Sometimes when you travel a country, you can feel like you’re being led on a sanitised tourist trail removed from local experiences.
Not so in Myanmar.
When my sister and I decided to travel from Nyaungshwe on the edge of stunning Inle Lake to Kalaw a few hours away, we were not escorted to a tourist bus and driven through enticing towns only to be dropped at our hostel at the other end. Oh no. We had to do it local.
Just beside Mingalar Market is the stop for pick-ups. Drivers lounge in the sheltered trays of their pick-ups, waiting without care for customers. We were warned we may have to wait for the pick-up to fill before departing, but managed to negotiate a private pick-up for just 2,000 kyat each (about $2). We hoisted ourselves inside and sat on barely-cushioned benches, our backpacks sliding between our feet as we made our way to Shwenyaung.
Shwenyaung, or what we saw of it, was an indiscrete town of tin-sheltered shops. We were dropped off by the side of the road here and made our way to one of the shacks which had a picture of a bus on a banner out the front.
After paying up, we sat and waited until another pick-up came by. This one was packed with locals. It screeched to a halt and the conductor – a skinny man who hung off the back – jumped down and threw our backpacks on the roof of the pick-up. There was little room in the pick-up and we squeezed between passengers, knees knocking against hessian sacks and stiff woven plastic bags filled with everyday shopping.
A cool breeze rushed through the back as we wound through a mountainous landscape, peering through the metal bars at the scenery.
At intervals we stopped to pick up more people, the locals passing bags along for new passengers and shuffling closer together to make room on the wooden benches lining the sides. We all became quickly acquainted – physical, that is – but nobody seemed to mind touching buttocks or exchanging body sweat.
At one point, we had some twenty people crammed into a space that in Australia would cater to half that number. Many passengers stood on the tray’s edge and held to the roof, relinquishing the ideal of a valued seat (though the hard wooden bench started to make me see the benefits of having a more fleshy arse). The locals made conversation and shared jackfruit around.
It was only my keen observation that landed us in the hiking town of Kalaw.
After some three hours, I happened to notice that an English word on a shopfront of the town we were cruising through read “Kalaw”. We gestured to stop and the conductor banged the roof of the pick-up.
It halted suddenly, and we clambered over bags and knees and treaded on feet, without a word of rebuke from our smiling fellow passengers. And while it was nice to be able to stretch the limbs once more and massage the behind, I rather found myself hoping for similar rides in the future.
More about Myanmar
There are plenty more travel stories where this one came from. For more inspiration and storytelling about my travels through Myanmar, read them here on the ARoamerTherapy travel blog.