Within the first 10 minutes of my cab ride from Yangon airport, I decided I liked Myanmar. There was something about the hazy orange hue cast over everything by the afternoon sun, all of the “skirt” clad Burmese men and women going about their day and the very welcoming convo with my cab driver, Mr. OT. I was picking up some pretty good vibes. Mr. OT insisted that my six day trip in Myanmar was not long enough. I assured him I would be back.
Arrival: I met up with my travel buddies, Heather and Jessie, at Sleep In Hostel in Yangon. First order of business was food(as it always is with me) and we happened upon a Burmese tea house at the end of the street from our hostel. We ate our vegetables and rice and quickly realized that these tea houses are more of a community social hangout than a place to eat. This certain tea house happened to be a little less social seeing as everyone there was seated in their plastic chairs, eyes transfixed by the more recent version of Alice and Wonderland playing on the hanging TV screen. Anne Hathaway and Burma, nice. We wrapped up the evening with a taste of Myanmar lager(thumbs up) and called it a night.
Day 1: Early the next day, I called up Mr. OT from the hostel office. An hour later he greeted us outside, smile from ear to ear and waving us down with both hands. He quickly became our favorite person. Myanmar is HOT and it’s summer, so I have to say that it was quite nice seeing Yangon from the inside of an air conditioned car with a native at the helm. I felt bad for the few tourists I saw trying to navigate the traffic and lack of sidewalks by bike. MR. OT dropped us off at 3 Pagodas: Sule right in the city center, Botataung with the sacred hair of the Buddha, and finally the massive and iconic Shwedagon pagoda. Our prayers for tasting actual Burmese food were answered when we were whisked off to a busy and seemingly very popular lunch spot. At a traditional Burmese table, people choose a curry or some dish for themselves to accompany the wide range of side dishes to share. We pointed to a few dishes: something pumpkin, a tasty shrimp curry, and a couple dishes of stir fried vegetables. To our delight, a server loaded on the side plates: a plate of rice each(obviously, because Asia) a plate of assorted steamed vegetables with some spicy chili dip, and fish broth stew. Being a group of vegetable lovers, Jessie, Heather and I were huge fans. Burmese food is not as spicy as Thai food and heavy on the vegetables. We rounded off the tour with a walk along the lake and said our goodbyes to Mr. OT. By that point, we were calling him “Dad” based on his tendency of dropping us off at a pagoda and leaving us to linger around at pickup time calling out “DAD”. He would always pop out of nowhere smiling with both hands frantically waving. Burmese people are genuinely extremely nice and have yet to be hardened by tourism. By late afternoon, we were loaded onto JJ Express luxury night bus headed towards Inle Lake. Read previous article for stories on that particular journey.
Day 2: At 7am, we’re awoken from a drowsy daze and ushered off the bus. A small group of men are immediately in our faces asking where we are going and demanding some sort of entrance fee. We ignore them and follow the woman opening the bus office so we can proactively book our tickets for the night bus to Bagan. I can tell we’ve been a nuisance to her and I get it, she looks just as tired as we do. She flat out tells us that all the buses to Bagan are fully booked because of the approaching water festival. Mini panic attacks ensue as we weigh our options. We almost decide to jump in an expensive taxi and make our way to Bagan, considering the destination is top on our agenda. As we are arguing with the $10 entrance fee guys explaining that we may be leaving right then, the bus booking lady pulls through and gets off the phone to say that she has secured a day bus for the following morning and she will personally take us to a place we can stay for the night. Perfect. Here’s where things get fun. Homegirl offers to carry Heather’s backpack for her and we are very surprised by her sudden generosity. She says she will jump on her motorbike to go ahead to the motel and we will follow on foot. Heather has her unlocked money belt in the backpack, so naturally, as homegirl is motoring off ahead of us, Heather’s world is ending. Her face screams panic and you can see the cogs turning and the various scenarios playing out in her mind. With her huge travel backpack, she starts yelling and speed walking ahead of us. This quickly escalates to a full on run and Jessie and I have no doubt that she has tears running down her face. We continue to walk as Heather sprints down the busy street, passing horse drawn carts and groups of locals carrying their wares in baskets on their heads who are all staring at her. All you can see is her pink neck pillow bouncing up and down and she finally disappears down a side street. Jessie: “This is why I bring my journal.” Homegirl is smiling as she pulls up on her motorbike and tells me to hop on. Heather, reunited with her backpack which she is now clutching, is sitting in the lobby of Inle Star Motel with the biggest grin on her face. I walk in and can’t help but die laughing at the fiasco. Heather: “She thinks I’m crazy.”
Shortly afterwards, I begin to feel very sick. We all lay down to briefly nap. When Heather and Jessie leave to go on a boat tour of the lake, I stay behind. Of course my first sick day in Asia happens in Myanmar of all places and I start to wonder what they pass as hospitals. Our room becomes my sick ward and I’m just happy that I’m not about to get on a night bus to Bagan. Heather and Jessie said I could take their Inle Lake photos and claim I was there for the tour but I’m a terrible liar. Guess I’ll have to make it back in the future. You win, Mr. OT.