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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.

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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)

The road to Jiuzhaigou

sunny 15 °C

A decent bus ride away from Chengdu was the picturesque Jiuzhaigou National Park that Ryan had seen on the documentary Wild China. When we realized how close it was to us, only ten hours by bus, we booked tickets and set off on our journey.

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It wasn't that easy though to get to the station that morning. The local bus to the metro took much longer than we anticipated. The washrooms at the metro used the worst cueing system for their co-ed washrooms and I got cut twice even though I was at the front of the line so I gave up and ran back to buy the tokens. The ride seemed to take forever as anything did when you cut it that close.

Once we got off at the metro, we conveniently used the wrong exit based on my intuition and ended up at the local bus terminal instead of the long distance. We ran down the road and across a parking lot to finally reach the right spot with seven or eight minutes to spare. There was finally a washroom as well with a much shorter line-up. I even managed to board the bus before it started to drive away this time.

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The drive itself was quite remarkable when we weren't going through tunnel after tunnel and I silently hoped there wouldn't be an earthquake. The architecture in the villages changed from the traditional Chinese mixed with modern that we had seen so far. Buildings in the mountains became more rectangular in nature and the roofs had right angle triangles at the corner, almost like a castle. Some homes were white and had a design in brown or red painted on near the roof.

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We neared Tibet and this was as close as we were going to get without needing a permit. It showed in the colourful flags that climbed the hillsides or descended from the tops of the white and gold stupas in town. There were dome structures as well as fluffy yaks tied up for tourist photos.
The towns closer to the park featured dark brick buildings with flat roofs that made us feel like we'd entered a town from the middle ages. There were even watchtowers. It would have been worth it to find a tour, bus or drive on our own so we could stop and visit a few more of the towns to explore.

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We did stop for lunch where I was blown away by the selection for vegetarians: crispy tofu, eggplant in tasty sauce, fries, garlic cucumber, bean sprouts with noodles and the only one I didn't care for was the vegetable with cilantro. Since it was buffet style, I tried them all. I had to eat quickly since I spent half the time taking pictures since I assumed they'd have little for me to consume. They had meat fare as well, but I enjoyed my veggie heaven. Ryan had a few bites but still wasn't feeling a hundred percent.

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The bus stopped at random places and tried to let us off early. We declined since we needed the bus station as our landmark to find our way. Our brains wouldn't be flexible. Another passenger helped us get off at the right place and after 20 minutes of walking uphill with our bags (perhaps getting off early wouldn't have been the worst thing) we found the Angeline Hotel.

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We had booked it online and judging by the prices they had posted in their lobby, serious bargaining was required to get from their posted 600 for a double room to the 160 we were paying for it. It seemed nice with a chandelier and Tibet-style flags coming down from the fourth floor. All the reviews had ranted about the chilly dorms on the roofs so we spent a little more reserving a double room inside the building which had heat, a hot shower and was reasonably nice. It even had a plug in the sink to get laundry done. We couldn't ask for much more, except maybe a more vegetarian supper. It wasn't not too fun picking the meat out of my noodle dish, especially when its tiny and shredded.

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Posted by Sarah.M 15:03 Archived in China Tagged food park village national highway long drive sichuan vegetarian jiuzhaigou medival Comments (0)

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