“The old motor is stronger” he explained to me on the way to the boarder. I could feel my excitement growing as the little motorbike chugged along. I had meant to cross into Myanmar the day earlier. I had woken up early for the long journey but when I got to the bus station at 9am I found that the next bus left at 1pm. I’ve learned there is no sense in being too attached to the exact location I’m in, I’ve had great experiences in boring towns and bad experiences in fun towns. My driver stopped and pointed me toward the Friendship Bridge that connected Thailand to Myanmar. I always get excited at this part, it always seems silly to be so exhilarated by changing location by a few hundred feet but still I walked forward with a visible eagerness.
I had only taken about a hundred steps in Myanmar before it was clear that the boarder separated more than just two sides of a river. It was immediately more chaotic. I just needed to change money, withdraw money from an ATM and get a bus to Mawlamyine. Somehow I thought it would be easy. Right after getting my passport stamped, in the same building, a guy was running a travel company. I sat down to get some information and our conversation went like this:
Me “Hello, I want to go to Mawlamyine”
Him “Ah yes, we have a shared taxi to Mawlamyine”
Me “Okay, do you have a bus to Mawlamyine?”
Him “We have a shared taxi, its good, just four people”
Me “How about a bus, do you have a big bus?”
Him “We have the shared taxi”
Me “Okay, how much is the shared taxi?”
Him “It’s 13000 Burmese currency”
Me “That’s expensive, I want to find a local bus. Is there a bus station?”
Him “Its very far”
Me “So I’ll get a moto-taxi, how much for that?”
Him “I don’t know maybe 1000, there are many. They have the vests.”
I thanked him and left. I was surrounded by four more guys with the same offer. I ignored some and said no to others as I walked to find an ATM. One guy followed me “Where you go?” He asked. I answered and the same conversation repeated. I have had so many conversations like that. One person wants to sell something and I don’t want it but they persist. I try to get helpful information and they try to sell their one thing. Its like asking a surgeon to fix you, he’s gonna cut you open. He just is.
I walked into a bank after trying the ATM without it spitting out any money. I had to change some of my crisp US bills into Kyat. I’ve never seen a bank like this one. There was suitcases full of bricks of money behind the counters and more hustle and bustle than I’d ever seen in a bank. Pretty much across the board banks are quiet, well air conditioned places. Not this one, it looked like one of those stockbroker pits where they all wave pieces of paper above their heads. I found the counter where I could change US dollars and almost laughed looking behind the counter. They apparently had no vault or just didn’t use it. There was a block of Kyat as big as a mini fridge just sitting on the floor. It was kind of a joke to my western mind. I could not imagine something like that existing in a bank back home.
The fun was far from over though!
After I got enough Kyat for a day I got myself a moto-taxi to the local bus to Mawlamyine. My driver took me past a dusty market to a little bus station. He had some conversation with the lady working there, she waved her hand in a No sort of gesture but my driver just pointed to a chair and said “Mawlamyine”. I sat down and gave myself to the unknown. I wasn’t very confident that I would actually be sitting in a local bus to Mawlamyine anytime soon but I kept hearing the people around me say the name of the town I was going to so there was a glimmer of hope. Just then a guy I didn’t know handed me a phone for an unknown reason. I took it and held it to my ear, this was a tactic I had seen many times in Asia. If they don’t know English but they know someone who knows English they call that person to transcend the language barrier.
“Hello”, “Hello, dosf dkoudjf jou keojd car, djei” That is about how it sounded to me. It went on like that with me repeating the few words I thought I understood. Eventually I was pretty sure It was another person trying to sell me a shared taxi ride to Mawlamyine, I said yes and hung up. After another half an hour of waiting I got up to get a snack but before I could walk off the lady working at the bus station told me to get on the back of a motorbike for “bus to Mawlamyine”. A few minutes later I found myself in a shared taxi heading to what I thought would be Mawlamyine. This ended up not being true though, It drove for hours only to drop me at the bus to Mawlamyine. For reference if I was in Thailand the distance from the boarder to Mawlamyine would have probably taken two or three hours.
Five hours after leaving the boarder I arrived. I had a headache from not eating and the heat but I was happy to find that the moto-taxi drivers knew the guesthouse I had looked up the night before. I sped off but was not lucky enough to have my first choice, I was however lucky enough to find a place to sleep at the third guesthouse my driver found.
Its expensive here in Myanmar, I spent over my budget just for the room and ride from the boarder. The room was 20USD. I will have to get used to this after Thailand’s ease and inexpensiveness.
I also noticed that people here have beards, that may sound odd but I haven’t seen beards on local people more than a few times in months. The food here is more like Indian food, the people are incredibly diverse ethnically and it all just feels old world.
My first impressions are encouraging and my dinner was delicious so its hard not to like Myanmar so far.