Have you ever fallen in love at first sight?

Well, I did. And I never forgot that day, the first time it happened.

I was sitting at McDonald’s, scrolling through my Instagram feeds, waiting for my then-boyfriend to finish his homework. Then it appeared before my eyes — a photo of hot air balloons with the fiery orange sun in the background. The hundreds of temples below were reduced to silhouettes, covered by thin mist. I turned to my then-boyfriend, asking him about that photo.

“It’s Bagan. Myanmar”, he said.

I had never seen a photo as captivating as that before. I made him promise to travel there with me at the end of the year.

“Yeah, let’s plan it!”

But that plan crumbled as quick as my relationship did. I was crushed, lost, not sure how to get my life back to the fullest. I did not forget my dream, especially my love for Bagan. I just thought it could wait for me to heal.

Adventure on the Horizon

Three years later and there I was, sitting on the edge of Shwe Leik Too Temple with my feet barely touching the bricks below. It was 5.45 am. The sky was still pitch black with a few lights flickering in the distance. On my side, my boyfriend was nagging at me for recklessly climbing to the top of the temple with my camera hung around my neck. Can you not risk yourself? What happens if you fall? There’s not much room to step, how are we supposed to climb down later?

I had waited for three good years to be able to witness this, to finally meet my love. He didn’t know how many trips I had cancelled, nights I spent doing extra work, and chances I turned down just to make this trip happen. I wouldn’t let the crowd block my view — not this time. I had the urge to stare at him, to pour out everything that’s on my mind, but no, I didn’t say a single word. Instead, I just set my eyes fixed on the horizon, hoping for the time to quickly pass.

The sky began to brighten up, and the hot air balloons started to take off one by one as the flame was lit. The sky was a blend of dusty pink and pale orange while the sun slowly rose. The view was so serene, like a warm fuzzy feeling creeping out from my heart and radiating to every inch of my body. I could feel my eyes swell with tears. Oh dear, it has felt like an eternity. Is this how it feels to finally meet the one you love?

On the Road

We were almost the last to leave the temple. After a refreshing shower at the hotel, my boyfriend and I were back on the road. He rode the motorbike, and I was tasked to read the map, relying on the GPS to find our way to the famous temples and pagodas.

I was too busy complaining about the sketchy GPS when the motorbike suddenly swerved to the left and right uncontrollably. Within seconds, we both fell to the ground. I quickly got up from the sandy roadside, but my boyfriend was grimacing in pain.

My attempt to lift the motorbike up from his leg was pointless. A passer-by quickly came over from across the street to help me with the motorbike, but my boyfriend still sat on the roadside, his hands wrapped around his right ankle, telling me he could not move his leg.

Retreating to Lick Wounds

We decided to return to the hotel. My boyfriend insisted on riding the motorbike back because I never rode a motorbike before. Once we were done washing his wounds, I told him to sleep, dismissing his profuse apologies for ruining the trip. I dared not look into his eyes, too scared that he would be able to notice the fear and exhaustion in my eyes. I could not remember when was the last time I was so worried and clueless. And the 4-hour sleep we had the day before made me too anxious and groggy to think clearly. I kept telling myself that I did not sign up for this.

I left the room, looking for home remedies online while using Google Translate to ask the hotel staff for some bandage, iodine and plaster. I returned to the room to find him fast asleep. The room light was dimmed, but I could still see his right ankle swollen. My eyes once again swelled with tears, but this time, it was purely out of worry. I quickly made some ice compression and put the plasters on his wounds. Before long, I fell asleep beside him.

La Terraza

Three hours later, we found ourselves in an Italian restaurant, La Terraza, with a pan of pizza Napoletana, vegetarian gnocchi and mango lassi in front of us. We had gone to the clinic before, and my boyfriend could now walk, albeit limping, thanks to the painkillers and ankle supporter. We smiled at each other and gushed about the mini-heart-attack incident over the delicious food.

Our late lunch at La Terraza

The lovely owner came over to our table to chit chat with us, telling us more about the seasonal local produce she used in each dish.

“This is the best pizza I’ve ever tried outside Italy”, my boyfriend said, which was then greeted by the owner’s huge smile.

As they continued to chit chat about pizzas and pasta in Naples, I caught my boyfriend’s eyes wide and beaming. They reminded me of the first time we met when we were forced to dance in a silly game two years ago. His eyes were smiling, full of energy and enthusiasm. I had forgotten how much I loved those lively eyes. Only then did I realise that I had actually fallen in love at first sight twice — first, with Bagan and second, his eyes.

Slow and Steady

The golden egg-shaped pagoda, Bupaya Pagoda, overlooking the river

Ever since the accident, we took things slowly. Instead of the initial plan of conquering tens of temples in a couple of hours, we just let the road surprise us with what it could offer. We spent more time talking to the locals and tourists, letting them guide us to the hidden gems uncharted on the local map.

Finally trying the famous local dish, Tea Leaf Salad, at Bibo.

We took more breaks than the original plan, letting him rest his legs with an excuse of exploring the food landscape in Bagan, from the vegetarian Indian cuisine at Be Kind to Animals The Moon to the local Burmese food at Bibo. Of course, we still caught our mandatory sunrise and sunset shots over the next two days we were there.

Sulamani Temple during sunset

Love in the Little Moments

I don’t think I would have truly enjoyed Bagan as much if it were not for the accident. It forced us to get out of our comfort zone of a well-planned itinerary and to take chances. Bagan has taught me to eat to my heart’s content, to find peace in the solace of the temples and to love every moment.

The beautiful whitewash Ananda Temple

Although the saga of my boyfriend’s injury, in the end, escalated to a fractured bone, metal implant surgery, and multiple visits to the physiotherapist back in Singapore, our trip to Bagan was still a blessing in disguise for us to spend more time together, even after the trip. It was more than just a meeting with my love at first sight but also a reminder of the people and things I dearly love, with all the pains and sacrifices.

If that is not love, then I don’t know what is.