Republished - Feb 2012
It was a decision based on avoidance. An avoidance of two things: Christmas and Cambodia. The idea of another December 25th with fake snow and Happy Merry Christmas written on every available surface while you felt your skin being fried under the relentless Cambodian sun was enough to prompt the quest for a location far, far away from sweaty Santas. After a bit of geographical and financial arithmetic Myanmar presented itself.
Having researched the debate on travel to Myanmar I decided that travelling independently and ensuring that money spent there went straight to small independent hotels and restaurants was the right thing to do. I happened to meet another kindred spirit who harboured the same desire and so the pair of us embarked on our adventure, one involving trains, planes, boats and balloons, led by a healthy dose of wanderlust.
Kayti and I met in Yangon, mid December and upon arrival the first thing that struck me on the drive into town was how green the city is, the abundance of birds and the soundtrack they provided to the scenery. In my field of vision Happy New Year banners could be found, and what I swore looked like Santa, which led me to the quick conclusion that I had not entirely succeeded in my Escape Christmas 09 plan. But it was time to make peace with that fact and focus on the task at hand: meeting Myanmar.
No sooner had I deposited my suitcase in our no-frills bedroom at the Motherland Inn 2, than Mr. Win arrived to show us around town. A friend of a friend, Mr. Win’s name was given to us as soon as our trip became a reality. Passionate about his country, he proved to be a treasure chest of all things Myanmar. As soon as introductions were made we jumped into his little jeep and he drove us to Yangon’s golden glowing nucleus- Shwedagon Paya.
Sporting more gold than one can possibly fathom, the dome of the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar is a breathtakingly beautiful space that inspires unexpected serenity. People pushing brooms ahead of them to earn merit, others praying at shrines representing different days of the week, others buying pieces of gold leaf to place on a statue of Buddha- the space was a gentle whirl of activity.
As Mr. Win explained the importance of the day of the week on which one was born to us, an overwhelming feeling of nausea swept over me and I knew that I needed to get to a bathroom- and fast. Sensing the urgency he marched me, barefoot (shoes were left at the main entrance) down the nearest staircase and put me in the first taxi available.
Next thing I knew I was as white as a glass of full-fat milk and in a taxi older than Yoda, being driven by a man who felt he had missed his calling over at the Ferrari team in Europe. The first corner we took was at such a speed the door flew open and I clung on for dear life. By the time I reached the front door of the hotel the guests sitting outside must have thought I had sold my shoes to pay for my drug habit- such was the state I was in. The vegetarian meal on Bangkok Airways was the real culprit.
The next day saw a speedy recovery and we took to the streets to have a look around. People were enormously friendly and every smile returned, we walked around the train tracks where people had set up homes. The very same tracks that would take us to our next destination the following morning.
It was a 5am wake up, the first of many more to come on this trip that got our journey to Mandalay underway. The train was not recommended by anyone, people actually tried to talk us out of it for fear that it would not be comfortable enough. But when we boarded the decision proved to be a good one. Although the reclining seats only seemed to have one position- recline- the journey was very, very enjoyable. Every stop brought with it vendors selling completely different foods which made every station an exercise in getting to grips with local fare. My love of this mode of transport may have a role to play in this conclusion, but sitting staring out of a window for 15 hours is very relaxing.
That is apart from the petrifying toilet and, at times, very bumpy ride. There were moments when it felt like we were all riding a wild animal, it was that bumpy. As the only foreigners on the train we drew very curious looks from the other passengers, eager to see if we would cope.
And cope we did, until the 14th hour on the train meant that the sun had set and with the darkness came the end of the hanging of my head out the window like a dog in a car, ears flapping in the wind. My sense of humour had also packed up and gone fishing, just when I needed it most- for on a particularly enthusiastic bump my suitcase managed to dislodge itself and come crashing down on my head. A cartoon style bump on my forehead was the worst of the damage fortunately- but it was safe to say that I was ready to get off the train when we pulled into the station an hour later.
Motherland Inn 2- 433 Lower Pazundaung Road www.myanmarmotherlandinn.com
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