I was already prepared for the worst for the 10+ hours Bus journey to Bagan from Yangon. Oh I’ve read so many horror stories of old buses breaking down, air-conditioning giving up mid-way the journey or even some bumpy roads that would shake you up awake. But, fortunate to say, it wasn’t even that close. Changes here were for the better and the journey was much more comfortable and easier than I expected. I guess it was too comfortable that I had to push my seatmate, who’s sleeping like oil, a few times as he constantly leans on my side of the seat.
Buying my bus ticket to Bagan was one of the first things I did when I arrived. The ticket to Bagan cost 15,000 kyat. It was convenient that Motherland Inn II was able to secure a ticket and a preferred seat by the window in the middle of the bus because as I found out, Aung Mingalar Bus Station was long way out near the borders of the city about 45 minutes or so from the centre. No wonder the taxi rate was so high.
The bus company I got was Ye Thu Aung which my taxi driver said was one of the better bus companies there. He also had to know the name because Aung Mingalar Bus Stations was a huge dusty complex where a large number of bus companies operate. It seemed chaotic and overwhelming at first seeing all the buses, signage and peddlers selling just about any goods from bubble gums, candy, chips, posters and even pocket books.
At the Ye Thu Aung office, I waited at their passenger area which looked more like a garage. As the departure time drew near, a lady staff checked our tickets and passport details for foreigners as there are checkpoints along the way. A young Burmese girl who speaks good English was conversing with a group of foreigner behind me and we learned that foreigners like us have to pay premium for the buses. The locals only paid 1/3 of the price on the same bus.
The bus itself was large with each seats having very spacious leg room. On our front pockets there’s a complimentary bottle of water, a travel kit set with a toothbrush and toothpaste and a sheet of wet wipes. A small plastic bag which I thought at first was for throwing up but it was for the betel nut spit. Each seat also has a small pillow. Before they let us in the bus, they bus staff first had a very short rite of lighting an incense and tying up some leaves on the wind shield wipers which they believe would keep our journeys safe. We left the station exactly 5:30pm.
As I could pass as I Burmese, my young seatmate asked in Burmese and I told him only I only understand English. He was polite and did try to converse with me with his broken English with a lot of pauses, probably thinking of the right words to say. The sliding projections of the temples on the LCD screen also helped get his point out. I learned he’s heading to Mt. Popa as he works and lives there. Occasionally he would chew on his betel nut and when Shwedagon Stupa appears on a few occasions, he would join his palms and nod to pay respect. But most of the time he would be deep in slumber.
By 8pm, we pulled off from the main highway and stopped on a complex of eateries called Bus Food Stop. I actually was surprised to see this complex of modern eateries much like the gas station food stops along our highways, as I was expecting a country type hut eateries. There’s a line of good restaurants serving different dishes from Indians and Myanmar cuisines. I even had a very tasty goreng rice and chicken at the Indian restaurant there for only 1,800 kyat. The restrooms in the area were also clean. By 8:45pm, we moved on.
I never noticed any rough roads we passed by only a few noticeable towns. On the screen where some whacky local series being played until they re-run some tourist site slideshows again till midnight. By 1:30pm we had our short CR break at a tea shop. My seat mate already alighted here and it turns out he works on that tea place. We were already at Mt Popa, Bagan.
By 3pm we already reached Nyaung U, the budget heart of Bagan and where most of the transportation connects. Our bus was the only one there on a modest open station by the street. I hired a horse cart for 2000 kyat with a very enthusiastic driver already soft-selling his service for a sunrise tour to the temples. But I was still hazy and sleepy to absorb all the details he was telling me and just wanted to reach my lodging on that ungodly hour.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.