We had tickets for a 9:30am bus to Yangon bus station. Whilst at breakfast the hotel owner came over to say hello and chatted to us about where we had been and what we had seen. We told him we were sad to be heading back to Yangon and leaving the country soon but were looking forward to seeing a few more things before we left on Friday. He asked if we knew where our bus was dropping us and we said that we weren’t 100% sure but were guessing it would most likely be the bus station. He asked us why we were doing that, because there are buses that go from Bago to Sule Pagoda in the city centre which is not far from our hotel and would avoid the hefty cost of getting from the bus station to the city centre.
He said the tickets were K1600 each which was cheaper than the tickets we had bought for K3000 each, which at the time we knew were overpriced but it was one of those situations where you just cant be bothered to debate it. We decided that as it would cost us at least K5000 to get from the bus station we were best just buying new tickets as that would make it cheaper. Emma nipped over the road where we had bought the tickets from and confirmed that yes that would drop us at the bus station.
We told the hotel owner we wanted to buy new tickets and he said he’d take us to get the bus. This basically involved Marie doing a speed pack whilst Emma negotiated some logistics – like determining exactly where we would be dropped off in Yangon. Our transfer to the bus station in Bago was on the back of two motorbikes, Emma going with the hotel owner for free and Marie paying K500 to go on the back of another. This involved rucksacks on our backs, day packs on our fronts and clinging on for dear life. Luckily it was only a short ride away. We paid and jumped straight on under instruction to change to another bus on the outskirts of Yangon (free of charge). The journey was fine if a little noisy with the rattling and music, but the flow of fresh air through the open doors was really good. The bus touted pretty much all the way to Yangon so we stopped often but again not for long.
The road was flooded in places and in others you could see it creeping to the edges of the road on either side, it wont take much more rain to flood it all. We recognised the junction that we had been dropped off at 4am the previous day. Yangon was pretty much gridlocked from the outskirts in so our journey on an even smaller cramped bus was very slow. We had to cling on to keep our big backsides on the tiny seat and our time was occupied by moving our hands around to avoid the ants. We both noticed an increase in insect bits but know they are not mozzie bites – they are ants.
The bus stopped in Yangon somewhere and everyone piled out except for three girls who told us the bus finished there so we got off. We slowly got our bearings and were accosted by a monk who wanted to practice his English and help us. Unfortunately there was a bit too much lost in translation but we had a good chat and he was happy to have had a yarn.
We started walking towards our hotel but dodging people, some dodgy pavements and umbrellas, tables, chairs and crossing crammed busy roads we decided to get a taxi for the rest of the way. The friendly hotel staff were happy to see us and we asked if they had a room with windows available, they did-on the top floor a total of 14 sets of stairs. They finished cleaning the room whilst we hopped out to a Japanese restaurant for sushi.
The sky turned black and the rain crashed down just after lunch giving us a good drenching as we headed back to check in. It was a good opportunity to wash our clothes without getting our hands wet. We got back to the hotel and let it pass, chilling in the room for a bit before heading out to find decent internet. The internet cafes in Yangon are run by geeky types who are much more pro-active in fiddling around with IP addresses and proxy settings to get you going. We spent a while blog writing and managed to check our emails and the news! The power was on and off all afternoon with back up generators polluting the streets with noise and fumes. Time passed us by and we ended with a late dinner and got back to our hotel by 9pm which is when Yangon begins to shut down.
The next day we took a local bus for K200 to two paya which house a huge reclining Buddha and a huge seated Buddha. The lady at reception had been really helpful when we said we wanted to head north east of the city centre. She had given us the bus numbers and told us where to get on and how many stops it was and written them in English and Burmese. She had also given us a note to give the driver to tell us when to get off.
The bus was…an empty metal shell with 4 wheels and wasn’t too crowded with people but the seats were really tiny – only enough for one western backside not two but we squeezed onto one all the same. We had a slow crawl through traffic and indeed did lose count of the number of stops so were grateful to get booted out at the right place.
We had a relaxed wander round the Buddha and hadn’t gone far before Marie noticed an old man grinning a bit madly at her before approaching and showing us a large display in English that explains the 108 symbols on the feet of Buddha and selling us colourful detailed card of information about it. He showed us some very life like statues of old monks – the founders of the paya. They looked spookily life like. We were asked if we wanted to join a meditation – short on time and due to the fact the place was heaving due to the Waso (Full Moon Day) festivities we gave it a miss and thanked the old man before heading across the busy road to Chauktatgyi Paya where there is the biggest seated Buddha we have seen, it is one of the most impressive in southern Burma apparently and you can see why with its carved teak backdrop.
Again the place was brimming with people and we were picked up by another old man who is a voluntary English teacher, and a student who hang out at the monastery teaching English. They gave us a bit of a tour explaining the significance of the festival and the practices of the day i.e. fasting, no alcohol, meditation and prayer. He identified the Thursday and Friday Buddhas enabling us to wash them (we had done this previously at another but hadn’t been sure we had the right day). The day is determined by the day you were born and you pour six cups of water over the statue for good luck. The two of them took us around the back to the monastery area showing us old colonial buildings built for the monks. They are tucked away a little and with the number of people around are not something we would have otherwise explored so they were some interesting discoveries. There are a number of monasteries there – home to 700 monks. Today the place was humming with excitement, we guess it is usually more peaceful… Turns out that the old man is awaiting an eye operation next month and managed to talk us out of a small donation towards it.
We headed back into the traffic madness, even this far out of the city centre there was gridlock due to the festivities. Marie gave a taxi the nod and he pulled up just by the gate, We negotiated a fare to take us to Aung San Suu Kyi’s house where she spent 15 years under house arrest. We didn’t have an image in our heads of it but were surprised by the fact there is really not much to see, the house is blocked by large thick concrete walls topped by razor wire, large fortified gates with security staff and a guard house. We could only catch the smallest glimpse of the house roof. The grey imposing walls only broken by 4 NLD flags flying over them and NLD banners either side of the gate.
There were a number of journalists at the gate with cameras and we guessed our taxi driver was right when the traffic police had stopped us at the major junction nearby when a convoy of smart cars and the UNIC went by, as he told us it was her. Shame we didn’t get a glimpse. The traffic back to town was gridlocked and when we were not stopped movement was very slow. So many people were on the move to pay their respects at Shwedagon pagoda and enjoy their day off, celebrate and socialise. The buses into town were rammed. The traffic on the north and east roads to the pagoda were chaos.
Due to festivities the market was closed and the bank was closed. We decided to wander towards the train station and got approached by a money changer – as we’d hoped and managed to change US$40 for a good rate. We took care to count carefully before handing over our cash and went off to treat ourselves to another dose of sushi. As we sat eating lunch at 1pm the rain bust down again, you could set your watch by it. After the monsoon shower we took a brief stroll to the supermarket for a coffee (weirdly the supermarket served the best coffee we found) and some provisions before spending the afternoon writing and watching the rain come over the city.
On our last morning we took a short walk to the market. We were expecting something quite different to what we got. Anticipating something more like a south american market we were surprised to find some very nice shops and a very tidily arranged market inside (rather than a hotchpotch of stalls). The main wares were jewellery, longyis, tshirts and souvenirs. Marie splashed out and bought a couple of clean t-shirts.
On our way back to the hotel we bumped into an old friend of ours. The first old man we met on day 2 of being in Yangon. We were all happy to see each other. It was quite funny to have the start and the end of the trip with this man. We went to a tea shop with him and talked about where we had been, what we had seen. He was half amused and half disgruntled at some of the prices we had paid for things but also repeatedly reminded us of how things are much more expensive than they once were. He managed to talk Emma out of her brolly asking if there was anything we weren’t going to take with us. With a good 25 minute natter, a tea and coffee later we said goodbye wishing him happiness and health and in exchange getting a ‘see you next time’
Heading to the airport at 3pm we arrived at 4pm driving through monsoon showers that turned some of the roads into rivers making the 3 land highway into a 1 and 1/2 lane highway. Our taxi was a Toyota van so had no problems with the water unlike some of the cars. The airport is a shiny new, modern, clean, white building – hardly reflective of our experience of Burma.
- Internet is best in Yangon by quite a long way. Easy to find Myanmar food options are not.
- Old men are really friendly here.
- A brolly is an essential item this time of year as are quick drying clothes.
- We are sick of rice and noodles.
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