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Long bus journeys
Bagan (Myanmar) to Mandalay (Myanmar), Apr-04-08 / Apr-14-08
It is 03.15 a.m. when our alarm clock wakes us. Today we take the bus from Bagan to Inle Lake (the town of Nyangshwe), which will take approximately eleven hours. As mentioned before, we preferably do not take night buses, something that many other travellers do a lot (also to save the cost of a hotel night). But travelling in Myanmar without taking nigh buses is complex. The condition of the roads is so bad, that even the shorter distances take at least 6-8 hours. Besides that, many buses leave very early in the morning (at night) or late in the evening, making it impossible to travel only in the daylight hours.

But ok, we are sitting at 03.45 a.m. with our sleepy eyes in the bus on the way to Nyangshwe. The bus is not full yet, and that is not a good sign. It means that the bus will stop often during the first stage of the trip to fill up the remaining seats and of course the alley. After one and a half hours of riding, and a lot of stopping, the bus is full. That is the time that the chauffeur gets a hungry feeling and stops the bus at one of the many roadside restaurants. At these restaurants you can get some simple warm meals, or you can make your selection from the snacks that are offered by the street vendors, from simple biscuits, to fruits and samosa’s (fried paste triangles with a vegetable mix inside). Thirty minutes later, we are on the road again with filled stomachs.

Young children having fun during the waterfestival in Mandalay
The seat in front of us is occupied by a Portuguese woman. She is travelling alone and we immediately saw that she is not the type to travel in uncomfortable long-distance buses. Trying to make her trip as comfortable as possible, she controlled almost all windows on our side of the bus and she tried to make use of the seat next to her as much as possible. Still before the seat next to her is occupied, she put her bag already on the seat to show that she does not want anybody to sit next to her. Once in a while, she lies down on both seats to have a nap. But of course, that is not the way it works in Myanmar. Myanmar is a country where people travel on buses because the buses are too crowded inside. That means that is definitely impossible to claim two seats for yourself, especially when you did not pay for them. Fifteen minutes later, a corpulent woman enters the bus, and indeed, she is taking the seat next to the Portuguese woman. God punishes immediately is what we thought. The Portuguese woman tried to keep as much space as possible, but of course without standing a chance against this Burmese “heavyweight”. She withdrew herself to her own seat, behind her book and sunglasses. Battle lost!

With a little bit less than two hours to go, we made a short refuel stop in the town of Kalaw. Everybody had to leave the bus and before we really left the bus, we were already accosted by an older western man. It seems that he is an Australian citizen, living already for more than ten years in Myanmar. That is possible in this closed country because he is married to a local woman, and especially because he has a contact somewhere on a high position in one of the ministries in Yangon. The Australian fellow can often be found at one of the bus stops in Kalaw, because he is desperate to talk to English speaking foreigners. Even after living for more than ten years in Myanmar, he does not speak the local language. And there are not so many locals to speak English to in Kalaw. After the bus is refuelled, we jump on the bus again for our last stretch. And while riding already, we hear the Australian fellow shout: “Bring me some sausages and cheese next time when you come to Kalaw!”.

Ivonne just became victim during the water festival

After eleven hours in a small and jam-packed bus, we are broken when we arrive in Nyangshwe. We were five years ago also in Nyangshwe for a visit to the Inle Lake, but at that time we only spent three days here. Now we want to spend a week, also to take a break from the long bus rides. We do not only have to recover from the bus ride of today, but we also have to recharge again for the next bus ride to Mandalay that is going to take another ten hours. During our stay in the hotel in Nyangshwe we met a Spanish couple (Elisa and Hector). They are a little bit younger than we are, and also travelling for some while now. We spent a day with them visiting the Inle Lake, and they told us a lot about their new passion: yoga. They took a month long course in Thailand and are now on their way to India where they start a next course in a couple of weeks. We already thought several times about taking a yoga course, but we are only interested in the physical part and not the spiritual part of yoga. We have the time now and we believe that exercises, more knowledge about food, and meditations can improve the quality of the health. However, we will definitely drop out when the course is too spiritual or based on theories that make no sense in our opinion. We are not the type of people to “follow”, without scientific foundations, long bearded and pony tailed men in long vestments who for example tell you to drink a litre of water every morning, to jump for some seconds to let the water lap in your stomach, and to vomit the water again as form of detoxication. We will see if an interesting yoga course will cross our path in the future. And if it does, we probably will take the chance to experience how it is.

After spending a week in Nyangshwe (see also our photo impression about the Inle Lake), we took the ten-hour bus to Mandalay. Mandalay is also a place that we visited five years ago, so we did not have a full agenda of all kind of things that we wanted to see. We decided not to go back to the things we saw in the past, because so far, many of those sights are disappointing in comparison to five years ago. This has mainly to do with the fact that the sights are more touristy now, there are more vendors, the military junta is asking for more entrance fees and it is simply to hot during this time of the year to fully appreciate the sights. However, the main reason for us to come back to Mandalay was to see the water festival. This festival, the biggest in Myanmar, is celebrated as preamble of the New Year, which starts this year on April 17th. During the days of the water festival, it is tradition to go on the streets and to wet as much people as possible. That’s why you see many people in the street, in front of their houses, with buckets of water to moisten everybody who dares to pass. During these days, it is impossible to stay dry when you set out for the streets. On the main streets you will even find big sponsored stages, where people can use more sophisticated equipment (like water hoses) to moisten the passing traffic. These are the days that many people hire open jeeps or trucks to drive with their family or friends through the city to get wet and to have a big party. Unfortunately, we didn’t see that much of the festival because Ivonne was not feeling that well during these days. Fortunately, she is already feeling a lot better today. Just in time for our last bus ride in Myanmar, the 14 hour bus ride from Mandalay to Yangon. And to make it even more fun, it is a real night bus, starting at 05.00 p.m. and arriving at 07.00 a.m. the next morning. We are looking forward to it!


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