Day #165: A bus journey through Myanmar


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Asia » Burma » Mandalay Region » Bagan
September 14th 2013
Published: September 25th 2013
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Today we planned to travel from Pyay to Bagan, but things did not quite go to plan. The first choice was to go by train - the station is outside the town, but we managed to find a pick-up to take us there. On arrival the station was unmanned, but after discussions amongst the station vendors, the station master materialised. He explained that there should be a train every night to Bagan, but unfortunately there was last night an accident on the line - the train "might" run tonight and "probably" tomorrow, but he could not be sure.

So we then took a scooter taxi (two of us crammed on the back) to the bus station, where they explained that the only coach leaving today for Bagan is a very basic, non air-conditioned rickety old bus, which will depart at 5pm and arrive at 4am the following morning. Keen to move on from Pyay, we took it.

We arrived at the station just before 5pm to see several bags of grain, a lot of trunks and a scooter being loaded into the back of the bus. Our seats had about 1 ft of legroom, so for the entire journey my knees were jammed up against the plastic barrier separating my seat from the driver's area. We set off and it was soon sunset, a beautiful pink lighting up the sky, followed by the lightening storm in the darkness. The view from the window was fascinating - we travelled through villages (collections of bamboo huts lining the roadside, separated from the tarmac by streams where oxen, pigs and other animals were bathing) and dead flat farmland.

There were two notable incidents overnight: at one point the bus stopped and several men began to get off and walk down the road in front of the bus. At first I thought it was their stop - then I noticed the driver's assistant telling some other men to get off and walk. We had no idea what was going on until the bus drew forwards to a toll gate and I noticed an attendant looking at some digital scales. I realised the bus was being weighed to determine the toll, and the men had got off to ensure the lower price. As soon as the bus had passed the toll gates, all the men got back on again.

The second incident was more alarming and came in the dead of night when a monsoon had started (I was sat next to an open window that would not close, so had to wrap myself in my waterproof). The bus came to a sudden halt amidst a number of lorries and scooters and local people milling around. Looking ahead we saw the local river had burst its banks and thick, deep muddy water was pouring across the road, about 30ft across. It looked uncrossable, as if the water was far too deep and powerful to drive through. Again a number of men (including the driver) got off the bus, began hitching up their longhis and wading into the water at different points. After a time we realised the men were trying to work out a safe route for the vehicles to cross the "river", and in due course men began helping to lift up the scooters between them and carry them across. After about half an hour a safe route had been determined and first the lorries and then the bus sped safely across and carried on without any difficulties (although it was pretty scary to be in the bus at the time of the crossing!).

I didn't think it would be possible to sleep after all this but I must have drifted off as I awoke in daylight. We finally arrived in Bagan at about 8am (3 hours late) and had blue, bruised knees from bracing against the barrier all night.

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