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Published: March 17th 2009
So, one of the most horrendous journeys of my entire life and we wake up in a plush (by Myanmar standards) hotel room, with air con and free toiletries and a T.V.! I dragged myself out of my weel deserved slumber to catch the free breakfast, climbing one floor and behold the greatest breakfast buffet I have ever seen. I very nearly wept at the joyous display of everything from toast to eggs to fried rice and dumplings to orange juice fresh fruit and an odd assortment of pastries and cakes all displayed on a round table. Jesus
I ran back to the room and insisted John G get up to see before the breakfast finished. We ate like kings and it was such relief from the hardships we'd endured we'd got on getting to this place.
The rest of the day we just spent lying around in the hotel room, catching up on sleep. We jaunted a round the town which was chilled out and not very big. We then went down to the riverside and watched life, seeing some locals at the jetty play some sort of weird table football Subbuteo-style game, and playing for bets. (A
reminder that the locals have to make their own entertainment, completely different to our own expectations). We then went to a pretty good Chinese restaurant where everybody seemed very excited at our mere presence. You get used to the novelty of being looked at as if you're from out of space, but when you're out of it, you realize what a unique situation it is to be in. I think I have some insight into how celebrities feel now, yeah that's as profound as it gets I'm afraid. Anyway, I had fried garlic cloves and fried onion, yeah, I felt a bit weird afterwards, but it was pretty good dipped in spicy sauce.
The next day we hired some old and decrepit bicycles and checked out the neighbouring countryside, visiting a bamboo bridge that was really rickety. It’s pretty annoying how crap this country is sometimes, I mean they can’t every get decent bicycles made, the one I had was a Raleigh at some point in the past, looking like an old steel bike from the 1940s, but rusty, and metal rattling like a git. Anyway, so we’re having a nice time going through the backside of Bhamo and
crossing the bamboo bridge, seeing village life, then a shout from John G. His equally decrepit bicycle has stopped and the chain won’t make the wheels go around. So, we are in the middle of no-where in the blazing heat of the afternoon but we decide to keep on, cycle on ahead along the river. Later we stop and decide to cross the river Irrawaddy River, using a local boatman to take us across to the other side. Things got complicated at this point, I went on ahead and because the river is bending and we had a loose map written down from the hotel, we were soon disoriented. John G decided to give up hauling the bike around and left his bike with a monastery, getting them to write the name of it down so as to leave it with the rental place so they could pick it up. We followed in the direction of Bhamo but almost immediately with my forays ahead, John G did not follow up behind me so I cycled on through delightful paths in between villages, they were almost like village cycle paths. An hour of two of this and I got to the
river again and got an expensive boat ride across, landing in the thick mud with my bicycle. Apparently John G could see me from the shoreline and called out to me, but clearly I couldn’t hear him. The bamboo bridge was in sight again and I just pedalled as fast as I could back into Bhamo, kind of shaken by the experience and hoping my machine would not fail me. We also had to get back to the Myanma Airways office to complete our ticket purchase before it closed - the flight back to Mandalay.
Yes, that’s right, the option was to go down river to Mandalay stopping overnight and risk being stranded again. Or taking an hour’s flight and risking the poor safety record of Myanmar’s national carrier. We decided on the latter clearly after the debacle of the up-river journey. John G turned up about 30 minutes after my arrival, a pretty good result seeing as he was on foot.
Over the next couple of days we waited for the flight on Sunday, the earlier one on Thursday having been cancelled for no apparent reason (ah, Myanmar how I love you so!), so our minds were
not totally at ease. I conveniently got a bit ill, with some kind of virus, we watched football matches in the “beer stations” in the evenings and generally struggled with one slow internet café. At some points we spent an hour not being able to see a thing, a really frustrating time especially for a travel blog and with all that down-time.
The time came to leave Bhamo, but only after experiencing small-town Myanmar airports, with lots of police and uniforms but just pre-war levels of infrastructure. No, x ray machines at all so John G’s bags got searched by some army guy who went through his bag, the security guy asking him to dump his batteries from his alarm clock. On board, we were given a good view of the cockpit as the door kept swinging open, post 9/11 cockpit security clearly not hitting this part of the world - they’ve enough shit to worry about. Then, it got a bit hairy, what with it being a small plane and all, we received some interesting turbulence, and I have to say I was a bit nervous - even a monk next to us was praying! Then I got
to enjoy the vomit sounds of lots of loaded Burmese being sick into their little bags, one poor woman behind us just sounding as if she was being shown dead bodies of her family.
Anyway, dodgy flight, but God, what a joy to watch the river from an air plane, I wish I could fly everywhere in this country!
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