At this point I was beginning to get used to arriving before the sun greeted the day. Back in Yangon, but only for a minute. Snap decision made with a few days left, we decided to search out the early morning local bus to Bago. First stop on the just determined loop back to Yangon the following night. It was crunch time with our remaining 60 or so hours and we were going to make the most of it.
A couple extra appreciated hours of sleep and before long it was time to stretch the legs. While at the station we grabbed our ticket for later that afternoon and hit the streets. Bago has its charms, but there was one main point of interest for me. The snake monastery, which just so happened to be on the other side of town. Well with 6 hours to wander, my favorite thing to do in a new city, we began hoofing it. In cases like this, decline cabs and tuk tuks, use those long appendages hanging below your ass and walk with no direction and destination. There is no better feeling than being lost because if you have no direction or destination, how can one be lost? Good things are bound to happen even if not viewed that way at first. Although we had a destination and very vague direction, the idea remains.
An hour and a half or so and a couple of wrong/right turns we found the monastery. A small building with a single monk sitting, acting as a guardian. Behind him a 5 meter, 126 year old female python relaxes in utter peace. Believed to be a reincarnation many come here to worship and leave money alongside it. Life of luxury for this lass. Two beds to lounge away the seemingly endless days, a pool for the occasional dip, but most of her time is spent ‘meditating’ behind the monk for hours which turn to days.
Interesting right place, right time moment. On our way back to the bus station through a small village area on the outskirts of Bago, we heard quite a ruckus. We stumbled upon the stage for an episode of Myanmar’s Jerry Springer. There was one large guy trying to control the situation while the other parties continued flailing relentlessly. One lady played shot put with a cinder block sending it through a bamboo thatched wall. Another man attempted jousting a wall with a wooden beam… he lost. It must be a universal feeling to crowd around a fight and watch the debacle unfold. Just about everyone within earshot came for a peak.
Third bus in 24 hours and thankfully only a few hours until arriving in Kyaiktiyo just as darkness was creeping over the land. Primarily known for the ‘Golden Rock’, which is outside of town, Kyaiktiyo itself reminds me of a seasonal beach town in Ontario where I grew up. Set up to thrive for 4-5 months, streets lined with tourist paraphernalia and restaurants. Instead of catering to day trippers and cottagers though it’s the thousands of monks and families. The holiest place in Myanmar, thousands a day make their pilgrimage here during peak season. Being April, the town was noticeably feeling the heat, near deserted yet still hundreds were making the trip the following day with us.
Perched on top of the surrounding mountains, through earthquakes and erosion, this large boulder has remained still. According to legend it is held in place by a single stand of the Buddha’s hair. The best super glue around. A light breakfast and we were packed shoulder to shoulder like cattle to the slaughter. The ascent began. 30-45 minutes of ass pounding steel seats while winding around hundreds of bumpy curves at the usual unnecessary speeds tossing you in and out of your neighbours lap. The smell of vomit some came rushing through my nostrils as a couple locals couldn’t contain the contents of their stomachs resembling dahl as it flowed between the feet of other passengers. It was like an orgy gone wrong. At least it was scenic.
A small village waiting at the top looking like an extension of Kyaiktiyo, but surrounded with 360 degrees of stunning elevated vistas. We make our way opposite where the trucks stop to the esteemed Golden Rock, or close to it anyways. At this point I’ve been living off my credit card and feeling particularly cheap trying to stretch my remaining kyat (dollar). Instead of paying the mandatory fee of a foreigner we scaled a little hill to snag a couple shots from a distance. I had no real motivation to get up close to the rock as for me that’s all it is. What’s more humbling and amazing to me is the countless thousands who make the pilgrimage, poor or rich for their religion and what they believe in. A tremendous sight and no better spot for a place of worship. Close to the skies surrounded by a carpet of lush green.
Final bus back to Yangon, one more night and day. Returning late similar to our arrival in Myanmar, there was only time for dinner. We went back to Chinatown for the huge array of skewers grilled to order. This time without the help of our local friend this now became our most expensive meal in Asia from the street. I guess the market skyrocketed in 11 days, our bills around 40 dollars each somehow. Not in the mood for arguing much, we paid and walked away sore, still hungry and without even a buzz. Can’t win them all.
It’s a new day and our final. Khao soi in the morning to fend off the still unquenched hunger and we wandered slowly in the basic direction of the central train station. To see Yangon from a different perspective, take the ride on the circular rail loop. About 46 kilometers, 39 stations, it takes about 3 hours to come full circle. Cutting through the untraveled areas of the city, it connects smaller villages on the outskirts. It strongly reminded me of my first train ride out of Delhi. Slum housing and garbage lined sections of the tracks, while markets filled bustling stations and some upscale areas can be spotted. The contrast almost confusing. A full view of Yangon’s skin is seen, even though just the outer layer it leaves a powerful mark.
As I took my seat in the DeLorean like plane taking me back to the future, I reflected on the past 12 days I spent trying to get a visual or glimpse even of a whole country. Still a mystery to millions and not initially a thought on this trip, I’m grateful for spontaneity. Exploring unknown wonders, trekking beautifully unique landscapes, gaining an introduction into such a genuine culture and tasting the flavours of a multi-influenced cuisine, Myanmar made me realize all over how much more there is for this world to offer.
Tip: Foreign tourism will soon flock this direction and be on every Southeast Asia itinerary. Don’t just put it on your bucket list, more like a To Do Soon, Real Soon list.
Buy a longyi. Doubtful you’ll actually blend in, but embracing local culture is always appreciated.
Travel in at least a pair. Not for safety, but hostels are still few and splitting the cost of a room is beneficial.