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Published: August 2nd 2011
So our next major destination is Bagan, but we wanted to break up the journey (normally a 14 hour overnight bus from Yangon) with a couple of stops along the way.
Pyay is geographically about half way between Yangon and Bagan but the road conditions beyond Pyay mean that in actual travel time it’s a totally different story. The bus from Yangon to Pyay wasn’t too bad. It took us about 7 hours on a regular average bus with no A/C, but the driver made sure we had plenty of fresh air howling through the windows by doing his best to maintain maximum speed. We were again the only tourists on the bus and the entertainment consisted of soft, happy karaoke music and a cheesy Burmese sitcom with really bad acting.
The city of Pyay (formerly Prome) actually has quite a lot of history. Nearby is an ancient site that used to be a major city from the 5th to 9th centuries AD. We didn’t actually make it to the ruins since time was a factor and we really just enjoyed hanging out in the city sipping tea and coffee and watching karaoke music videos at the local cafes.
We keep mentioning the karaoke music because for some reason the songs sounded so familiar. The lyrics are completely in Burmese but it finally hit us that the songs are all covers of popular American music. 80’s rock power ballads seem especially popular.
The main attraction in Pyay itself is the Shwesandaw Paya which is actually taller than Yangon’s Shwedagon Paya. We were lucky enough to have a couple of really nice sunsets while we watched the paya light up.
Then came the confusing and slightly uncomfortable part where we tried to get from Pyay to Bagan. There are no direct buses to Bagan from here so we planned to take a day bus from Pyay to Magwe, spend the night in Magwe and then take a direct bus to Bagan the following day. Unfortunately, the touts at the bus station were particularly aggressive and seemed intent on inflating the price of the bus to Magwe (unless it really has doubled since our guide book was printed, but the rest of the bus prices in the book haven’t been that far off). So instead we settled on catching the overnight bus that originates in Yangon and passes through
Pyay on the way to Bagan (for the full Yangon-Bagan fare). Nothing prepared us for what was to come next.
Apparently the normal Yangon-Bagan bus (A/C, etc.) that most tourists take does not stop in Pyay and it travels on decent roads the whole way. The bus that goes through Pyay is of the much older rustic variety and takes a different route where the roads rival some that we’ve seen in Cameroon. Not more than 100 meters from where we hopped on the bus did it break down and out came a handful of wrenches and a bucket of miscellaneous nuts and bolts. An hour later just as the sun was setting we were on our way. It was a long 10-hour sleepless marathon, but you can’t get a much more cultural experience than this. Kathie did her best to catch a bit of sleep in the aisle on top of the luggage while Jordan preferred the head-bobbing sitting position and was nearly bounced out a few times as the driver swerved around massive pot-holes. At about 5:00am we arrived at our destination tired, confused, but in one piece. We headed straight for the nearest coffee shop (as
one does in this situation).
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