The road to Mandalay

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
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Trip End Feb 26, 2011


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Flag of Myanmar  ,
Monday, July 12, 2010

We woke and had a bit of a lie in (well a chill in anyway, I was awake at 6am). We had a good wander around town and saw the Strand hotel (very famous hotel in Myanmar) but we wanted to go primarily because George Orwell stayed here when he wrote Burmese Days, we are re reading it while we are here, amongst the other famous faces Brad Pitt also stayed too but on this occasion I didn't get mistaken for him.

Also of note was the appropriately titled "Light of Myanmar Newspaper house". We stopped and admired the fine articles pinned on the notice board outside, of particular note were the pieces about how the BBC was spreading hatred within the country and trying to destabilise the country. It finished with a nice piece of wording that said something along the lines of “all people should be aware that any forces which try to destabilise the country weather internal or external will be crushed”. It was a very interesting read and something which I was not expecting to be so blatant to be honest. As we stood reading it took me a few minutes to notice the gentlemen who had appeared 'watching’ us. We wandered off and found the British Embassy, along with the Strand hotel one of the few colonial buildings kept in tip top condition and you could have imagined this place looking fantastic in its heyday. Anyway I made Erica cross the road and take all our possessions, in case I was going to disappear, while I nipped back to the newspaper and got a snap. As I scuttled off after the photograph I found Erica on the other side of the road staring into space with no idea where I was. We continued the walk around the rest of the downtown area before making our way back through some rather rough looking back streets with fires and car repairs going on everywhere. We had a couple of hours to wait so got chatting to a few friends from the night before, Shilpa (Indian), Lionelle (French and probably spelt wrong) and Rodriguez (Belgian) who were all on our bus that evening. We shouted a couple of taxis between us. Another American girl got in our cab and we set off on the 45 minute taxi ride to the bus station.

Well the taxi was like no other taxi I nor probably 99.999% of the population of the UK have ever got in or even seen the likes of. The driver was high as a kite on his chewing stuff. There were no windows in the car (i.e. no glass), the windscreen was cracked, none of the electrics worked and it had black smoke bellowing out of the back of it. It was probably first registered in about 1960. Oh and by the way all the cars and buses have the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car, well it seemed that way but it is the same as the UK. Obviously the regime didn’t want to follow the foreign occupiers and on advice from a fortune teller the Government changed the legal driving side overnight, literally, so all cars actually drive on the right side of the road so no-one can see around corners, hilarious. Anyway back to hilarity, after 10 minutes the sky went black and I mean black. The heavens opened like only people know who have truly experienced a mean monsoon. We got drenched, the car was like a swimming pool and most amusingly the water was also coming in from the roof not just the open windows. Obviously the blower didn’t work so the driver had his head out of the window as he couldn’t see through the steamed up windscreen and he ended up just sat in his shorts like he was in the shower. I have no idea how that car still runs.

We got out at the bus station, which was practically just a city of different private bus companies and in the pouring down rain found our bus. We were sat amongst our friends at the back of the bus. The journey was about 12 hours of hell. Although air conditioned, the seats didn’t really recline and the bus was freezing. Although they did put on the remake of Karate Kid, where the lonely Latino Karate Kid had become about a 5 year old American Black Boy called DRE who moved to China and appeared to have the mental age of someone about 25, a terrible remake of a classic. What a waste of time. It was followed by a selection of Burmese films. At the first stop the bus was emptied bar one or two people and sent into a clear Government restaurant. I decided to spend my time chatting to a security guard and a monk. The monk said little but listened intently, the security guard was chatty but spoke very little English, however the conclusion was that I (I think he meant non Burmese people) was very rich and the Burmese were very poor. We then discussed age, we understood I was 32 and he started out at 5,000 then became 400, then ended at 15 I guessed he was about 40. He had a wife and 2 children but was also single. He loved England and watched every game in the World Cup. The monk laughed along merrily as we both used our exquisite non verbal and verbal communication for 15 minutes. When I got back on the bus he shook my hand, bowed and then hugged me saying “Thank You, Thank You”, hugging strangers is not a big thing in Asia!!

Anyway I probably had about 15 minutes sleep before I was woken by loud prayers and video footage of all of Myanmar’s famous temples. Lionelle had no sleep, Rodriguez appeared to have about 15 minutes as well. I was knackered when the bus pulled in. I woke Erica who had fallen asleep within 2 minutes of getting on the bus and hadn’t woken up since therefore being the only person left on the bus at some stops. Obviously she had slept terribly and was in a bit of a mood.

Erica edit:  Hey hey now, I did see the first ten minutes of Karate Kid................
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