If only I could say “stop!” while our mini-bus rode through the rolling terrain of Kalaw State at the break of dawn. I wanted to halt the mini-bus not because my legs and feet remained immobile for hours. My legs were cramped in a corner, just behind the front seats of a full, air-cooled mini-bus headed to Inle Lake, but the scenery at Kalaw state and the rest of the Shan hills vast expanse were draped in a mysterious mist billowing overland. The morning sun cast beams of light in the mist resulting to a dramatic diffusion of light and shadows over the hilly plateau. It was one of the most magnificent sights I’ve seen on the road.
I left Pyin U Lwin past noon via a pick-up. This was another popular mode of transpo in Myanmar where pick-ups have seats at the back. They are cheap, faster than the train between Mandalay and Pyin U Lwin and are usually very full, but since this was the origin of the pick-ups I got a seat at the front near the driver for an extra kyat. The 2 hours plus journey only cost 1500 kyat and at the front is 2000 kyat. The usual stop in Mandalay was at the 84th street corner 5th street.
Immediately I was whisked away on a motorbike to the Highway Bus Station, the main bus station for long distance buses in Mandalay. It was quite far from the city center but I found it more organized than the ones in Yangon. As expected, since there was an upcoming festival in Taunggyi all the Aircon Buses were full. My motorcycle driver helped me looked for some mini-non airconditioned bus and found 1 with a good schedule. I gave him a little tip then I realized he got a commission from the bus company too. The fare was so close to a regular aircon bus at 10,000 kyat.
It was the most gruelling ride for me in Myanmar so far, since I was seated adjacent the bus door and my legs were cooped up in a small space with minimal movement. I saw the long seat in front of me also packed with locals and I pity the family in front whose dad was obviously having a hard time as well. Our bus left at 6:30pm and revelled every time the bus stops as I could go down and walk around. The guy I noticed just moved to a monobloc chair by the door.
I only managed to snatch a few short sleep and my neck got stiff as there was really no head support on my seat. And as the sun was shining and we’re passing through the beautiful scenery at Kalaw State, I was hopeful the journey would end soon. And suddenly, probably due to my exhaustion, I missed my stop at Nyaunshwe. I was hoping the bus would head straight to Taunggyi so I could catch a pick-up there to Inle Lake but it turned out the roads were closed for the Balloon Festival. Other passengers were arguing with the driver that they should go straight and were unmindful of my problem. Besides they couldn’t understand me.
I did manage to get a motorbike at that town and as we head to Inle Lake, my driver kept pointing a lot of vehicles and buses heading to Taunggyi for the festival. Wow! I never expected it would be like this. It was indeed a long drive and the worst is yet to come. When we reached my preferred lodging, I learned it was full. We drove by each accommodation we could find and all of them were full. I was tired and already losing hope. That is until we reached Aung Mingalar Hotel and met the kind lady Aye Thwe.
I had to pay my driver a large sum of 10,000 kyat already since he took me around town. I felt my pocket burn at this loss. Aye Thwe helped me by calling all the hotels she knows but it was hopeless. I immediately knew I had to leave the place. She checked with the bus stations since the hotel can book tickets. We learned that the next bus out of Inle Lake would be in the next 3 days. Now my problem got deeper, how to get out of this place. I asked if any bus would leave for Mandalay that day and thank god she found a seat on a bus for the evening. Finally I felt at ease.
Aye Thwe also allowed me to leave my bag at the reception and also use the toilet and bathroom facilities used by their helps and drivers at the time I was there. I know this would be a very short stay in Inle Lake but I was really grateful for the help I found here and especially of Aye Thwe. I washed up and got ready to explore Inle Lake with the little hours I have. My bus back to Mandalay would be leaving at 7pm.
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.