The VIP bus cost about three dollars more than the regular bus. The upgrade meant reclining seats and air conditioning. We decided to splurge for these amenities. I planned out my trip with one of my friends who had been to Myanmar before and I wanted to overnight bus to each new city because its like time travel; you go to bed in one place and wake up in another. Luckily Becky and Sarena were smarter than me and were completely against this idea because of how terrible anything red eyeish is so we only took one over night bus. Thank god.
After taking a dip with our English friends at the hot springs earlier in the day we were really pumped for the overnight bus. When we told them we were fancy travelers and had “upgraded” to VIP they then told us what those busses were like. Their exact words were the seats are like “business class plane seats” and they recline back and have a feet rest; one side of the bus has a row of one seats and the other side there were rows of two. The only advice they gave us was to bring a sweatshirt because the AC is turned up full blast. We actually became excited for the ride.
Also another thing that Sarah had suggested was a boat ride from Mandalay down to Bagan on the Irrawaddy River. It was a 12 hour trip but she said it was a great way to see even more of the country and on a different means of transportation. She said you can lay out in lawn chairs all day so it can be a forced relaxing day where we get some sunshine, catch up on some lost nap time, and see more of Myanmar.
So when we got picked up at 5 pm for our 8 pm bus we had quite the adventure ahead of us; two hours waiting at the bus station, eight hour bus ride, two hour wait time in Mandalay, then 12 hour boat ride.
The first picture on the left below is the bus stop aka the side of the road and we were dropped off at 5:30 pm and waited for our bus. The first hour I was ok and pleasant but then after the sunset and I had to use the bathroom things went south. It was a squat toilet in a shed in the back of one of the shops. I struggle with the squat toilets and it was dark so I was trying to use my phones flash light and support myself on the walls and at one point I thought the shed was going to fall over with me in it. I also may have splashed pee on my face at some point, but I won’t share those details of how that happened. It was rough to say the least.
As we sat there and watched bus after bus after bus pick up people I started to get nervous that we were going to miss our bus, so I started going up to each bus and asking. Most of the buses were headed to Yangon. With the buses that came and went we saw the VIP style buses so there was a bit of excitement still left in us.
At 8 pm a very non VIP but old regular bus pulled up and it was ours. I told the guy that we were on the VIP bus but he had a list and our names were on it—this was our ride.
We put our backpacks under the bus with what looked like cargo and climbed on board. Becky and Sarena sat behind me and I took the aisle seat next to a lady. We looked around and we were on the only foreigners on the bus. The seats did recline and there was air condition so maybe this is the VIP bus for this route? This was the only bus in the three hours we had been there that was going to Mandalay so maybe this isn’t a popular enough rough to have the fancy VIP buses? These were our thoughts. We settled in and I took out our meal replacement bars that I had purchased for this specific situation. Let me tell you Texas BBQ, Greek, and Coconut Curry bars were not good. We decided to make the best of the situation and move forward and all prepped for bed; Becky popped a Ambien and we all put on our eye masks to sleep.
Within two minutes I realized that I was in a third world country and the roads are very underdeveloped. We almost hit a person crossing the street and it became apparent why there was a middle guy who sat down by the driver to also keep a look out, and it was very bumpy and windy roads. I was not going to be able to fall asleep as easily as I planned. They were playing music videos, another VIP bus aspect I’m assuming. About 30 minutes into the ride it also became apparent why all of us had clear baggies on the handle in front of us—barf bags. The lady in front of us started barfing and openedthe window next to the lady next to me to throw it out. In case you missed it before the baggies were clear. I sat there thinking I wanted a travel situation that really challenged me and this was definitely it. I took a deep plugged nose breath and then put my head phones in, readjusted my head pillow, and pulled down my eye mask. I woke up because of a turn and saw that now the front door was wide open and the AC was off. I was dripping in sweat.
I fell in and out of sleep till we made our first stop at a rest stop area where people could go to the bathroom and get food. Everyone got off the bus and people went up to a wall that was lining the parking lot and vomited. We decided that since cars are not common in Myanmar people were not used to the motion and were motion sick.
We continued on and had one more stop where once again we didn’t get off. We arrived into Mandalay at another “bus station” which was basically a large parking lot at about 4 am. We were so drowsy and confused we couldn’t tell if this was the actual stop or just a place where some people were getting off. I went and asked the main guy and he said yes this is Mandalay so we collected our things and got off the bus to grab our bags.
It was crazy. There were about 15 men standing there shouting asking if we wanted a cab. We put on our backpacks and moved away from the crowd and collected our thoughts. We didn’t know how much a cab would cost so we just went with someone who we thought we could trust and walked up to them and said we need a cab to the boat. Once we were in the cab we got talked into going to to U Bein Bridge which crosses the Taungthaman Lake. It is the oldest and longest teak wood bridge in the world stretching about 120 meters across the lake and is used by the locals daily. On our way to the bridge we passed through the daily market where someone must have been trying to sell or just move cattle but there were about 10 cows in the road and they got so close to us one pooped on my door. Part of what sold us on the bridge visit was that we could see the sunrise. We decided this was a better idea than sitting in the dark at the dock for the boat for two hours that we had just past and confirmed was closed. We got dropped of and sat on the bench. We had to go to the bathroom so bad and there are no bathrooms anywhere so we peed off the bridge. We then sat there for about an hour waiting for the sun. It never came up and started to rain so we left. Yep we got scammed. Becky and I really were good at falling for these situation but we still decided that was a better option than sitting at the dock.
We got on the boat and found our chairs and passed out. Unfortunately this day was the only day that we experienced rain the entire day, so our relaxing fun in the sun time did not happen. We did though nap on and off and were able to relax in our lawn chairs under the covered part of the boat. It was very calming and by 1 pm we were ready to drink and laugh again about our experience.
I can remember every part of that night like it was yesterday and don’t think that will ever change. Like I said I was looking for a travel situation that really challenged me, be careful what you wish for.
Tip: You have to pay about a $20 entrance fee coming into Bagan so be prepared with cash. They do not have ATMS.
During our wait we caught this incredible sunset!
On the U Bein Bridge
Arriving in Bagan!