We were a little disappointed not to be taking the boat to Mandalay today. We just couldn’t risk being stuck on the boat for such a long time and ruining our plans. So this morning we boarded the bus from the station at 8.30 for Manadalay. They said it would take 5 to 6 hours which was better than the 14 hours and the very early 4am start we would of had to do if we had taken the boat.
We were in for a little bit of a shock when we boarded the bus. It was full of locals which was fine but the seats were cramped together and it felt like a cattle bus. We had a pregnant lady throwing up next to us for the entire ride and even more to our surprise we made a short stop and more people boarded but there were no seats available. So the driver pulled out small plastic stools and placed them in the aisle. Shockingly we had a 70 year old looking woman sat next to us on a plastic stool for half the journey. It must be so uncomfortable and god forbid we had an accident!
Our bus made a stop half way for around 40 minutes in a place that sold local food and cold drinks. FYI the toilets were awful! Plenty of people refused to use the holes in the ground and clambered back on the bus.
When we arrived in Mandalay bus station it was a chaotic mess of taxi drivers fighting over which people to take, some even climbing on to the bus and poking you as if they had picked you and you were now theirs. I was a little angry as we were last off the bus and our backpacks from underneath the bus had just been thrown on the dusty ground being trampled on while taxi drivers still continued to fight each other over the tourists. We agreed 8000kyats to take us to our hotel as we were told it was further out than downtown and he refused to do it for any less. We were to stay at Yoe Yoe Lay Guesthouse in Eastern Mandalay for three nights, a short distance from the downtown area and Mandalay Hill. It had come highly recommended by many reviewers on tripadvisor as the place to stay in Mandalay so we had very high expectations. Since they don’t currently have a website we booked it through Facebook months ago for $30 per night for a private room and en suite although they also have dorm rooms for $10 per night with shared facilities.
We had such a warm welcome. The manager Aung Ko Win was very kind. After we checked in he sat and explained to us what we could do in Mandalay. We are due to travel to Hsipaw by train on the 27th so we needed to arrange our train tickets. He also arranged a full day tour to the ancient cities for tomorrow. It was 35,000K for both of us although he said he will let us know in the morning if anyone wants to car share with us to make it a bit cheaper.
So first we headed off to find a motorbike taxi to take us to the station. You can walk but it will take you around an hour, and its blooming warm and dusty here so we choose the quick and easy option! Well sort of easy….trying to tell the bike driver where we wanted to go was a bit tricky since he spoke no English (I’m not sure they were bike taxi drivers just people wanting to make some money!) so we had to walk back to our hotel with them so they could translate. Minutes later I had a loose helmet on and was zooming down 35th Street holding on to a rather smelly, sweaty Burmese Man whose bike didn’t sound too healthy. But for 2000 Kyats each who can complain?!?
We booked our train tickets at the Tourist Office to the left of the station. They spoke English and was easier than queuing up and trying to explain to the ticket man in broken Burmese. Ticket was $10 each for an Upper Class Seat. Not sure what that means but we were assured it was better than standard class. Its a pretty long train ride to Hsipaw, 14 hours in total departing from the station at 4am! EEK! Another early start! But at least we get to go over the Goteik Viaduct…
We have just got back to our hotel. We stopped by a place called Mandalay Donuts for a bite to eat as we were feeling a bit hungry. When we walked in there were around 10 girls at the doors greeting you…this place is tiny and way over staffed. Felt a bit like a zoo exhibition. Everyone was staring at us. Feel a bit out of place as we haven’t seen any Westerners around apart from at our hotel…bit freaky! On the up side this place sold chocolate cake! Thought I better have a piece as I cant imagine the remote villages we will be travelling to next will have it!
Our bill came to 7000, for two strawberry juices, 3 lime juices, some Thai Dish Leo snacked on and my cake. Not too bad..although we stayed longer just so we could take advantage of the wifi! Cant believe how bad it is here….slow is an understatement.
We also realized we needed to change some money. We started to walk back to our hotel and realized it was getting late. All of the money exchange places were closed. Just as we were going to give up some stranger overheard us and offered to help us. I feel bad as I immediately thought ill of this man thinking he must be up to something. But he waved us over and told us to get in his car. I opened the door and inside was his wife and two young daughters. He explained that the city can be confusing for foreigners and he just wanted to help us. He was very kind and drove us around until we found an open exchange place. The people here are so kind and helpful…if we were back in London asking people for directions they would give us some long winded explanation…”Turn right then turn left walk a bit and then take another right etc….” No here they just pick you up, drive you around and expect nothing in return. I was truly amazed! We also had a man pull over on his scooter earlier and stop us. He asked us if it was OK to talk to him for a couple of minutes as he wanted to practice his English. I was stunned. He sat on his bike, asking the normal questions where we were from what we are doing in Myanmar. And just as quickly as he arrived he said thanks very much and drove off! We both turned to each other and laughed! Only in Myanmar….