back to Yangon

April 28, 2009 at 2:30 am Leave a comment

The journey to Yangoon wasn’t so bad. I was the last passenger to come on the bus. The bus originates from Taunggyi and I think most of the passengers begin their journey there. Regardless of where you get on though the price of the ticket is the same. The bus was a standard non-air-conditioned one. This was my preference. I’m tired of freezing and breathing the stale pungent air of one of western civilization’s least enjoyable contributions to Asia. Unfortunately I neglected to remember the condition of Burma’s roads, many of which are half-paved and full of scattered rocks, pebbles and sand.

Throughout the first hours of the trip from Kalaw to Yangon there was only space enough for one vehicle. So the bus had to pause to make room for others traveling in the opposite direction. Every time this happened (and even when it didn’t) the sandy earth below would get stirred up and enter my window and my lungs and settle on my oily face.

Getting a window seat was somewhat of a struggle too. I wanted to leave Kalaw on the 25th so that I could have time to visit Kyaikto and the Golden Rock but there was not a single window seat available on any of the dozen busses heading to the capital on this day. And since I absolutely cannot sit comfortable or sleep without a window next to me, I booked a seat for the 26th.


The bus was of regular size but it had 5 seats in a row instead of 4. In the middle there were seats folded out from the right row eliminating the customary passageway through the center of the bus. There was also no compartment on the bottom, so all luggage was stored inside. The tops racks were filled with bags belonging to the early passengers, the rest of the bags were stored beneath the seats. My large backpack was placed in the narrow portion of space intended for my feet. And so I sat with my right foot in the crevice between my bag and my neighbor’s and my left numbingly folded on top of my bag, my sandals stuck inside the handle bar of the chair in front (for easy access and so that they don’t get lost), my small backpack (with my passport, wallet, books and laptop) on my stomach, my head leaning against the body of the bus, the window completely open and the dusty air beating my face which attempted to cover with my hand now and then.

Taking the sweater and scarf I had prepared in advance to use as pillows I settled myself to sleep. And slept so sturdily that my neighbor had to wake me up when we arrived. (I did arrive with an aching back, a sore bum, and a bruised head).

Taxi men huddled around me as soon as I descended, and I wearily told them my price. It wasn’t good enough. I didn’t care because all I wanted to do was stand upright and wake up. But they kept coming and asking “What can I do for you?” so eventually I settled on 3000 kyat ($3). I was led to a car, my bag was put in the trunk and I was told to sit inside and wait a minute for the driver. A minute turned into 5 and then I was told to get out of the taxi and get into another one.

The other taxi already had 3 passengers. I started to argue. But it was in vain. Especially since I wasn’t in the mood to argue and $3 or $1 didn’t make any difference at the moment. Still, I felt cheated and wished one of my friends was here to help me. I was the last one to be dropped off and the driver had the audacity to demand another thousand kyat for driving me 9 blocks from where I originally wanted to be dropped off. Flatly, I told him no. With a broken expression he drove on. What was strange was the care he took to deliver me to the door of my new destination rather than the corner before it, and than the way he did not even help me pull my bag out of the car.

Anyway. I’m in the hotel we stayed in when we first arrived. Near Sule Paya. This is downtown Yangon. These are the Indian and Chinese quarters. Sule Paya is 2000 years old. There are several mosques and churches. There is a synagogue 9 blocks away. Two weeks ago when I visited the synagogue I was told there are only a handful of Jewish families left in Yangon.


During the day vendors and street chefs set up shop along the streets off Sule Paya and in the late afternoon the number of street shops and their offerings multiply. They sell the most delicious pancakes, “pizzas,” samosas, spring rolls, noodle soups, rice and curries, corn on the cob, vegetables, fruits, palm sugar juice… t-shirts and clothes, batteries, watches, kitchen supplies, electric things and many more gadgets I see but don’t notice.



Boy wearing thanaka on his face selling mangoes.

Need to use the phone? Here it is.

Need to use the phone? Here it is.

Panties for sale.

Panties for sale.

My room has windows leading onto one of the streets where after sunset a tea shop is set up. A Burmese tea shop is usually an informal place, just a dozen plastic child-size tables and chairs with a thermos of green tea set on each and a main table with snacks for sale. Indoor tea shops usually have more selection. This particular tea shop plays very loud music, from American rock to Burmese pop to Russian rap from the 90s!

By midnight the streets are empty. No people, no cars. Just the street sweeper ceremoniously hulling away the day’s rubbish.


Entry filed under: travel. Tags: , .

Inle lake and Kalaw the juicy tourist

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