I made the mistake of trying to book a last minute flight to Bagan and not surprisingly nothing was available. My only option was an overnight bus, a 12-hour journey departing at 6pm arriving early next morning. Not fun. At least if I were flying 12 hours, I would have been earning a nice chunk of miles, but that’s not the case in a bus seat.
With that being my only option, I took it. If anyone has seen the local buses in Myanmar, it leaves a lot to be desired, but the overnight bus was actually quite nice. The bus had air conditioning and the seating had a little bit of recline, no tray table. So, the seats weren’t that bad. The fortunate news is that I was only taking the bus one way because I was flying back to Yangon.
However, the so called “bus station” resembled nothing like bus station, but more like a large unpaved parking lot surrounded by store fronts acting as the bus company office. The waiting area was an absolute pit. Everyone was sitting on crates in a small cramp room. Two female Australian travelers entered the waiting area and all attention was suddenly focused on them. They were identical twins, probably not a common occurrence in Myanmar hence the attention.
I was dreading the long ride, but in a way I was anxious to get on road to experience the rest areas(I’ve driven across country in the U.S. and loved every minute of it). It was a rare opportunity for me to see a rest area as I hardly ever drive long distance in foreign country.
We made stops two along the way – one at 3 hours into the trip and another one at 6 hours into the trip.
The rest stops were what you expected. It was full of people making the trek(mostly from other tour buses). There were food stalls and vendors selling stuff along the parking lots.
Overall, the bathrooms weren’t too dingy. They have actual urinals rather than a dirty trough like receptacle. At the first rest stop, I grabbed a quick bite to eat as we had a half and hour. The food wasn’t terrible nor was it great.
With the remaining time, I walked up and down the row of vendors selling goods.
The rest stops also served as an appropriate time to switch bus drivers. I was sitting in the second to last row where the last row was reserved for two bus drivers. The three bus drivers took turns rotating from sleeping on the actual seat in the back row, the floor in the back row(Burmese aren’t big guys), and driving the bus. In addition to three bus drivers, there’s a purser that ensure everyone knows when to be back on the bus and that you’re not left behind.
We had about 20 minutes at the second stop where we were each given a disposable toothbrush and wet nap as we left the bus. The wet nap was incredibly satisfying because I haven’t showered all day and used it to wipe off the day’s sweat.
Back aboard the bus, I managed to get a few hours worth of sleep. I say few hours because at about 3:30 AM we arrived at our destination, which was earlier than I was expecting.
THE NIGHT RIDE
At that hour in Bagan, the air was cold and a little moist from the dew. I needed transport to my hotel and I took an offer from one of the locals soliciting me for a fare.
I was on a tri-shaw(a bicycle with a seat next to it) riding through the pitch black night. My driver took a turn off the paved road on to a dirt road going slightly up hill. I wasn’t sure where we were going. He explained that my hotel would take an hour and half with the tri-shaw so we had to go to his house and get his scooter to get to my hotel in a reasonable amount of time.
After a few turns, we ended up as his house, it was pretty much a hut. The front area was all dirt, but clean from any debris. The inside of the hut had one or two light bulbs illuminating the entire dwelling. From what I can gather, the sleeping areas looked like elevated platforms.
My tri-shaw driver got his brother/friend and they tried to start the scooter. After several failed attempts, they flooded the engine and had to remove the spark plug.
At that point, I thought it was going to take forever to get my hotel. After waiting for the gas to evaporate and a few more attempts, the scooter started up. I thought my original driver was going to drive the scooter to my hotel. However, all three of went for the ride. It’s a good thing I packed only a backpacks worth of cloths otherwise I don’t think we would have all fit.
I didn’t realize why his brother or friend needed to come along for the ride until we got going. The ride was so cold that when we stopped, they needed to switch drivers because the cold air was unbearable for the person driving the scooter.
After they switched off, and resumed riding on, I was thinking what the hell was I doing? I was in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, in the pitch black, riding through the cold night on a scooter with two locals I just met.
After bearing the cold for what seemed like forever, we finally made it to my hotel, The Thiri Marlar.
I paid the two a little more than what we agreed because I felt they deserved it – they worked hard.
The front desk couldn’t check me in, as it was 4 am in the morning. What he suggested is that he could order a horse cart and watch the sunset from the Dhammayazaka Pagoda. Without any other options, I agreed.