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    Tropical Heat Tour: Myanmar Part 13

    Wednesday, September 5, 2012
    Mandalay, Myanmar

    Three of the big staff who run the Royal Guest House in Mandalay, Myanmar.

    It was a travel day, as I booked a bus from Mandalay down to Bagan. The trip from Yangon to Mandalay, which is about 350 miles, takes about nine or 10 hours. But, for some reason, even though Bagan is only about 120 miles from Mandalay, it takes about seven hours. I figured it was because the bus would stop a bunch of times and the road would be bumpy. I had no idea what I was in for. After getting caught between a bunch of big, long trucks in a traffic quagmire in the dusty dirt lot of the Mandalay terminal, the bus finally squeezed out around 1:00 pm with all Burmese people on board except for two other white tourists and myself.

    The lobby of the Royal Guest House in Mandalay, Myanmar.

    At first, within city limits, the relatively smooth concrete streets were wide and uncongested, but after a while, as we cruised out into the countryside, the road surface turned into asphalt and narrowed into little more than a pothole-filled trail that was barely wide enough to contain the bus. Whenever another vehicle approached ours head on, we both had to pull halfway out onto dirt shoulders to squeeze by. As time wore on, we passed through one podunk village of bamboo huts after another (many of these structures didn’t even have four walls), with people eking out a super hardscrabble existence. It’s called living off the land, and that’s how most people existed for eons before the industrial revolution.

    Snack sellers as seen from the bus window at the terminal in Mandalay, Myanmar.

    We took a 30-minute rest stop at one hut compound where the urinal and toilet walls were made out of dried palm leaves. There wasn’t much food on offer, so I just bought a couple of homemade snacks from the vendor ladies who crowded around the bus when it pulled in. I was moved when one of them smiled and waved at me in thanks as the bus pulled away. Every so often, our bus encountered a creek bed with an incredibly rough, uneven, and muddy trail snaking through it. Many times, I thought we would get stuck, but the bus always soldiered on through, no problem. There was one huge riverbed that the bus could not cross, because huge Earthmoving equipment was still constructing a makeshift “bridge” across the dirt. So, we had to get off the bus and walk a half mile across to board another bus. I almost got hit by a dump truck that was unleashing a load of dirt!

    The bus stops for a snack break somewhere in Myanmar.

    A bunch of other buses and trucks were waiting to cross, their passengers hanging around the banks of the washed out riverbed. I wonder how long they had been there? As our journey continued, the bus kept stopping once every short while, even after nightfall, to let someone on or off. I couldn’t figure out how some passengers knew exactly where to get off in pitch dark in the middle of nowhere with no lights outside. It was pretty amazing. Finally, around 8:00 pm, we rolled into Bagan, where myself and the other two tourists had to get off the bus to pay $10 for an admission card to the temple region. After the bus pulled into the funky little terminal, I hiked a half mile North to May Kha Lar hotel, where I was happy to get a room with air con for only $10 per night! They usually cost $15 or $20, which is beyond my budget.

    Roll over photos for captions.
    Words and photos ©2012 Arcane Candy.

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