Myanmar: monsoon, thousands of temples and an abandoned amusement park
Mis à jour : 3 déc 2019
Right before arriving at Mae sot, the border between Thailand and Myanmar, I realized my phone had been stolen. It had fallen on the floor of the sleeper bus while I was asleep. When I started to check under the seats around me, I could not find my phone and I decided to look thoroughly when we were going to arrive. .As everyone got off the bus, I started searching every corner of the bus. Even the drivers helped me to scan every inch of the vehicle. It was in vain. After three rounds of searching everywhere, we gave up. I had always liked my Fairphone, because you can easily repair each component and keep on using the device for a long time. I hoped the new owner would understand this concept. I lightened up a bit as soon as I crossed the border and saw the smiling faces, covered in thanaka, the natural paint from the thanaka tree. I had some Burmese breakfast, visited a Buddhist temple and went, by accident, for a short walk through the slums. Seeing happy children in such dire situations made me understand how silly attachment to stuff is. So far, Myanmar was pure.
Flooded country and no foreigners allowed
The bus to Yangon, which I had booked as soon as I arrived, left at 9 am and would take 10 hours. At the counter I was told it might take a little longer because of the monsoon. I was shown a picture of the week before. There had been a huge queue of trucks stuck for almost 15 days. "No need to worry, it is better now" reassured the guy at the counter. Without losing any time, we took off to Yangon. Continuously beautiful views along the road, but almost everything I could see was under water. When I asked how they dealt with the flooding, they replied that they wait, repair and start again each year. As I heard the top 100 Burmese karaoke songs for the sixth time, we slowly approached Yangon. It had been an 18 hour drive. The bus station where we arrived was out of the city. It would take almost two hours to get there and the taxis were quite expensive. With one phone stolen and my backup phone with a flat battery, I started to ask around for nearby accommodation. The taxi drivers were not really helpful and only cared about collecting their fare, so I started walking South as some people had suggested. Rooms were either €40 for half a night or they were at a reasonable, cheaper price but not allowing foreigners. After dozens of rejections because of my nationality, I managed to find a place that accepted me for 18€. It was not worth the money and only for a couple of hours, but it would allow me some rest.
The next morning I managed to get WiFi and book a hostel at a normal price. When I arrived, the staff was very friendly, helping me with all my needs and suggesting all the beautiful things I can do in the country. We sat together and made a 10 day plan in Myanmar. Only ten days because I would soon head to North West India to run a trail run in the Himalayas. The 10 days included a regular marathon around Lake Inle, one of the highlights of the country. The plan excited me and I decided to go for a run to get in the mood. Unfortunately this ended in the hospital and changed my whole plan.
Sketchy visa help
Even though I had cancelled all my plans and had to rest as much as possible, I still had to take care of my Indian visa. The e-visa was an easy option but was not allowed for people crossing over land borders, so I had to get a regular tourist visa at the embassy. Hopping on one leg from the taxi to the embassy, I had caught everyone's attention. Sweating and catching my breath, I took a seat and an older Indian man approached me. He offered to help me. We filled out my details and went to the counter, only to hear I needed different documents. The office was about to close, but the lady at the counter gave us fifteen minutes. The man urged me to follow him, so I hopped behind. As I waited for my documents, he exchanged my Burmese money into American dollars to pay for the visa. When he gave me back the money, I noticed 20 USD was missing and he was trying to rip me off. When I confronted him, he denied several times. He even asked for more money to get the correct photos for the visa. I told him I would pay with my money from his pocket. He reluctantly gave me 2 USD and when I held my stare and he gave me the rest, mumbling he also had to make a living. When I saw my passport photos, my hair, beard and shirt had changed significantly. My photo was photo shopped a lot and it felt weird. A couple of minutes later, I received my documents and found out I had a different religion, job and booked hotels. I was involved in some sketchy visa scheme. We went back to the counter, too late, and were told to come back after the weekend. The old man told me I would probably get my visa on the spot on Monday through his 'contacts'. He also asked for 10.000 kyat for helping with my application. When I handed over the money for help I didn't need, I made sure he understood I did not like the way he did business. I hopped to a nearby taxi and went back to get some rest.
After the first day of full rest, besides the embassy visit, I slowly started walking again. Some minor sightseeing activities were still doable. On the third day I decided to go urban exploring, also known as urbexing, which basically means visiting abandoned places, overgrown by nature or sprayed full with graffiti. Since I couldn't explore they country, I was going to explore the hidden jewels of the city to take some pictures. Somewhere in the city, next to the zoo, there was an abandoned amusement park that had been closed fifteen years before. It had been built to distract citizens from dire living conditions when the country was in conflict. Now, it was rusty, full of weeds, moss and plants. The park that had once been shiny and ecstatic had a dark and gloomy feel to it. I loved the vibe. Have a look below at the pictures.
The holy city of Bagan
On Monday I went back to the embassy to hear I had to wait three more days for the visa. I explained I had a train to catch in India to arrive in time for the trail running competition. After some pleading, the lady promised it would be ready in two days. Catching my train would still be possible. It would not be easy though. Before I had to worry about rushing towards the Indian train, I wanted to discover Myanmar some more. Yangon and its street food had charmed me me, but now I could walk again I wanted to visit the holy city of Bagan, where thousands of temples were built to praise Buddha. The plan was to take one night bus to arrive in the morning, spend a full day discovering and take the night bus back to Yangon. Once in Yangon I would pick up my visa and start speeding towards the Indian border. I had a full week of buses and trains ahead of me. For some reason the first bus, the cheapest one to Bagan, was a VIP bus which enabled me to arrive well rested in the holy city. I rented a bicycle for the day and saw all kinds of temples. Old temples and new ones, gold, white or silver, tiny, big or huge, any kind of temple you can think of was there, all of it to thank Buddha for his enlightening techniques. There were thousands of temples along with thousands of Buddha statues. It was never ending. Many locals tried to sell souvenirs to tourists but luckily there were some lovely, sincere people who just wanted to sit down and share. One of those people was Aye Aye, whom I won't forget easily. She had a wide and honest smile and her eyes shone pure innocence. She makes beautiful craft work and is always happy to give presents to those she likes. She is a wonderful lady who had even earned a mention in Lonely planet. She had talked to one of the editors without knowing it. If anyone ever goes to Bagan, I truly recommend having a chat with aye aye at the Ananda temple. It will add some joy to your day. Thirty kilometers of cycling around thousands of temples was finished off with a beautiful, may I say holy, sunset. Satisfied I went back to Yangon.
When I arrived at the embassy I wanted to get my visa as soon as possible and continue the bus(s)y days. There was another overlander, one who travels only by land, at the embassy and he was, just like me, in a hurry for his bus. We rushed together to the bus station with our fresh Indian visa stickers. At the chaotic station, filled with hundreds of different private bus companies, we parted ways and I continued my journey towards the Indian border.
Even though almost nothing went according to plan in Myanmar, I still had an amazing time. It has absolutely been a pleasure and I will definitely come back.