We got up at 4am to hope we’d get a seat on the bus at 5am, as we knew there were a few more people leaving from our accommodation. As we were taken a few metres down the road, I hopped off and grabbed a couple of tickets, just before all the locals piled on. There were 7 travellers on the bus this time, and quite a bit more cramped that the Yangon to Myanmar bus. What we didn’t realise was that we had just met our travelling partners for the next few days – Carolin and Claudius, a brother and sister from Germany, Dominic from London, and Luc, a French/Canadian.
We once again passed through some eye opening village by the roadside, and were woken up as the bus stopped at the usual delightful (ahem) roadside stops. The first one was a delight though as the light from the sunrise crept through the trees, illuminating parked bikes, and the sellers by the bus window, trying to sell fruit and snacks from their baskets carefully balanced in their heads. Every time we stopped the bus got fuller, now with people sitting on plastic stools down the aisle, and luggage and more bodies up on the roof.
Around 11.30am, we had our first unscheduled stop of the day as we headed through yet more floodplains on either side of the road, just receded enough, so the road could be made out. Again there was evidence of villages all but washed away in the downpours of recent weeks. Our holdup was not our bus though, it was two trucks stuck in the mud, their heavy loads of watermelon and other fruits weighing them down. The only things that were getting through the gap were motorbikes, pickups, and pushbikes.
We had no idea how long the delay would be. After 90 minutes or so, the driver indicated it may be 2 or 3 hours. In Myanmar, this could be tomorrow. He wasn’t keen to backtrack and take the other road, as we only had 10km to Thazi, around the middle of our journey. We still had 5 to 6 hours to go, so at best, we’d get to Inle Lake in the middle of the night, potentially being dropped at a road junction, having to find transport for our last 12 km.
It was at this time, the seven of us got chatting about where we’d been, our future plans, and generally watching the trouble some cars had getting through, the local boy paddling his sinking traditional canoe by the roadside and other roadside entertainment. The prospect of the delay was starting to get real and we all hatched a plan to offload our luggage, and flag down a passing pickup to get us to the next town. I had a bit of a dilemma here as I felt we were just throwing our western money to solve a problem the locals took in their stride, likely on a daily occurence.
Quite quickly, the large wads of Kyat notes in my pocket won over. They were here going through their daily lives, and I had to see as much of Myanmar as feasible in a mere 12 days. THe bus driver helped us stop a passing pickup. As usual, all the passengers got off, waded through the flood, and at the other side, we onloaded our luggage and us on the roof, and hanging off the back, locals laughing and waving as we passed through. It could have been worse – there were 90 litres of Myanmar beer on the roof, so if we got stranded…..
Before we knew it we were in Thazi and being comandeered by a local, overly keen to help us with our transport problem. We very conveniently got dropped off at his restaurant, and ate while he negotiated a price with a driver to take us to Inle Lake. Starting at $9 each, and finally settling at $12 after bouncing to and from $18, we were on our way to Inle Lake – another 4 hours away.
We were asked to tell all the people from our country about the restaurant by the grandmother, instructed to tell the police about our transport issue incase the driver got stopped and questioned, scoffed down some treats that were brought out to us (no doubt helped by the restaurant owners cut of the $78 deal), and we were on our way to stock up with black market gas to take us to our destination.
This part of the journey was the best. We made 5 instant travelling companions (one was only going half way, and only spoke to odd word), all amused at our journey, and agreeing that despite the problems, and some uncomfort, this is what made a trip. The scenery got more mountainous as we crossed over to Kalaw, and reminded me a great deal of Sabah. Locals laughed and waved as this pickup, with the unusual western passengers passed through towns and villages. As we passed Kalaw, darkness and the temperature fell, and we put on tops and trousers. At around 8.30pm we got closer to Inle Lake, curious by the reflections on the fields next to the road – the Lake wasn’t meant to start yet.
We rolled into town, the place was flooded.
We had all agreed to pitch up at the accommodation booked by the Germans, and weren’t sure whether to laugh or cry as we drove through the water, and had a canoe presented to take us across the driveway. It was cold, we were tired and gasping for a beer. This was our place for the night.