The smell of vomit slowly wafts up from one of the seats behind me, followed by a slight sound of gurgling turning to a somewhat more assertive heaving. As I’m rattled out of my shallow slumber, my eyes slowly focus on a form of artistic script more closely related to hieroglyphics than my own boring handwriting. The sing-songy chant from the young boy slowly, carefully, making his way down the aisle towards me reveals that he is hawking something that looks like small quail eggs. Exactly the sort of food that I learned not to try during my time spent in the Philippines. But, I can’t be sure. To me it sounds like he is saying O-mi-o over and over again in changing pitches. As my senses sharpen, I realize that I must be back in Asia.
Everybody keeps telling me that Myanmar is, at the current time, what Thailand was like 30 years ago. It seems like everybody telling me that likes to read what is commonly referred to as “The Book” * Since I keep hearing the same quote, I’m assuming that it must have come from “The Book” and therefore is Word. But, I disagree. The people
of Myanmar that I have met so far seem to be very proud of their unique history (up until the past 45 or so years ago) and tend to disagree with any likeness made between themselves and the Thais. I can’t speak for Thailand 30 years ago as I was not there, but “The Book” was. Due to the people of Myanmars’ relative isolation from the rest of the world since they took their independence back from Britain, the country has a completely distinctive feel from the rest of the S.E. Asian countries I’ve previously visited.
Upon stepping outside of the airport for the first time in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), one can instantly tell that he has very possibly stepped back in time. The ancient taxi cabs (nearly the same age as the Bagan temples), 1950’s model cars and knockoff jeeps, are almost outnumbered by bicycle taxis and Frankenstein’s monster-esque assemblies that vaguely resemble buses in some forgotten scrap yard. Here, buses are given 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th lives as public transportation. It’s exactly that type of public transportation that makes it almost impossible to decipher any kind of route. Just hop on, hold on and you have
This seems like a popular "job" to have in the mornings on the streets of Yangon. People sell seeds, corn, or rice to people who want to feed the pidgins.
yourself your very own mini adventure. The people of Yangon and the rest of the country that I’ve seen so far are exceedingly friendly and helpful. Just walking around the city elicits wide eyed looks and hellos. Just the type that may have been seen in Bangkok 30 years ago before they stopped noticing you or started trying to sell you a 'sessy massage'. The buildings, many of which were built during the British occupation, are old and run down, but posses the kind of charm not seen in many Asian cities. The Chinese have yet to sink their teeth deep into the development of the city and turn it into just another concrete jungle with mirrored windows and no character. Many visitors overlook the city in a rush to get to the temples of Bagan or Mandalay, but its worth a look around because after foreign investors get their hands on all of the natural resources the country holds, it wont be around for long.
I’ve been on this train already for 10 hours now. People tell me that it might be another 4 or so until I reach my destination for the evening. Thazi, a nondescript junction
A Temple Near Kalaw
Golden temples like this, I was to find out, were at the top of nearly every mountain in sight.
town is where Ill be hanging my sombrero este noche. In the morning I will be off on an insufficiently sized bus, so packed to the brim with passengers and all manner of luggage and items bound for mountain markets, that the people on the roof have to hold on for the promise of another day. I will ride in another seat with two other people and absolutely no hope of fitting my legs into the space provided. Asian buses were not built for people as “long” as I. We will travel through all manner of small villages, teak wood logging yards, and mountain rice paddies, as we slowly putter our way up the terribly curvy mountain path. The incomplete, one lane, potholed road will eventually take us to the mountain town known as Kalaw. The air will be pleasantly cool at night and the sight of golden pagodas topping nearly all hilltops gives the area an otherworldly feel. But for now, I’m on a 14 hour train journey staring out into the vast lowlands of Burma that resemble a mixture of the Kalahari Desert and rural Cambodia. It just keeps going. Now, in the dry season, it’s hard to
imagine that anything can sustain life out here.
In a few days time, Ill be following a young Myanmar fellow with a full beard and long hair pulled up into a tight knot on the top of his head, into the hills to rub shoulders with a Danu Shaman, hike through mountains populated with 3 different ethnic groups, drink non-alcoholic whiskey with a Czech and an Ausie, and most importantly to eat a combination of Indian food and French fries at a Buddhist monastery. At the end of the three days, we will all end up on a motorized canoe being shuttled across a 9ft deep lake complete with stilt villages, floating islands of tomatoes, fishermen rowing their wooden canoes with their legs, and scenic beauty the likes I’ve never seen before. But, right now it’s getting dark, starting to rain, and I’m wondering how in the hell Ill be able to tell where to get off this damn train. I can’t read a single word on any of these signs.
* The Lonely Planet guide book
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