloping into an obscure and shadowy landscape of closed shops, trees, shrubs and temple ruins.  What did I get myself into?

Once in a while the driver would utter something inaudible to the horse, encouraging it on.  It eased my mind to know he was pushing forward.

bagan morning sunrise

You only regret the gambles you never took.

Life and jadedness will say,  there’s no way of telling what humans are capable of. People are unpredictable. Capable of scamming you. Not to be trusted.

Although morbid thoughts swished my imagination, I didn’t want to show my fear. I didn’t want to acknowledge it, knowing it might very well sink in and grow a monster.  Instead, I grew silent and grave.

I quietly took my pocket camera out and pointed it at myself, taking a video of myself in secret . It would be the last image anyone sees of me…  the last my parents in Hawaii might see of me if ever my camera were found alongside my rotting body. Nope, they’d probably steal the camera too… Police investigators would say I put up a good fight, but alas, one can’t outrun death or a huge sawtooth knife!

As the clip-clopping continued, my life flashed before me, as if I were a woman on her deathbed taking account of the moments she’d lived fully. I’d not regret any decision I’d made; not even the bad ones.   I’d come to Myanmar to fulfill a dream and live life to its fullest; and maybe, I gambled and lost.  Simple as that.  But I got this far.

This was my consolation.

bagan horse taxis, getting around in bagan
Note: you’ll see this clip in my site’s intro video and the upcoming post on Myanmar Transportation!

Forty-five minutes later, the sun’s rays streamed through and the darkness melted away into the beauty of silhouetted pagoda ruins. If I weren’t so terrified, I’d be happily snapping photos of this immaculate sunrise. This is what travelers get up at 4 or 5am to run out and photograph.  Me? I was too afraid to call attention to my DSLR.

I was still alive, though. But poor horse… it was such a long way.


sunset in bagan myanmar
A shaky morning view from the back of my taxi

When fear takes over and ruins the best moments

Just then, another horse-drawn carriage came up quickly behind us out of nowhere. It was carrying a tourist, who was on my bus. I exhaled a giant sigh of relief.

Then I remembered reading something about horse-drawn carriages being one form of transportation used to get around the ruins in Bagan. The drivers at the bus station were all horse carriage drivers, eager to get a jump on tourists to sell them tours of the ruins.  …Funny how your memory of important things arrives when you no longer need it.

Sometimes, travel fears are legitimate. Not this time. This time, it was my fear had taken me for a ride. It had ruined a great adventure and a gorgeous sunrise and turned a monster out of an innocent man, earning a decent living.

Next time, I’ll take a guidebook, to avoid falling into another scam …that I alone,  pulled on myself!

Where I stayed:

Mya Thida Guesthouse, Bagan
Great location, good facilities, free wifi (a little quicker than Yangon). The guesthouse operates two excellent budget tours of Bagan: of the ruins (at the time of writing, it was $15) and a hike up the mountain. They’re all inclusive of transportation, English speaking guides which are knowledgeable and helpful, lunch not included (but they will take you to a good restaurant enroute), 


bagan taxis, bagan horse drawn carriages, getting around bagan by horse

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  • It’s never a shame to be frightened and being extra alerted. It’s this instinct in us that keep us safe! Do not lose that! Great blog!

    • Christine Kaaloa
      April 13, 2014 5:23 pm

      @Paulo: Thanks, I absolutely agree with you- safety first; ask questions later! 😉

  • Thank you ever so for you personally post.Really looking forward to find out more.

  • We arrived in Bagan in November after taking the boat from Mandalay. We got there during the afternoon and our “car taxi” was a wooden seat in the back of the Jeep. I don’t think you got taken for a ride other than the price. Our ride was 5 or 6000 if I recall. Great post. Having driven through there, I know exactly what you must’ve been thinking. The only difference for us in the car was that I thought we’d take out some poor innocent person on a horse as we barreled through.

    I hope you got to enjoy Balloons over Bagan while there. It was one of the travel highlights of my life. I really enjoyed Bagan.

    Also, travelnlass needs to lighten up. Even that “apology” was rather passive aggressive. Maybe she should re-read the rules everyone learned in Kindergarden.

    • Christine Kaaloa
      January 19, 2014 12:38 am

      @Ryan: I’d love to take that boat from Mandalay the next time and the Balloons! Sounds like you had an awesome trip. 5-6000 is real good, but I felt so badly for the horse at the end of my ride. He can have my 7,000. lol. And I agree what you said about travelinlass’ apology- I don’t consider it an apology, but a personality disorder. That whole tirade just didn’t make sense.

  • Thanx for a nice story. There are various things to learn from this post. We must make sure of few things as you directly or indirectly mentioned in this post.

  • I too struggle with this, and I don’t even travel alone. I often find myself skeptical, not trusting, in fear, and often times it is for no reason. But, then again, perhaps those instincts keep those of us on guard enough to keep us safe! Myanmar is a pretty safe place to travel so I am glad you got to your guest house safe, and saw the sun rise!

    • Christine Kaaloa
      January 14, 2014 7:32 pm

      @Amber: I think it’s natural that we all struggle with those moments. Travel isn’t always clear cut, cultural differences exist and the more you travel, the more you try to become saavy about scams.. and they’re often around transportation. ha ha. I believe it’s like you said– in a way it keeps us “on guard enough to keep us safe” and sometimes it can get out of hand. lol.

  • Sometimes it is amazing what stories our mind can come up with. It is a blessing and a curse at the same time. Even with the most innocent of situations, our mind can make it exciting, lonesome, joyful, fear ridden, and much more. Such is the power of travel. Glad it all worked out well for you.

    • Christine Kaaloa
      January 14, 2014 7:26 pm

      @Passport Dave:Exactly, the imagination can create beauty and good or it can start wars and misunderstandings. I’m glad it worked out for me too.;-)

  • Nice narration of your quirky experience.

  • Gosh Christine, I’m really surprised at you. Seriously. “…I was a girl alone with the sound of his hooves, my imagination and two men in carriage…”???

    Surely you’re an experienced enough solo traveler to not jump to such overly dramatic (not to mention totally fabricated and nonsensical) conclusions.

    A most interesting read to be sure (and btw, I could have written pretty much the same tale myself, having likewise taken the bus solo to Bagan and negotiated a horse/buggy taxi in the dark just last month), but…

    I must admit – while the post title you chose and the dramatic first 3/4 of the post surely gets folks’ attention and likely makes for more clicks (which I can only presume was your aim?) – such a trick only perpetuates the predominate (and wholly unwarranted) myth that solo lass travel is somehow fraught with danger at ever turn.

    Sorry to be harsh, and I otherwise majorly admire both your traveling style and your blog, but… I can only imagine that – yes, your “surprise twist” happy ending was meant to be a clever spoof on such, but still…

    “I was still alive, though.”???

    Seriously? As a 30+ year solo lass traveler amid some of the most off-grid corners of the globe, I just have to wince when I see such absurd statements that serve only to perpetuate a wholesale myth and ensure that other lasses will be too afraid to travel on their own.

    Please forgive my outburst. I just hate to see such solo traveling lass blasphemy written even in jest or for literary entertainment’s sake . I mean, you’re not writing a novel here at GRRRL. Folks understandably will take what you say as fact. And even with the twist ending, the entirety of the post imho, leaves one with the impression that – somehow you were lucky to have survived the horse and buggy ride with your honor and/or you life, still intact.

    lol, yeah I know – I should probably just chill. 😉

    • Christine Kaaloa
      January 13, 2014 10:01 pm

      @Travelnlass: First, you don’t know me well enough to judge my emotions or fear. To judge any person’s FEAR is just plain self-righteous and jerky and if you actually read my GRRRL blogs, you’ll know I offer both sides of the solo coin and of myself. I have flawed moments and strong and I don’t deny or hide either. My responsibility to my writing is to document it as close to the way I experienced it… with exception: the way I experience these adventures are much more intense than I often have words for. I’m actually not a great writer.

      I like that you thought I was trying to be “clever” in my writing. YOu read me wrong. The extent of my “cleverness” is between symbolic and literal. What I wrote is exactly how I felt ( to be honest.. I was *more* terrified) and that ending (in reality) was a surprise twist to me more than you. My “Title” was the haunting question I asked myself over and over during that 45 min of travel. “Was I being scammed… Was I being scammed…” Of course, “Was I scammed in Bagan?” sounded so scary as a title and I didn’t want Google associating “scam” with “Bagan”, because it was a title based on my feelings of solo fear, due to an environment which had a unique “twist” to it. Not because Bagan has scams. So I opted to “soften” the title, but stay true to myself.

      As a 40+ something, I think it’s immature, arrogant and foolish to think that female solo travelers should always be brave or unassuming when encountering strange men at 3 am when its dark; and for solo travel bloggers to only write superhero travel stories, when we don’t always live that story in reality. Most travel stories end happily, but not all of them do, because life happens and you can’t always prevent that. Perhaps you don’t experience any fear at all. Congratulations– that’s where you and I are different. As “experienced” as I may think am, travel teaches me that I never know as much as I thought and the road isn’t always like the last.

      • You’re right Christine, I don’t know you at all. I stand corrected. I honestly thought that you were exaggerating your emotions. From all your other writings (and AIS, I’ve long admired you and your writing style), I (apparently wrongly) never dreamed that you would actually jump to such fearful conclusions – right from the get go, when you “reluctantly” hopped into that horse carriage (to get away from that “gang” of Burmese drivers).

        Seriously. I’m terribly sorry. I totally misjudged you. I just thought that you were smarter, a more experienced solo (and btw either gendered) traveler than to jump to such conclusions based on… what? on nothing. On nothing but – as you yourself eventually pointed out in this piece – your own lack of research that yes, “taxis” are indeed horse carts in Bagan, and furthermore, that your driver was never a “monster” after all.

        I was totally mistaken in my original comment here. And indeed, this piece was excellent – thanks for pointing out just how foolish it is (for any traveler of any gender) to jump to such conclusions. Yes, I too occasionally feel fear in my travels, but most certainly not fear conjured up from thin air.

        And now that I know that you actually DID feel fear from the get go, I’m sincerely glad that your experience – not only turned out so (apparently surprisingly, to you) happily – but that you learned a valuable lesson. That yes, as you yourself so brilliantly concluded – our own silly fears can often “take us for a ride”.

        • Christine Kaaloa
          January 14, 2014 8:12 pm

          @travelinlass: No problem. Everyone travels differently. Me, I have to balance my naivete with street-smart jadedness, because each country is a foreign territory with a different set of survival rules and I have experienced/seen others getting scammed. My fear wasn’t completely unwarranted. As a soloist, I always try to put my safety first; because I’m the only one who will have to suffer its consequences alone. So I try never to judge peoples’ travel fears; they’re only trying to ensure their personal safety and I won’t be there to get them out of bad deal.

          As a personal rule, I avoid staying out past midnight and wouldn’t recommend it to others,especially if the women of that country try not to be out at that hour. So 3 am is definitely a time my guard is going to be on extra high, especially considering how dark and desolate it was. Some soloists might say I was stupid to take a bus that got me in at that hour. But I gambled on being able to get through it because I wanted to fit everything into my schedule. I’m glad it worked out.

        • @Travelnlass ‘You’re not writing a novel here’ ? What does that mean? She’s not allowed to write an entertaining & honest blog about her own experience?
          Traveling alone at 3am is sketchy in any country. How can you judge someone about being afraid in that situation? Especially when they are open & honest about regretting that fear.
          It’s always the self-righteous know it alls that end up as the ‘I never thought it would happen to me victims’.
          Glad you’ve been safely travelling alone where ever & whenever you choose. Its incredible how trusting & invincible you are.
          It’s even more incredible you’re an avid traveler yet speak as through you’ve never experienced the world.

          • Christine Kaaloa
            January 19, 2014 1:01 am

            @Jackie: Thank you so much for your comment. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for it. <3

  • It’s a shame that the creeps of the world have instilled this sense of fear in us! I’m so afraid of getting scammed that I usually try to sort out the transportation to the guest house beforehand. And I probably miss out on great experiences like this because of it!

    • Christine Kaaloa
      January 13, 2014 10:06 pm

      @Heather: I actually try to do the same as you, Heather, mostly with airport transportation due to the fact, I’m always reading about scams taking place there. Although I travel a lot, it’s hard not to feel a bit uptight whenever it comes to transportation/scam fears. I’m sure that’s why I take public transit a lot. =)

  • What a story! 🙂 You should make a movie about this experience!

    • Christine Kaaloa
      January 13, 2014 10:07 pm

      @Agness: h aha.. It would be a movie about everything taking place in my mind. 😉

  • LOL, “horse taxi mafia” – I love it!

  • I arrived in Bagan at 4am after taking the night bus, and was surprised to not see any horse cart taxis, just lots of tuk tuks. There’s a lot of moments where I feel like I could be heading into a scam.. most of the time, it’s nothing though 🙂

    • Christine Kaaloa
      January 13, 2014 10:11 pm

      @Lily: I didn’t see any tuk-tuks! I’m sure that would’ve put me at ease, but I’d miss out on the horse adventure. I feel like the more I travel, the more overly cautious I can get avoiding scams. Sometimes, ignorance feels like it could be bliss. lol.

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