Our day bus to Bagan was no JJ Express. Part of me was just so content that my emergency antibiotics wiped away all that was ailing me the day before, but this was no walk in the park. Prime example of what you can subject yourself to when backpacking.
1) No AC, windows down=dust and suffocating heat.
2) We paid for tickets and fortunately got seats. Not sure what the locals sitting on plastic stools in the aisle were paying. I’ve never been in a vehicle so over capacity, and that says a lot considering I’ve played the clown car challenge with a golf cart many times in my youth. I was certain we were going to topple off a cliff.
3) Aside from Heather and Jessie, I was sitting next to the only other English speaker on the bus. I thought this was a positive until she kept trying to convince me that I had malaria. “My sister had it, just was for the next wave of it. You should really get that checked out.” Just lovely.
4) There was a mother and child sitting in the aisle next to Jessie. At first, Jessie was entertaining the little girl. Mother and daughter got way to comfortable, made themselves at home with Jessie’s neck pillow and before you know it, there are three people sleeping on Jessie’s legs. Throw in the mother’s puke sesh and things start to get real. Poor Jessie… and Heather too who, although in the window seat, had a bout of waterworks in the midst of another minor panic attack.
So it could have been worse! We can laugh about it now…
Arrival in Bagan:
The hard ground under our feet was a much welcomed feeling in Bagan and we were ready to get to our guesthouse. We ignored the taxi driver lineup and b-lined it to the ticket office to preemptively book our night bus back to Yangon. We were greeted by a very goofy Burmam who had self-taught himself English well enough to be able to joke around with us. He and his friend offered to drive us to our accommodation as well and soon enough we were in his van headed towards Bagan. Until we took a hard left onto a dirt road…
Of course I immediately looked at Heather to gauge her reaction. Always entertaining and she was clearly in no mood. Turns out our jokester guide, So Soe, had brought us to his home village of Krinstaar for some Real World: Myanmar edition. Things escalated very quickly, Jessie and I looked at each other, thought “why not” and hopped out of the van while Heather reluctantly joined a couple minutes later. With the setting sun at our backs and So Soe in the lead, we walked right into the opening parade of a monk initiation ceremony known as Shinbyu. Accompanied by some stares, we wound our way through the village paths with the line of Burmese women and girls, made up and dressed in fancy and traditional garments, carrying gifts and flowers into the tent. We stopped just before the entrance to watch the young monks approach on horseback, dressed very ornately with crowns and make up and clearly the center of attention. This was there day, their rite of passage into the spiritual world of Buddhism. Soon enough, post-ceremony, they would be taken to the monastery, be dressed in saffron robes and have their heads shaved.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t stick around for the ceremony(too white and Christian-looking I suppose) but we were invited to join in on the village feast. We sat down with So Soe and were showered with delicious food that I still can’t identify, our bowls being refiled after each bite by two very attentive Burmen. Everyone was extremely welcoming and the festive vibes were contagious. We were officially So Soe’s posse and villager friends were coming up to Burmese fist pound him. Coolest 30 or so minutes of my life. Thanks for letting us intrude Krinstaar village.
The rest of Myanmar was a wonderful whirlwind of heat, red ‘desert’ sand, sunrise views, good food and pagoda after pagoda after pagoda. Renting e-bikes the last day was a good move considering uncomfortable bike seats in sweltering heat while wearing conservative/respectful clothing didn’t prove to be the most enjoyable means of exploring. Not playing around about the sunrises though, there’s nothing more peaceful and picturesque than finding an antiquated pagoda to post up on to watch the sun rise over the hundreds of others dotting the old city of Bagan. Maybe only a little jealous of those non-budget travelers who were going up in the hot air balloons, but hey, maybe I’ll be back one day. I just feel extremely lucky that I got to experience the culture and see Myanmar before tourism really changes things. Special shoutout to So Soe and OT.
Side note* I started writing this post during Songkran in Chiang Mai and meant to post it while in my favorite cafe in Pai until and insane storm swept through the hills and the power/wifi went out(so I read by candlelight until it was safe to leave). This published post is coming to you from Senggigi in Lombok, Indonesia, as an afternoon rainstorm has chased us off the beach. Sorry for the delay mom, I’m still alive.