Around four in the afternoon businesses open on the streets and sidewalks. In addition to buying food, you can get your shoes repaired, loudspeakers refurbished, custom sewing jobs, electronic components that have been extracted with a small sledge hammer, radios and tapes. End your day with a perfectly prepaired betel nut.
We were in a bit of a rush catching our train this afternoon. They are not so easy to find in Bagan as drivers purchase the rationed petrol by the bottle (see 2nd picture for typical gas station). We got a little worried about making it to our destination seeing the fear in the driver’s eyes and the way he clutched the steering wheel when as we reached our top speed of 35 km/h. A couple of mopeds passed us on the way but we made it to the station just in time. The look of relief on the driver’s face about matched ours.
Bagan eventually came to an end at the hands of the Mongols. Details vary but what remains of a city the size of Manhattan are only the temples. For a long while spirits by the name Nat, took over and mainly bandits dared to live between the temples. Today villagers work fields where houses stood and the occasional traveler stumbles by.
Some 1100 years ago Cranky’s ancestors were still hunting wild boar with rocks. The people of Bagan were busy baking bricks to build more than 4000 temples.
Taking the train to [Unnamed Ancient Kingdom] is an unforgettable experience. The train slices through markets, runs a few feet from thatched roof huts and rumbles and bucks back in time. The train track is so uneven, we spend half the time suspended in weightlessness and wonder how the cars don’t get derailed. As the distance to the city increased the scenery changes to water buffalo dragging plows, oxen pulling carts and farmers working fields of rice and other crops.
Like volleyball, using your feet instead of hands. Prior experience in kick-boxing should help.
1) Spend three days looking for the most crisp US dollar notes you can find in Malaysia.
2) Exchange your US dollar traveler’s checks into Ringgit and Ringgit back into said US dollar notes.
3) Once in Myanmar carefully iron your dollar bills to take out any wrinkles as they are made from cotton but don’t have a care label.
4) Talk to a certain recommended travel agent.
5) Go to the good friend of the travel agent, the respected station master.
6) The helpful station master sends you behind the counter with the ticket master.
7) The ticket master realizes that you don’t want to leave today, so he directs you to the official travel office because only they can issue a ticket for tomorrow.
8) The official travel office is not where the map thinks it is, but the other travel office next to where it should be, sends you to the building across the park.
9) You go around the park because crossing the park requires a fee for foreign visitors.
10) At the official travel office, which has very friendly staff in spite of what you read in your travel guide, you get a hand-drawn map showing you that there is a ticket office behind the train station.
11) At the the ticket office, locate the right window from about twenty-five (25) options carefully labeled with letters that you can’t read. You will choose the wrong window at least three times. Each time a clerk will dribble out part of their bright red wad of betel nut as you are directed in the general direction of your next incorrect choice.
12) Explain your choice of ticket to the clerk while fending off an annoying tout offering unsolicited advice.
13) Convince clerk that your carefully ironed dollar bills are legal tender.
14) Clerk will go to supervisor to have your carefully ironed dollar bills refused.
15) Wander the streets in search of Indian money changer who was offering his services when you walked to the train station.
16) You will not find him but run into the annoying tout. Tell him you didn’t get the ticket because your dollar bills were not accepted.
17) Annoying tout turns into helpful fixer and takes you to a friend who can exchange good dollar bills into perfect dollar bills for a 5.5 % fee.
18) Sit down on little plastic chairs in the tiny store front and negotiate transaction with the translation services of betel nut dribbling friendly tout.
19) After you change your money you will encounter the Indian money changer who gives you the stink-eye because you didn’t work with him.
20) Run back to ticket office behind the train station because it is now closed but friendly tout knows a way around the gate.
21) The ticket clerk knows the helpful fixer which may or may not be a good thing.
22) Ticket clerk examines your perfect dollar bills carefully and finishes hand-written ticket from before.
23) The condition of the newly hand-written ticket does not compare favorably to the perfect dollar bills you just handed over.
24) The helpful fixer who you have since compensated for his services will repeat for the 17th time, “Don’t worry. Be happy” as you part your ways dodging traffic.
© Photos: Traveline