There's two types of boats doing the route from Mandalay to Bagan along the Irawaddy River: the fast and the slow boat. According to Chris, a German bloke, we'd hooked up with in Nyaugschwe, the fast boat was no longer running, but this turned out to be dudd info.
Now you're going to have to weigh up the cons of leaving at 7:00 AM (fast), rather than 5:30 AM (slow), arriving at 17:30 (fast), rather than than 22:30 (slow), and paying $27 (fast) rather than $10 (slow). I opted for the first, as it would mean one day less in (slightly boring) Mandalay in favour of more exciting Bagan, which is supposed to be a highlight of this trip. Only later did I hear that the revenues of the fast boat go to the Myanmar government... Damn...
And the fast boat turned out to be packed! About half of the passengers, I would later see again somewhere on the plains of Bagan, or on top of one of the many temples, including Canadian James and a nice Chinese girl called Pei-Ying from Beijing. Would be nice to see her again later this year in China, but this depends on het not being in Holland (!), as she works for the Chinese branch of Dutch chemical concern DSM, and me heading towards China after the 1st of May.
And Bagan WAS a highlight. On the first day I overdosed a bit on temples, taking a full day horse cart trip around the north of the temple site for 6 dollars from 8:30 AM in the morning until sunset. The good thing is that you're travelling in the shade past the various temples, and it's the best way to see as many temples as possible in one day. The problem is just that: you get to see so many temples that you suffer a bit of temple-fatigue (and it's going to be murder to sort out the photographs of the first day).
But for all joggers out there: Bagan's a jogger's paradise. I set off twice at 7:00 AM before the heat becomes unbearable (temperatures shot up every day towards 32 degrees centigrade) doing two 20+K runs in two subsequent days. Seeing the sun rise over the plains, turning the temples orange, then a warm yellow is an outrageously beautiful sight and treading off the beaten track, you get many a smile from a passing Myanmari (probably thinking what loony goes jogging in the first place). Drink a lot beforehand, check a detailed map (so not the one in the Lonely Planet) and you'll have the jog of a lifetime. Hope to do the same at Angkor Wat later on in the year.
Schwe-san-daw Paya, the "ultimate" sunset pagoda, is so indeed. The trouble is that everyone knows this, and practically deserted until 17:30, suddenly turns into a hive of activity. It's quite a scene to seen the hordes of, especially elderly, tourists climbing the stairs in order to get a peak of the sun setting over the Bagan plains. Quite a pity though, that as soon as the sun has set, the horde rushes down the stairs again, while the sky colours a wonderful purple/blue/orange haze about half an hour afterwards, with no one to admire it other than me... Ah well..
Met up with Olivier again, the Canadian photographer of day one, after spotting him walking past the restaurant I was eating in. Surprise surprise, he turned out to be staying in the same hotel as I (Golden Village Inn, which serves a nice breakfast) and it seemed I'd just missed Matt who'd left Bagan a day before I arrived. Not to worry, I'd be meeting him later in the journey.