Travel in Burma, 11 hours overland on a Burmese Bus from Yangon to Bagan
The story of Buses & Breakdowns in Burma…
We boarded the 07:30am bus to Bagan at the downright confusing Yangon bus station. Our local driver dropped us off at the designated area, the maze like roads merging together with hundreds of buses crammed in over a vast area. To be honest without the driver’s knowledge, I have no idea how we would have found our transport without facing a lot of confusion and stress.
Being half an hour early for our departure time, the waiting room was already heaving with fellow passengers, luggage and boxes filled the room and with no spare seats in sight, J and I huddled in the corner, keeping out of the way of the chaos surrounding us.
We were ushered onto the bus on time and with our tickets checked and our names written down onto the drivers list and the luggage loaded, we were off.
All was going well when I thought it was safe to crack out my kindle and settle down in my seat, with a cushion and bottles of water provided, It seemed we were in for a fairly comfortable drive.
Just half an hour in, a suspicious noise emitted from the bowels of the bus and seconds later we were pulling over to the side of the road. With what we assumed was a snapped alternator belt, it looked like we wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while.
As we all piled off the bus to await next instruction, the majority of our north bound companions automatically assumed the squat position on the roadside dirt without a word of complaint, obviously used to and tolerantly accepting of the perils of Burmese bus travel.
Following suit we stood and waited patiently, amusing ourselves with our tales of previous disastrous bus journeys in various parts of the world. As some people may know, I have a particular dislike for buses.
Humorously, despite the newly formed crowd of an estimated 60 stranded passengers , a local woman bathed herself from the well, pumping water vigorously from the pipe into her bowl which she splashed with rigor over her cumbersome frame, with just a thin cloth wrapped precariously, concealing her naked flesh underneath.
Thankfully we hadn’t traveled too far out of the city for a replacement bus to be readily sent to the rescue and after hour by the roadside our new ride pulled up, less shiny and more cramped, yet our bus all the same with a working alternator. Once we were all back in our designated seats, with no complimentary cushion this time, the journey to Bagan was back on.
I watched out of the window at the countryside passing me by. I saw seemingly simple and uncluttered lives lead by the inhabitants of the rural villages, little communities miles from anything substantial yet surviving. Children running alongside their parents as the elders tended to the land, the adults passing on their knowledge to the next generation. Buffalo’s and cattle grazing as chickens roamed free underneath the stilted wooden houses. It all seemed so very peaceful in a country so ravaged by bad memories and repression not so long ago.
Golden stupas glinted in the light of the setting sun as we neared our destination, apart from the glitch at the start the rest of the journey was relatively uneventful, the roads were well paved and quiet and there were no scary moments or dangerous driving like the bus rides in India.
We pulled into the small and dusty station in Nung Oo at around 6:30pm, 2 hours later than planned. The family we were staying with in Yangon had arranged for a driver to pick us up from the station and he was dutifully waiting for us when we got off the bus, ready to take us to the Shwe Nadi Guest House, our pre booked accommodation.
I had heard good things about the area and seen many dreamy looking images of Old Bagan, hundreds of temple spires set against an orange backdrop of the setting sun.
I was excited to be there and with it being Irma’s first time out of Yangon, she was filled with anticipation of what the rest of her country looked like. That was the main reason we took a day bus, so that we could take in the scenic journey and see a bit more of the land.
After a 5:30am start to the day, we were all feeling a bit weary by the time we got to our hotel bedrooms, but we headed straight out again to a restaurant to re fuel our bodies and plan our next couple of days in the yet unseen and curious Bagan. It finally felt like we were traveling independently for the first time in Burma.
Feeling unsure of what would unfold over the next few days.
That night as we rested on firm mattresses I allowed my thoughts to wonder, suddenly feeling happy and content with the choices we had made that had led us on this adventure. That was my last memory before the soft hum of the air conditioner sent me to sleep…
Our Bus to Bagan:
Cost: The cost of our bus ticket to Bagan from Yangon was 15,000 kyat each for a return. 15,000 kyat = $18USD
A considerably big difference to the $250 each we were quoted for a flight.
Travel time: 11 hours. The 7:30am bus left Yangon at 8am and we got off the bus in Nung Oo at 6:30pm. We were told it would take 9 hours but with the problems with the bus at the start, our journey was held up. Always allow longer for overland travel trips and plan for unexpected delays.
Tips for bus travel in Burma:
1. Patience, buses tend to breakdown. A lot. The breakdown at the beginning of the journey was not the only one, on our return we stopped at a local restaurant, only for the bus to fail to turn back on. A 45 min wait ensued while they fiddled around, eventually replacing the battery.
2. Take a guide with you at the Yangon bus station or ask a local/taxi driver to communicate with the people at the station parking grounds. The place was huge and there was no real direction or signs as to where your bus will be. You will need to find the location of your bus company you are traveling with, but they tend to move, and aren’t always where they should be.
3. Take earplugs with you if you don’t want to listen to Burmese films and music videos throughout your journey.
4. Don’t be late getting back to the bus after a rest stop, they will leave without you. Our bus almost went without us at the 1st lunch stop, we got back to the bus only to find the doors shut and it reversing out of the space. We weren’t late either.
5. Don’t consume too many liquids – the toilet break on the journey back to Yangon was a large field – all the men rushed out, while the ladies watched them through the window with our legs crossed!
6. Be prepared before getting off the bus in a new location. At the end of the journey, you will be approached by lots of drivers/hotels/touts, all wanting to take you somewhere, so it’s best to know where you’re going and have a plan of action before you face the throng of persistent hustlers that will await you.
The Bus company we used from Yangon to Bagan return was called Mandalar Minn Express
Website Contact Form: www.mandalarminn.com.mm
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