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Published: March 3rd 2009
Well here's our last blog from Myanmar. I'll try not to taint it with the anger I feel at the firing range here (Laos) being closed.
Buses in the North of Myanmar take a great many hours to travel very short distances. Hence why the trip from Mandalay to Bagan took all day. Oh well, at least it wasn't as horrible and windy as the one from Inle to Mandalay. All the buses are crappy old Japanese bangers with rips and tears everywhere. On the plus side, we no longer have a fear of any bus ride anywhere else in the world. However long, however bumpy, however smelly - bring it on!
We stayed in a nice little hotel called New Heaven (forget the old
heaven!), where we first met the encountered the wet douche of a Frenchman who would follow us for the next 2 weeks. We also met a young boy selling bottle openers who offered to be our guide to the 4000 temples of Bagan for 'however much you want to pay'. So we took him up on it and squeezed all four of us on a horse cart.
A lot of Myanmar is like
stepping back in time 500 years - ox-carts covered in hand-forked hay, water buffalo harvesting, everything made from sticks and leaves. Plus it looks like mechanics have only just discovered how to make their own vehicles, and so all the local motor-driven things look incredibly dangerous and unique. Fan belts spin freely uncovered on chassis-less vehicles clunking past dangerous close to children's hands and faces. Bit of excitement never hurt anyone I guess.
Anyway, maybe we should have seen these temples long before the other 8 million temples in Myanmar, because all four of us were pretty bored pretty fast. The kid (Maji) was nice enough, but we didn't really need to learn any more about Buddha or temples than we already had. We took some nice photos and had a good look around loads of places. There were some amazing views from the top of some of them, with stupas of different sizes, ages and shapes dotted all around. But after a dozen temples, like Angkor, it does get a bit old.
But anyway we had some more great Indian food in Bagan. We also got to try out a highly recommended restaurant called The Moon. It
was awful! Pauline was the first to find a maggot in her food. Then we started looking for them and had to leave before all of our meals had even arrived. Laura had almost as many maggots as grains of rice. We couldn't help thinking that we had eaten thousands of the little guys without realising it. Gross. The next day, after meeting some friends from the Thailand by chance (who incidentally spent four days looking at temples and thought that it 'wasn't enough', so maybe it was just us), we got out of there. Unfortunately not without paying the exorbitant 10 dollar fee to enter the town. Not that anyone asked us to produce our pass. If anyone else is going there, pay the driver of the bus a dollar or something to skip the ticket booth so the government doesn't get your cash.
Anders and Pauline seemed set on going to Ngapali beach, which we had heard great things about. We told them they could do what they liked, but there was no chance we'd be sitting on three busses over a 27 hour period, and then a 20 hour bus from there to Yangon! We made
up our minds and they decided that we had been right all along. So we all headed back to Yangon to go to the closer beach of Chaungtah. Just before we left, our guide Maji turned up with a present of a little teak elephant for each of us. Nice!
We had intended to get the bus to Yangon and then wait two hours and go straight to the beach. 12am and Dom starts to feel incredible pain in his bowels and a great need to clench. Thinking it to be trapped wind from two many quail eggs, he braves the pain for three hours before it starts to become evident that it is something more sinister. An hour before he is forced to do so, Pauline has the bus stop so that she can run into the bushes with the same problem! Must have been the pizza in Bagan - damn the food there, is nothing safe?? We should thank our lucky stars that it was a night bus, not a day one, and that we were in the country, not the city. Yikes.
That same disturbing illness forced us to stay the night in Yangon and
go to the beach the next day. Or at least try to. We got the bus to Pathein, Myanmar's 4th largest city, to meet a connection which didn't exist after 2pm. Our guesthouse had been completely wrong, and we later found out had caused some other friends of ours to make the same mistake.
Exasperated by the whole thing, Anders and Pauline got motocycle taxis the rest of the way (about 2 hours, and 18 US dollars instead of 6 for the bus), but we chose to stay the night and check out Pathein.
It was a good choice, especially as the road to Chaungtah is only partly paved at best, and Anders' bike didn't have a right-foot rest, so it had to dangle above the super-hot exhaust for the duration. Pathein has some very friendly locals, who generally don't see that many tourists. It also has a great night market where for less than one dollar you can buy yourself two veggie samosas, two boiled corn cobs, a bowl of noodles and a bag of rice-pudding cakes. Nice
The next day we got the bus, which was a laugh. The whole thing was full of bags
of rice and potatoes, so much so that it was a knees in the chin moment. Not the most comfortable ride, but after the 20 teachers who were almost standing on top of us got off, it was alright.
The beach lacked something. Not sure what, and Anders and Pauline managed to stick it out for five full days, but it just didn't have the attraction of, for example, Sihanoukville in Cambodia. The town had nothing really to offer and the beach was a bit bare. But we had a couple of relaxing days and stayed in a cheap place with a nice family (thought the other two stayed in an awesome resort right on the beach, which was much nicer). We drank some whiskey, ate some squid, and then went to spend our last two days in Yangon, where we didn't do much at all.
In the end Myanmar was a great country - the people are amazing, the scenery is spectacularly beautiful. But why on earth can't you cross the border by land? We hurried parts of our trip because we couldn't guage how long things would take (and expected some things, like the lake, or
Bagan, to take much longer) and were left with about 8 days at the end where we really should have just used in a different country. Moving the flights would have cost us 170 US dollars EACH, far more than they cost in the first place!
Well, when you have nothing to do but enjoy yourself all day, and do exactly what you want, when you want, I guess you can't complain too much!
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