More monks than tourists, more water than I’ve ever seen (some people call them floods), more like a 1950’s film set than a country, the most blatent locals’s versus foreigners travel pricing I’ve seen, the ‘hardest’ travelling I’ve done yet (we opted not to fly except once) and the friendliest people in South East Asia.
For those of you that can’t be bothered to read the detail (if I get round to posting it) I’ll attempt to ‘summarise’ Myanmar, or Burma as it is still more widely recognised as. Knowing my summaries, you’d be as well grabbing a coffee.
As you enter the city, it looks like a fairly normal city in this part of the world, but as you get closer to the centre, you seem to be transformed into more of a timewarp, which is quite bizarre. The buses are from the 50’s, there are kids ‘selling’ birds in a cage (which is really just paying to set them free to gain karma points with Buddha), people selling all kinds of goods layed out on the pavement (like used radio controls, hifi parts and cables), and a line of people fixing things with old sewing machines, right next to the bustling traffic. In the central area some streets seem to be dedicated with shopfronts selling the same goods – like the paper street, the hardware street, the fabric street etc. All of them are characterful with mass batches of all kinds of paper stacked high to the ceiling, with kids playing badminton in the street as the traffic squeezes past. What never stopped to amaze me is what kind of stuff some of them were selling. Some men had a small stand selling various types of copper wire, there were used cellphone batteries and cellphones from yesteryear, and all sorts of street food vendors. It was a total assualt on your senses, but without quite being the ‘vision of hell’ that is Delhi (that’s one of the guy we met’s quote as I’ve never been to India). It was as close to what I imagined some of the capitals of India would be like, but without the down and out sqaulor I’ve heard stories about.
Like Sabah in Borneo though, you have so switch off your western thoughts that everyone is out to scam you as people will say hello all the time, some just wanting to spend time and practice their English. I was walking with one guy for five minutes, just waiting for him to ask if I wanted to change money, but it never happened. When I said I had to go and meet my friends, all he said was ‘Thank you very much, I won’t keep you, have a nice day’. In saying that, the first thing I did when arriving was change money on the black market just for the curiosity factor (more in another post).
The only easy way to travel around the country is to fly and pay the tourist prices – anything from $50 to $90 for a one way flight. That’s not too bad compared to some but it’s easy to get used to rock bottom Air Asia, or Fly Asian Xpress flights for me! If stuck for time, it’s the only way to go, but you’ll miss seeing the real rural Myanmar during the 15-20 hour cross country bus journey (at least that’s their stated times – see other posts for more detail!). And you’ll also miss being woken up at 2am by the squealing local music via the loudspeakers before stopping at the particularly unhealthy looking road side cafes (and that’s not even going near the toilets)…but don’t let that put you off, our journey’s made our trip, where we decided our travel plans on the spot, and met a great bunch of other travellers in a predicament during another flood. If you travel in Myanmar, you earn your tourist points – it’s no Thailand.
I arrived in Myanmar, Tracy heading there a day before me to grab some independent adventure. When I arrived we decided to head away the following day, as we had to head back to Yangon (or Rangoon in old speak). We should have decided to follow the travel agent’s advice, but were determined to leave that day.
We wanted to get to Bagan and do the fairly typical Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay-Inle Lake-Yangon circuit (although it’s usually done in the other direction). The travel agent said Mandalay and Inle Lake was flooded so Bagan was a good idea….. unfortunately when we went to to bus station to buy our tickets for that afternoon, all seats to Bagan were sold out, so after changing some money, and being ushered off the street to hide the deal (‘put your dollars away, the Kyat will be here in a minute, you know what I mean?’), we decided sod it – Mandalay is the only place we can go, the bus is running, it must be ok now…… and then the fun began!