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A long journey from Hsipaw to Mandalay

Our last buffet breakfast was good though there weren't any pancakes, but some rice porridge to bring back memories of Chengdu where we ate more of it. We thanked the staff for feeding us so well over the past few days and packed up our bags to take the earlier, pricier bus to Mandalay. It was a bit sad to leave the guesthouse as we'd spent quite awhile there and it had been such a welcoming place. The bus stop was just down the street and when we got there a man gave us some oranges. A German woman walked around the street describing her trip into her camera and I wondered if it would pick up any decent audio over the noise of the loud trucks driving by.


The bus was nice enough and we stopped two hours into the trip for a break. We weren't terribly hungry so we just bought rice cakes and chips then wandered around. Five or six identical vendors were set up on both sides of the road but most customers stayed on the bus side.

We stopped again in Pwin Oo Lwin, far from Sun Top burgers much to Ryan's chagrin. We were all asked to leave the bus for another half hour to stand in the sun. The stops continued arbitrarily without much reason. At least at first down the winding road, we'd stopped for a reason like for dozens of watermelon trucks, likely heading to China. I read the book of Burmese short stories the whole time and wasn't feeling as restless as Ryan. The book was quite good and I finished it as the sun went down.

Finally, around six or seven, we arrived at the bus station outside of Mandalay, nowhere near the Yoe Toe Lay Guesthouse that we'd booked. With the help of a taxi driver, we found the main rain to catch a shared pickup. The driver had been far less pushy than the dozen who shoved and crowded near the bus door, swarming all the passengers who dared to disembark.

We watched a bunch of trucks go by with not much of a clue as to what we were looking for. When a local man flagged one down, we jumped or crawled on in my case, trying to duck my giant bag under the roof to everyone's amusement, and rode to 35th street. People helped translate for us. The downside was that we ended up at the intersection of 84th and 35th streets and we needed to make it down to 55th or so.

We kept our eyes peeled as we walked for pickup but had no luck. We tried taxis and motorbikes with prices outside our budget. By 77th street, we decided just to walk, even when the motor taxis drove alongside us to barter much fairer prices. Once our minds were set, we went with it. We stopped in a handful of restaurants, some with pages of dishes with the exact same English phrase or expensive ones. At 57th street, I saw a sign for our guesthouse. I double checked our e-mail confirmation and sure enough it was a touch closer than I'd thought. We had to get a little help to find the guesthouse, but eventually we did. They greeted us with juice, water and watermelon, all very appreciated by two tired travelers.

The dorms were decent with our top bunks and the bathrooms were clean. Again, there was someone sleeping at 8 pm so we hung out in the lobby using the wifi. Hunger became an afterthought sometime during our long walk.

Posted by Sarah.M 04:14 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bus mandalay tuktuk station watermelon hsipaw yoe_toe_lay Comments (0)

Journey Hpa An to Bagan

Buses and late nights

Our bus to Yangon left at a reasonable time of 9 a.m. and left us enough time for a bakery breakfast of tasty carrot cake, cheese cake, puri and potato curry, and banana pancakes. The whole feast was less than three dollars. We also managed to book a cheap flight from Perth to Bali in May on a great sale from Air Asia, just over $50 a ticket. Sometimes it paid off to be on their e-mail list. Ryan was quite pumped since it now felt like Australia was really going to happen. We didn't have time to book any of our more current Asia tickets, but the big one was out of the way.

At the bus stop, we waited and watched half a dozen buses go by that weren't ours. A French woman came to talk to us for a bit in very basic French. She found Myanmar a bit expensive especially the guesthouses. Her bus to Bago left before ours. Finally ours came, nearly empty and curtains closed. Not bad for 5,000 kyat considering it came with free water. I laid out my sandals to dry as I had decided to wash them last night. I'd have to be careful to grab them when I left.

The bus ride went by fast and by four or so we were in Yangon. As the taxi drivers fought for our destination, we managed to attract the attention of someone who could sell us tickets through to Bagan. The first bus only had one seat, but there was another company they called for us. One of the guys even walked us over to the bus station past the regular bus stalls. As it turned out, the food was out there too. We relaxed after the hot walk until I realized that I couldn't find my sandals. They must have still been on the bus.

I grabbed our old tickets and took off sprinting. People seemed more determined to ask me to buy tickets this time. I sailed past taxis, clothing vendors, briyani restaurants and fruit stalls before turning into the main bus station area. I prepared to ask someone, but spotted the same white bus with a blue stripe and ran toward it. There was a pair of flip flops at the door meaning that someone was cleaning and I could ask for my shoes. Then my now dry sandals caught my eye. I picked them up and examined the familiar tears and wear that confirmed they were indeed mine. I was quite lucky. It could have been a costly shoe wash.

We had to try a few places to find vegetarian meals for supper. Two orders of fries and fried vegetables filled our uneasy stomachs before the ride. On the bus, we got a water and comfort kit to add to our collection of Burmese toothbrushes and wet naps.

Along the way, we stopped at a neon lit strip off the fancy highway in the middle of nowhere. For Myanmar, it felt wildly out of place, like it would more likely fit in near Vegas. I had popcorn so gross that even the dogs wouldn't touch it. Ryan had made a wiser choice and had banana cake.


At around 3:30 a.m. we arrived in, or more accurately outside, Nyaung-U, the main town area of Bagan. I hadn't anticipated this as last time the bus stop dropped us right in the middle of town, close enough to walk. Now we had a supposed 20 kilometers to cover to get into town. The taxi driver started quoting 15,000 kyat. We told him it was far too high and that we'd walk instead. He began to ask us what price we wanted to pay. 3:30 in the morning wasn't ideal bartering or brain activity time so walking free of hassling drivers seemed like an appealing option. After all, we didn't have a hotel booked until the afternoon as we'd assumed the bus would arrive at a better time. We had little else to do if we weren't walking.

The driver dropped the price to 10,000 kyat but we started our walk to the city. He followed us to give us the 3,000 each (according to a site online 1,500 to 2,000 is the average price) and we finally broke and gave in. He had us wait for 15 minutes to see if we were impatient enough to pay the 10,000 to go right now. After that he bumped our price to 7,000 collectively which we agreed to. We jumped in the back of a truck with bamboo mats as seats and held on for the short ride into town. Definitely not 20 kilometers.

The driver who was different than the bartering middle man was quite happy with the 7,000 which made us feel better after paying another $20 admission into the region. We'd expected that one, but it most of that money went to the corrupt government. At least the inflated taxi fare would help out a few local people.

At Winner Guesthouse, the owner had waited up for us. Unlike last time, where I had the pleasure of crashing on a mattress in the lobby when all the rooms were full, we were able to get into our room early for 50% off the normal price. If we hadn't already paid so many fees and tickets we may have said great we'll take it. Instead we hummed and hawed, contemplated sleeping outside on the lawn furniture (not uncommon with the silly bus times in Asia) then watching sunrise. In the end, we paid for the room. They gave us an extra large one with a third bed.

We slept in since biking to sunrise grew unappealing compared to the softness of the bed and few hours of sleep we'd gotten. The breakfast was small given the price of the room: one egg, 2 toasts, watermelon and tea or coffee. We found bikes with good gears and decent looking tires. Since I was still feeling cheap and unsatisfied with our hotel, we took off into town in search of better value.

Soon the $45 rooms were making ours look like a bargain until we found Shwe Na Di which had rooms with a fridge, air conditioning, and hot water for $25. We'd only save $5 a night, but over two nights that was $10 and it could go a long way out here. Plus breakfast could be better. The only problem was that we forgot money for our deposit so Ryan biked back to drop it off while I tackled more laundry.

Posted by Sarah.M 19:57 Archived in Myanmar Tagged bus bagan highway yangon nyuang_u late_arrival Comments (0)

Buses and Lost Cash in Bangkok

At 7:30, we checked out and headed for the bus stop to find out that buses left every hour on the half hour so we'd just missed one. I ran to get us some 7-11 breakfast pastries and a ham and cheese that I later found out Ryan was slowly growing sick of. It was good we were there early as the van was quite full. We sat in the front row to make sure our bags didn't take up seats this time. Another French backpacker joined our row soon after.

The journey was standard with one bus station stop between us and the destination. In Ubon, we headed to the only bus there en route to Bangkok and snagged spacious front row tickets. They played Hollywood movies in Thai during the drive: Transformers 1 and 3, Escape Plan then a Thai comedy game show where the contestants would be attacked by water, whipped cream or projectiles while trying to complete tasks like describing an object for the other to guess it or Pictionary where the other team got to modify the original drawing. They also wore ridiculous and colourful costumes during the skits.


We didn't get a lunch break, but I bought some BBQ eggs with seasoning at one of the bus stops. Supper was at a stop where I got shuffled around the food line due to communication issues. All I wanted was plain rice and a fried egg, both at different stalls apparently. We also bought some pretty awful mango. When we went outside, our bus was missing, but some people confirmed they were also on the Ubon to Bangkok bus. The buses seemed to be driving off to get a bus-wash nearby and sure enough ours came back.

Around Khao Yai area, it was nine thirty at night so I called the guesthouse we'd booked just to confirm we could check in at such a late hour. The guy had no issues with it and gave us directions. Traffic continued to be quite slow.

We arrived in Bangkok around 11 pm, and lined up with the Thais for a meter taxi (not one of the ones where the English speaking drivers approach you) to Sarawak road until we got near the address number. We got a little lost on foot after but a security guard walked us to the guesthouse and we were able to check in.

Once we arrived in our room, we counted our money and realized that we were short 1000 baht. As we recalled, Ryan had went to pay with 2000 baht. The receptionist asked for change and kept one of the thousands, then when we gave him the change amount we also included the other thousand. Ryan went down to talk to him about it and he double checked the books and denied that it had happened.

We did tallied up our expenses again, thinking we'd made the mistake, but down to every last piece of fruit we bought and a few hundred baht flex room in case we forgot something, we couldn't account for the missing thousand since our last bank withdrawal. It was too bad really, for an extra 1000 baht ($33), we could have gotten a much nicer room that didn't have filthy shared bathrooms. I was starting to see how people could not enjoy their time in the city I had enjoyed calling home two years ago.

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Happy Easter, little by little we'll catch up with this blog. If you want to get updates by e-mail when we post a new part (since we're pretty inconsistent) just subscribe.

Posted by Sarah.M 21:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged taxi bus bangkok hostel transfer Comments (0)

Khong Chiam

Buses and motorbikes


After getting ready and hurrying to the front desk, we relaxed hearing the news that buses to Khong Chiam left every half hour. We went for an early lunch to use the better wifi and eat more fried rice, not so spicy like the first time. We'd be quite delighted when other options came our way.

The New Year's fair was still on, making the walk to find a cab much longer and more challenging. We walked past a lot of stalls outside the park selling woodworking and fancy outdoor furniture. The beginning of the market seemed like an ideal place to find a vacant cab, but still no success. We settled on a tuktuk who got us there for 80 baht and were grateful for the breeze.

Getting tickets for the bus caused some confusion as we thought 1330 was the price and not the time as the man had intended to communicate. The tickets worked out to 80 baht each, same price as the tuktuk but a much longer voyage. Eating tasty fruit from the vendors helped pass the time.

In the van our bags took up quite a bit of space since they didn't have a luggage storage area. We felt bad and really should have stacked them so people wouldn't have been so squished. Luckily the crowdedness didn't last too long.

Khong Chiam was small and easy to figure out with Google maps. There were some convenience stores on the main street too. Since Agoda's map were pretty unhelpful, we still needed directions from the friendly police playing cards outside the station and who called out "Hello!". It was just down the road.

A friendly older man greeted us at the yellow Sibae guesthouse. He asked us to pick a room, but when we inspected them closer, the only option cleaned and ready at that time was the corner one of the second floor. He told us that it got pretty hot during the day. At least it came with air conditioning and a fridge. He also let us know the transportation options for seeing Pha Taem National Park, motorbike or a tuktuk driver for double the price.

We wandered down by the river walk and picked up snacks and water. Afterward, we struggled to find the steak restaurant he spoke of to rent a bike so we went back to get directions again. The Apple guesthouse that used to rent bikes according to the web, no longer did so and there was only the steak restaurant.

We found the restaurant and they showed us the bikes also saying there weren't many left and that it was better to rent it that night. We had supper there to think it over. Mine was 'fried rice no animal' as Ryan had figured out the least confusing way to order vegetarian food in Thailand, and pork and rice for him. We decided to get the bike and Ryan would have time to practise driving it down the quiet streets in town. The woman assured us they were easy to drive, young girls could do it, and the roads were pretty quiet. She gave us helmets and a mobile number in case anything happened too. Ryan had some fun driving the bike around town once had got the hang of the balance.


By the riverside, part of a little island was lit up with animal light figures. Another section on the bank had Thai writing and dragon to celebrate the New Year. The temperature finally cooled a bit too.


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Double post today in an effort to catch up. Be sure to check out the Exploring temples of Ubon Ratchathani post if you haven't already.

Posted by Sarah.M 20:41 Archived in Thailand Tagged park rental bus national bike khong pha taem chiam Comments (0)

Holiday Bus Travels

semi-overcast 28 °C

Our mission for the day was to get to Ubon Ratchatani and we arrived at the station to catch the 9:30 bus. It was unfortunately full. Christmas wasn't really a big deal, but New Years was a cause to celebrate in Thailand, meaning everyone was trying to get back to their families. We asked about tickets and the official information was to get our tickets on the bus itself. Another man came to try and buy tickets from him, but we declined as we thought it may be a scam. We waited it out.

At 10:15 another bus came. People asked or told us to get on the board so we did. The Thai vendor came running and yelling at us. I stayed with our bags near the bus in case there weren't seats while Ryan dealt with him. He'd been quite condescending but sold Ryan the tickets. When we boarded there weren't any seats, so Ryan ran back to try and get tickets for the next one. The guy threw his hands up and walked away, clearly not his problem anymore.

The driver pulled out plastic stools for us and the other Thai passengers who had purchased oversold seats. The same thing had happened to me in Malaysia a few years earlier so I wasn't too surprised. Once enough people left, we'd take their seats. This was technically the VIP bus, a private company so unlike the local bus (where you bought the tickets inside) they didn't say they were full, they just created more seats. Ryan was still pretty upset and wanted to punch the vendor.

After an hour and a half of hanging onto the backs of seats, handles and armrests, we got one of the big seats, larger than the average just so they could charge a high price per ticket and overfill the bus anyway. We even got to sit together later as the other passengers reached their destinations.

In Ubon, we took a tuktuk straight to Sri Isan Hotel. It had an actual lobby, unlike most of the budget places we stay, with couches, tables and lounging areas. We were led up to the second floor to our snazzy room which came with a couch, desk, hair dryer, kettle, fridge, TV and even free water in glass bottles. Weren't we special, usually our budget rooms didn't come with such luxury. It would be a nice place to spend the new year.


We went to the market to eat, passing a neat park in the process with a big track filled with joggers and runners. It gave me a good feeling to see so many active individuals engaging in basketball, running, and aerobics. There was a big gold statue area in the middle of the big park that we'd explore later. We passed the city shrine temple with animal statues in front of the white, gold and red building.


For supper, we found Vietnamese baguette sandwiches which were crunchy and a touch bland, but vegetarian friendly for me. Ryan tried some fried chicken and I had some taro dumplings. Back at the room, I managed to get my belated Christmas Skype in with a decent connection.

Posted by Sarah.M 21:01 Archived in Thailand Tagged temple bus market thailand ubon ratchatani overcrowded Comments (0)

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