Wednesday 30 October 2013
Tuesday 29 October 2013
Burma have very recently opened the borders into Thailand. Previously tourists could only fly in and out. So after some research we decided travel as far as we could go to the south of the country. The first leg of this was a day bus from Rangoon to Mawlamyine. Mawlamyine was a pretty town with more old colonial buildings. I got a traditional longyi here and we enjoyed the sunsets and food. From here we took an overnight bus to Darwei. Arriving at 5am dazed and confused after 10 hours in a bumpy bus we made our way to the beach in a three-wheeled motorcycle-truck.
At 12pm we were collected by moto taxis to drive us back to town to wait for a bus to the port. This was an exciting journey through the deserted streets and up the windy roads. Here we waited for two and a half hours on the street, with locals, for the bus to take us to the jetty to catch the boat at 4am to our next port- Myeik.
The journey was fairly comfortable, bar the blasting monks' prayer and the freezing air conditioning. Upon arrival we were hussled into a small immigration office where our documents were checked. The official was super friendly and helpful and even took us to a restaurant where he drank tea with us and told us that there had only been around 10 or so tourists that have to Myeik by boat so far.
A blog we had read had described Myeik as a horrible place but we grew to really like it. We visited another island where we saw a giant reclining buddha. The most impressive part was inside where there were hundreds on mini buddhas going through the strucutre. It was also fun to sample the street food in Myeik where we ate with a view of the water.
From Myeik we took a 7 hour boat to Kawthoung. The friendly official came to meet us on the jetty to ensure we got onto the boat safely. There is no ettiquette when boarding transport here. We sailed past many islands untouched by tourism along the Andaman Coast, finally arriving at Kawthoung.
Although still in Burma, Kawthoung felt more like Thailand. A pretty town where people speak Burmese and Thai and you can pay in either currency. It was our final chance to have a Myanmar beer before getting a long tail boat across the water into Ranong. Burma is awesome, particularly for its beautiful butterflies, dragonflies, glimmering stupas and pagodas, and wonderful genuine people. The food was hard work at times, but I enjoyed the free chinese tea, the milky sweet tea and the traditional coconut sweets.
Really enjoyed the zero hassle experience as we made our way down the coast. That is, no hassle from touts, taxi drivers and tourist shopkeepers etc etc. There was of course some general travel logistics hassle - but each time we'd hit a sticky spot, some Burmese people would always help out. Nice. Could it be a conditioned reaction to the large blue billboards in each town centre commanding "Welcome warmly our foreign tourists"? Or is it just that the people have been pretty helpful by nature. The latter, I think.
Sunday 20 October 2013
After a super comfortable journey on a bus we arrived in Rangoon in the early evening to see many of the pagodas decked with twinkling candles. The taxi we got in to was blasting Burmese/ Euro beats from his stereo whilst driving through the city, past lights, fireworks and parades of people. The restaurants and tea shops were packed. It was an electric atmosphere and definitely awesome! Unfortunately the rest of the city didn't quite live up to the energy of the festivities. There were dirty crumbling colonial buildings and cracked pavements with open sewers. Needless to say I didn't really take to the city. However, I did enjoy visiting the huge golden pagoda as the sun set and later on sitting on plastic children's chairs at one of the street icecream shops eating traditional Burmese sweets whilst Ty had an icecream. I grew quite partial to Burmese sweets.
Saturday 19 October 2013
A strangely modern ghost town with 8-lane wide roads and giant city blocks all laid out around empty squares of bush.. and nobody around. As if made with giant cookie cutters, this city grid absurdly stamped onto the jungle was just built 8 years ago when the military government decided to move the capital up from Rangoon to Naypyitaw. Oddly, this is the only place in the country with 24 hour electricity working - as it's new - and suitable for government bigwigs. The place sort of reminds me of a cross between Pyongyang and Yamoussoukro.
Friday 18 October 2013
Picture this- an old colonial train winding its way slowly through the lush Burmese landscape, watching the people in their huts, working the fields, selling their interesting and exotic goods at the station. What a romantic way to travel? Well, perhaps for around 4 hours. The other 12 were pretty unforgettable in a totally different way: an old party monk mullered on betel nut, with his stereo blasting; middle class westerners (for a very short part of the journey) also getting wasted but on rum and coke; goods and at one point a child being passed through the windows and piled high; a beautiful little girl blowing me kisses and pretending to say hello using a new toothbrush as a phone; people sleeping on the floor in the middle of the carriage; a man causing trouble just outside of the carriage who the guard had to keep shouting at and pushing down; loud party music blaring at the main stations where people would be trying desperately to sell their wares. It was utterly fascinating but completely draining at the same time.
At 1am we arrived in Naypytaw, the capital. We had to switch to another train, in worse condition, where after waiting at the station for 2 hours, we would have to spend another 15 hours to get to Rangoon. When we took a look at the carriage we decided that there was no way that we would continue on this journey- it would have been hell. Instead we had a meal of egg and rice on the street and asked the locals how we could get to the bus station where we could catch a bus to Rangoon in 4 hours. After some confusion and translating we jumped onto moto taxis who drove us through the deserted streets at 3am to the bus station. The drivers were so helpful and we were very appreciative.
Upon further investigation we found out that all of the tickets had been sold but we decided to hang around to see if there were any other buses going. After a short while a guy turned up and spoke to us in pretty good English. He told us it was the start of a 3 day festival (festival of lights) in the country and everyone wanted to leave Naypytaw to get to their families and the events in Rangoon and that tickets would be sold out for at least a few days. He told us that his friend had woken him up to come and communicate with us and eventually he helped us out and drove us to a lovely reasonably priced hotel. All of the Burmese people we have met so far have been nothing but overwhelmingly helpful and kind.
Switchbacks, reversing zig zags, spiral loops, foliage poking into windows, bouncing carriages, stations in the hills comprised of nothing but dirt paths leading to the rails, women selling colossal bunches of flowers and nuggets of food from the tops of their heads, a 14mph max speed.... It was awesome! (really!)
But when we were faced with transferring to the even crumbier train for another 18 hours at 0200, we had to make a decision. There were clouds of various insects swarming around the few working lighting fixtures and giant spider webs wrapped around the damp and mouldy seats in the humid and rotten carriage - including a huge fat black spider the size of a 50p just hovering down from the overhead rack positioned in space exactly where my head would be if I should sit in my ticketed spot. 18 more hours of that? When a nice aircon bus can do it for 1/4 the price in 4 hours on the new highway? No brainer.