Yangon, Myanmar, February 2016

So there we were in Myanmar! Our 7th country since leaving the US and we still haven’t been on a plane! It was so pleasing to just watch the world go by as we rode to the capital city of Yangon. Rice paddies in several states of growing, long wooden houses on stilts with little protruding windows-some with stained glass, rubber tree farms with sheets of rubber hanging out in the sun, small towns, goats. We stopped a few times to eat noodles and vegetables. We bumped along the road. We saw wooden carts with wooden wheels pulled by oxen!    Above: rubber tree farm with sheets drying at center. Below: stilted wooden house with small stained glass window box below roof   

 Getting there was a bit arduous. We left Bangkok on an overnight 8-hour bus to the Mae Sot border. There were no beds on this bus, but the seats were fairly comfortable. Also on the plus side, we arrived nice and early to cross over the border and… get on another bus, a minivan actually.   Below: Fiercely, Really, and Cleverly with backpacks at border

 It was a little chaotic at first. We had our Myanmar visas, we packed and moved out of our apartment successfully, but in all the excitement we neglected to learn a few key things- local currency exchange rate, some Burmese phrases, how many hours to Yangon, how to get to Yangon. I had been following a blog post about crossing the border here but the writers had not gone to Yangon from the border- oops, I had failed to notice that. 

We spoke to a friendly English-speaking local at the border who contacted a minivan for us. I’m not sure this was the right way to go about this, but we felt the price was fair- $13 per person for the 8 to 10 hour trip- and we could leave right away. They told us the exchange rate was K1300 to $1, which turned out to be accurate, BTW. Was there a bus station? I’m not sure. I was a little worried since the last time I trusted an English-speaking local at a border I was scammed in Cambodia, but I think this time we did ok.  Locals in Myanmar are famously trustworthy and honest, or so we’d been told. That, and having gotten so comfortable in Bangkok, we were not acting like very savvy travelers that day.

We spent the entire day in a rather small minivan with about six other passengers, all locals. The road, contrary to what several blogs reported, had a lane in each direction. We had been prepared to stay a night in Myawaddy in case we were there the eastbound day and had to wait for the next day, when traffic went west. (Not sure how I missed it, but I just checked wiki travel and there it is, the two-direction travel started in July 2015). 

  Above: girl with thanaka on face, man with longyi (facing away) on right 

The things that immediately stood out to me that were different from Thailand were: men wearing longyi (traditional men’s skirts), people with thanaka paste on their faces (a 2,000 year old sunscreen), and red splashes on the streets and sidewalks from people chewing and spitting red betel nut juice. 

Above: some more men in longyi, I’m a little obsessed with this because I think they look so cool!

I learned at a Thai museum that the traditional clothing and betel nut chewing were outlawed there when westernization was being encouraged in the early 1900’s. Not so in Myanmar. It felt very exotic.  As time went by, I noticed more subtle things like there are no sellers of tourist paraphenalia such as t-shirts and the ubiquitous elephant-printed pants as we have seen since leaving China. There are no motorbikes like those that crowded the Bangkok streets. People noticed us and smiled as always, but it was slower and we were more likely to have a conversation. 

We arrived at the Yangon bus station and were surprised at the cost to get to Yangon- over $10. One driver told me it was 2 kms, which is not far at all, but it turned out to be a language issue and he meant two hours. Another driver was willing to take us for less, so we went with him, but decided to pay him $20 when realizing our mistake. We hope he gave some money to the first driver. The ride took well over an hour and will always make for a good story because we were regaled with no less than fourteen consecutive videos on the dashboard screen by Pitbull- a kind of torture but oh so funny, too. We were loopy after about 20 straight hours of busses.

So far, we have been in Yangon about six days. We have been working on the complicated process of going to India overland from here. We need Indian visas and a special permit from Myanmar to enter the region that contains the Myanmar-India border crossing. Hopefully I will be writing about a successful crossing in a few weeks! For now, I will note that we registered with the government organization Myanmar Tourist and Travel for the permits, and we used a small company at a storefront near the Indian embassy called EarthLink to help with the India visa process. We could not get an e-visa for India because those only work for airport entry to the country. 

Total cost for the six of us for these documents is approximately $1000- very steep but still cheaper than airfare for us ($3000), and it allows us to see less travelled parts of both countries. As always, we have more time than money and we think and hope we are making the best choice.

Internet is not terrible here but I will put off posting many photos because it really slows my ability to blog. I will add photos later. Thanks for reading! Wish us luck!

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