I know, my last post was huge. Myanmar fascinates me, every minute of every day, Being weird myself, I am subconsciously attracted to the weird. Myanmar is weird, to the western uneducated eye. It’s so different from what I and the average westerner know. Every car, every person, every smile, every stare, every dog, every monk, every thing I see is interesting here. I want to somehow fit it all in to this blog but no words can describe how this country makes me feel. It’s a strange bond I’ve built, but one I am enjoying. Team: Guy, Nourdes, Isabel and yours truly do Bago.
The train from Yangon was nuts. A roller coaster ride that made Indian trains look like the Orient Express. Stepping off the train and straight onto the floor gave us an indication of what we were to expect from Bago, a small town just south of Yangon. No platform here. This place was rustic, a thrown back town from the wild wild west. It’s our first town visit, so when we made our way out of the station and straight onto a busy mud road we were taken back. Yangon was pretty modern and westernised compared to this place. Soviet style wooden houses, market stalls, packed vehicles of all shapes and sizes and mud roads greeted us.
A local motor bike taxi driver wanted to help direct us but our natural traveler instincts kicked in and we tried to lose him. Never trust a taxi driver. We told him we needed to go to the San Francisco Guest House. We didn’t believe his directions. Why would any taxi driver want to lose money to tell tourists that the hotel was only down the road? We studied The Planet. We then realised he was right and genuinely trying to help us. A genuine taxi driver? The scam must be coming later on.
However, Burmese folk are actually nice and helpful. They don’t harass if they can sense you don’t want help. Maybe, through the lack of tourists over the years, they haven’t learnt how to rip us off yet, maybe, these people are just nice. Either way, maybe, I need to drop my suspicious eye and take these people for what they really are, which is nice.
The woman at the San Francisco Guest House was extremely helpful, a proper legend. She had a yappy little dog on the reception table. One of those dogs only an owner can love. Before we knew it we had a room, had been fed handsomely and were on the back of a motorbike being shown the sights by her brother Mojo and his gang of biker buddies.
Bago offered us a busy main road running through the town, with busy shops and traffic but it also boasted a plethora of interesting and well maintained Buddhist pagodas, temples and statues. Myanmar is mostly Buddhist and their faith has shaped their everyday life. Lavish, over the top and sometimes made of pure gold pagodas and statues lie next door to poverty ridden villages built solely from bamboo. However, from what I was aloud to see of this country, the influence Buddhism has had is a positive one and has produced an honest and extremely friendly nation. We’ll not venture onto the subject of a corrupt, restrictive and cruel military Government just yet. I’m writing about Bago.
The beauty of having Mojo and his gang take us around the town was his knowledge of where to go and when to go. The bike rides were as fun as the sights. Freedom, exploration and adventure flowing through our hair we realise that there are hardly any tourists or white people here. We visited the 55m long reclining Buddha and a slightly smaller one, many golden pagodas, a giant stupa, the back streets of Bago, Buddhist monasteries and the original Hanthawady Palace.
We were taken through interesting villages on the outskirts of town and we visited a monastery with a huge holy python snake. According to Mojo, this little 19 foot bad girl, had eaten six men in her time but was regarded holy as it was a reincarnation of a holy princess. Sure buddy, sure. The room with the python was besieged by pilgrims paying their respects and their donations. Weird, but I like weird.
We were also taken to a temple where a traditional Buddhist blessing was taking place. As in all religions, a donation must be received and in return, they receive a ceremony from the priests, music supplied by a traditional Burmese orchestra and a couple of lady dancers to get the show on the go. It was loud and extravagant. Broken down, the music was a bunch of men bashing some weird looking drums. The melody and rhythm was reminiscent of my music class back in Primary school when everyone goes nuts on the percussion. Large frowns all around but we respected their culture. Bizarre to the uneducated eye, extremely fascinating.
Mojo was doing his best to take us off the beaten track. But then we realised everywhere in Bago is off the beaten track. There were only two guest houses in the whole town. And the six rooms they had each, were no where near full.
Outside a particularly large looking Buddha statue, we saw a group of men playing with what looked like a small football. They stand in a circle and try to keep the ball up in the air. This is a popular game in Myanmar and at sunset, all over the country, groups of men, young and old, congregate to play the game. Sometimes a volley ball net is used.
During the day we saw many pagodas and even more Buddha statues. We also ate some street snacks with our drivers and drank lapeiye (a milky tea with condensed milk, similar to Indian chai) after the days activities. Mojo knew I loved the Burmese samosa so he stopped and bought me a bag, presenting them to me at the end of the day. What a bloody nice fella. He was enthusiastic in his explanations all day long, as well as chewing his way through a good few paan’s. Either way, we all grew to love this little guy with the stained red teeth and the silly looking second world war helmet he wore.
That night, the children and the young girls at the hostel found my little dool drum from India fascinating. I played it for them and let them have a go. Music can bring together anyone even when language is a barrier.
Sleeping in the noise of Bago proved difficult. Early fall means an early rise for the dogs, cars, buses, horns, school children, monasteries, temples and eager back packer. The first noises wake you up around 4am, The creaking floor boards are soon to follow and by 6am, I’d be wide awake. Maybe, all the walls in this country are thin. Maybe I’d never get a decent nights sleep here. Who cares, this is what a signed up for. Bring it on.
My healthy breakfast consisted of samosas, spring rolls, Parotta with sugar and a couple of lapeiyes. Fried food and sugarheavily influenced by those Indian lot that emigrated here back in the British days of rule. Delicious. Walking through the market I loose the team. A man with a mega phone on a bike let me use his system to locate the crew. The look on the locals faces was priceless. An extremely white looking white man shouting “Oi, Guy, Nourdes! Where are ya?!” must have been a first in sleepy town of Bago. Easily located and the team fully restored, I stocked up on some fruit in the local market before we jumped on the train to Moulamein. The adventure continued at a quick pace. We only have 28 days in this country and we want to see it all.
Discovering life in rural Myanmar is fascinating by train. We pass many villages, rice paddies, waving children and try local foods from the sellers jumping on and off the train. The trains have not been updated since the British gave Myanmar its independence, a tatty wooden interior polished off with wooden seating should give you a glimpse into the jaded and extremely basic rail service that’s provided.
Digesting life in Myanmar from the train window is fascinating. Hanging out the door of a prehistoric train has its charms. I could watch their world go by all day.
We trundled slowly for almost eight hours. To put the slow speed into perspective, most bus trips, even though they go along crumbling and uneven roads are actually faster than the trains. Every passing minute taught us more about life out of the city. The train swayed and we were even shook out of our seats, the train occasionally throwing us all into the air every time it hit a wobbly and uneven part of the track. These bumpy sessions were frenzied and wild, sending us into fits of giggles and uncontrollable dancing actions while bags fell from the top shelf.
The train started to slow as we crossed a huge bridge leading into Moulamein. The river, the city and the surrounding hills topped with pagodas were breathtaking. I stood by the open door, hanging out, looking at scenery with the air flowing threw my sweaty golden locks. The train was slow enough to see into people’s homes and gardens. Smiling and waving to the locals we knew Moulamein would be a special place. This was the real experience I traveled to the other side of the world for. Myanmar has it all. Bloody marvelous stuff. At this moment in time we were all buzzing. Extremely high on life. This country is special.