“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
After 5 months in Asia, I got to a point where I begun to feel a wave of change over me.
I began to re-evaluate my travels, my financial situation, and I was on the cusp of breaking into my emergency funds and calling it quits. I needed some soul cleansing, my liver to return to a healthier state, and a break from the madness that was Cambodia. I knew that by this time, if I wasn’t careful with my spendings, I’d probably need to conjure some quick plan to round up some cash.
Thankfully, flights to Myanmar from Bangkok in March were ridiculously cheap. I was set. I had a good friend meeting me and the best news of all – I had my last bit of cash (300USD) sitting in my wallet, just waiting to be used…
As poor budget-friendly travellers, we opted for the cheapest method of obtaining our visas. It was a simple process, all you had to really do was;
- Find a computer
- Type in ‘Myanmar embassy in Bangkok’
- Find a tuk tuk driver
- Fill in an application form (Plus two passport photos)
- Allow three working days (800 Baht later) to process
- Pick up passport and visa in the designated collection time
- Book flights
Simple right? Well…not really, but you feel me.
So off to Myanmar we went, finally escaping Bangkok with nothing but our backpacks and a lonely planet guidebook. A lot of people say that they’re a waste of space around Asia, and I would nearly agree but nonetheless, it actually saved us many of times – (but mostly financially).
It was our bible to Myanmar.
Having absolutely nothing planned, with no direction of where we would go, it gave us a great guideline on places we could stay at. Keeping in mind that Myanmar is still super backwards in comparison to Asia’s surrounding neighbours and the language barrier is even more difficult.
The travellers route
When you’re on the standard SEA road, you always manage to meet people that are doing the same route as you. Funnily enough – you’d think that flying over to isolated Myanmar would have you meeting an abundance of new backpackers. This was not the case.
I came to Myanmar with minimal expectations and I was pleasantly surprised.
What activities did we get up to?
Did I mention this all cost $1 USD?
Then there was the standard accommodation we had throughout Burma, that was well and truly this small. Definitely no luxury here, but you get what you paid for – a whole $7 dollars.
Then there were the cheap boat rides to surrounding towns in Mawlamyine.
As I walked around the villages, observing the locals and their way of life I felt like this was as authentic as Myanmar would get. Wrongggggg.
Hpa-An, a small town South of Myanmar proved to be the hidden gem in this beautiful country. Definitely tops the list on my must-see places in Myanmar. We checked into ‘Sue’s Guesthouse’ that cost us $6 each.
The key to this town is to go exploring yourself. Walk the streets and approach one of the many taxi riders, and barter like a local. We did exactly that. For just $10 (a huge splurge for me) we managed to get a motorbike taxi driver to take us to the stunning ‘Saddha Caves’ (Highly recommend it).
We then heard about free meals offered at a temple. All vegetarian of course, but hey? If it’s free, we’ll take it.
800-metre steep climb, tick. 2583 steps, tick. Sweaty as hell, tick. With everything else – there’s an overnight stay with a great deal of exercise (well needed) and a donation of your own accord.
HOWEVER – all good things must come to an end. Briefly. Our drivers never came to pick us up, and being so far away from town, the only option was to hitchhike our way back.
But not without a few detours….
We somehow ended up at a lake, which quickly became our shower from the past few days.
We then hitchhiked some more to make our way back into town. And yes, for those that are curious we felt perfectly safe doing this but do exercise at caution.
Once we got back into Hpa-An, we decided we’d move on quickly to attempt to make the next bus to Bagan.
So off we went, ready to hit the next town. But boy oh boy how quickly travel plans change when you’re in Asian time. After realising we were never going to make our connecting bus to Bagan, we decided to stop at Bago, accepting that we would have to stay in this shitty place for a night.
BUT – when in Burma, always expect the unexpected.
Which is exactly what happened for the next few hours..
As we got off the bus, two Burmese men approached us.
I asked “Did we miss the bus to Bagan?”….
“BAGAN? BAGAN!? COME WITH US. WE GET YOU TO BAGAN. WE GET YOU BUS TO BAGAN. COME.” – 2 Burmese men.
So in our state of excitement that we may have had a chance to get to Bagan we followed them to their ‘office’. Then the electricity went out. Yeah, no worries this is very normal right?
We went with our instincts, and both decided “screw it”, let’s spend our day’s budget ($30USD)on the ride to the ‘bus depot’ and the ‘luxurious bus with reclining seats’ to Bagan.
Oh how wrong we were.
After some near death experiences/speedy riding from two Burmese men high off Beetle juice (form of caffeine) for them, we just had to accept the situation for what it was. A hilarious chaotic mess. They took us to some random highway and hailed down EVERY single bus that would dare to stop screaming “BAGAN? BAGAN?”…. I guess it seemed normal at the time?
Eventually – after hours of waiting, we thought maybe the problem is the destination? What if we just went with whatever destination the next bus is going to? Maybe that would work.
Fortunately enough – the next bus that stopped was heading to Mandalay! HOORAHHHH. FINALLY.
They quickly tossed out bags through the window, took our money and boom we were on our way to Mandalay.
On local government buses. Sleeping right next to the luggage, endlessly bitten by mosquitos and NO reclining seats as promised.
We did eventually make it to Bagan….
For a whole 12 hours.
This saved us so much money. As we were done with Mandalay, we caught an overnight bus to Bagan, arrived in the very early hours of the morning, watched the sunrise over the ancient temples, and decided we were done and that we’d catch another overnight bus to Kalaw…..
After arriving in Kalaw, we spontaneously signed up to go on a 3 day trek to Inle lake. Great idea – ridiculously cost efficient and amazing to do some trekking through the local and isolated parts of Burma.
TAKE NOTE: When trekking, please do your best to not fall in an opium field. Cough, cough. Yep, this actually happened.
BUT that didn’t stop us from walking 65 km over the course of three days all the way to Inle lake…
And this is how the story ends.
Actually, no – insurance money came through as I got back to Burma, and well….ain’t nobody got time for regrets. So, off to Songkran festival we went!
But that’s for another blog post…
THE END, my friend.