Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.
This week I finally made it into Burma! Burma (or Myanmar, as it is officially known) has long been at the top of my Asia travel list, and I’m incredibly excited to be at the beginning of a four week journey here.
After leaving Jeni in Luang Prabang, Laos, last week, I made my way to the bus station to board my 20+ hour bus over to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Unfortunately I realised upon checking in that the agency I’d used to purchase my bus ticket had not booked my seat and so, after a frustrated phone call and some persuasion on my part, I ended up on a wooden stool next to the driver. This was obviously not ideal for an overnight journey. Thankfully not long after departure a local gentleman offered to exchange seats with me so that I could get some rest; I’m not sure I’ve ever been so grateful as I settled in for the night without too many further interruptions.
Arriving in Chiang Mai some 23 hours later, I’d set aside a day or two to catch up with a friend from home, and as he works with one of the minority tribes in Burma I also gained valuable information for my upcoming trip.
On Tuesday morning I made the final part of my journey into Burma by taking a six hour bus south to Mae Sot, where luck would have it, I met up with our Swedish trekking companions, Martin and Oliver, who were crossing the border that afternoon also. The crossing itself was far quicker and easier than I’d anticipated; after getting stamped out of Thailand it was a five or so minute walk over the friendship bridge to the Burmese border control in Myawaddy. Here we were ushered past a queue of locals into the ‘foreigners office’ where forms were completed and photos taken and we were back outside ten minutes later.
It was during the entry process that we met a chatty and near-fluent (in English) Burmese man who afterwards took us to a money changing counter and then helped locate our guesthouse. The cheapest rooms available in town were $18 each – a huge increase from the prices I’d paid in other countries, and definitely not a step up in quality – this provided a tile-covered room of 3m x 3m, with no window, a small bed and fan, and shared squat toilet and cold water shower facilities. This didn’t deter me much; I’d set my accommodation expectations fairly low and after all, it was only one night.
Early the following morning I was awoken by my self-appointed guide from the previous day. I’d mentioned to him that I’d be taking a bus to Mawlaymine that day – and at 8am he was waiting for me with a car to take me there along with two other travellers who’d crossed the border that morning. After a rushed pack and no time to shower or breakfast, we were on our way!
We travelled ‘family’ style; the car seats taken out and four of us led out in the back for the bumpy five hour drive, stopping regularly (every ten or so minutes) for bribe money to be given to various characters – some military, some villagers. Breakfast was, to my delight, dhal curry and roti.
In Mawlaymine I checked into Breeze Guesthouse, a busy and friendly-run place with cell-like rooms, free breakfast and hot showers. To my amazement I found a cafe across the street which not only had great wifi (something I wasn’t sure I’d find until Yangon), but also served coke floats and potato smileys; triggering wonderful memories of childhood treats.
Yesterday I booked onto a group trip to Ogre Island (Bilu Kyun), just across the river from Mawlaymine. Ogre Island got its name from a local legend that the villagers there ate young men and consequently became ugly! The trip was a perfect introduction to Burmese village life, starting with an invite to a rare celebration, visits to a variety of family craftsmen and ending with a swim in a local bathing pool.
Burma so far has been incredible; the food is delicious, the scenery beautiful and the people are the warmest and friendliest I’ve come across. Just now as I’m writing this a truck of school children has pulled up and they’re all waving and vying for my attention – teacher included.
Here are my favourite five: