We had a few days spare this week and Thane invited us to come and meet her husband. He is situated quite far away, in Pyapon, for his work so that meant organising a trip.
The trip there was definitely not one of my favourite journeys of all time. The bus driver and bus conductor rule the bus. They control the temperature, the volume and what plays on the TV and radio and they rarely match. Pleas to change any of this fall on deaf ears so it’s a matter of sucking it up and getting on with it.
This time around the bus driver opted for 3 songs on repeat – a dub step track, a Myanmnar boy band and a Myanmar metal band called Iron Cross (yes, really) with accompanying flashing LEDs. This was made bearable by the Miyazaki film that was being shown on the screen and perfectly watchable without sound. This of course stopped playing halfway through. The temperature that this bus crew had opted for was arctic. So we did the 7 hour journey with chattering teeth and the sound of a woman nearby throwing up into a bag punctuating the repeating 3 songs. At one point the bus stopped and a uniformed army officer got on. He half heartedly flashed his torch up the aisle, glanced at me and got back off.
The second part of the journey made the first look like a breeze. We bumped and jolted over a bad road in a car with shot suspension for the next two hours. This driver had also opted for arctic, used high beams in the fog and had a particular fondness for overtaking with low visibility.
Finally we arrived safe and sound in Pyapon. Originally a Mon area, Pyapon means ‘the place where people sell rice’.
Our hotel inexplicably let us in at 6:30 in the morning and we were at last able to sleep!
That afternoon we set off again, this time toward Bogalay. Thane’s husband had bought me a beautiful bamboo umbrella. It is so lovely and handed painted. I was given this along with birds nest juice. I liked the umbrella but the juice must be an acquired taste.
As we drove, the scenes that passed us were of rice fields, bamboo shacks, muddy water channels with flimsy bamboo bridges and water buffalo. Passing a UNICEF car was a stark reminder that not so long ago this area was a disaster zone. In fact, during Cyclone Nargis in 2008, almost 35,000 people in Ayerwady District died.
We had to cross the river to get to our destination for the day, Kankaw 1000 Monastery. This meant waiting for the tide to come in a little as there is no bridge yet. On the other side we were collected by the monastery’s 4WD and taken the last 20 minutes or so there.
The Sayadaw who runs this monastery is teaching many children for free. When we arrived they were doing English grammar lessons on their UNICEF stamped school tables. Thane quickly flew into action and took a brief lesson with them.
The Sayadaw himself escorted us around his amazing monastery, which has a garden with 1000 Buddha statues, 1000 trees, 1000 columns, 1000 thrones and a chamber with a further 1000 Buddha statues. He then offered us soft drinks and food – though not having any himself as monks don’t eat past 11am. We got a real kick out of exchanging websites with him. Before we left we all sat around and he gave us faux gold rings for protection. He told Thane that her life would be good until she is 67 and one of Thane’s friends that if she wears the ring on her index finger she will find a husband. We were told to wear ours on our ring fingers, but our Western fingers are just too big!
When we return to Myanmar one day it is possible for us to spend some time living in the monastery and teaching English. What an amazing experience that would be!
Pyapon doesn’t receive many visitors which made going about town amusing. People openly stared at us most of the time and also stared at Thane wondering how she was communicating with us.
We saw some of Pyapon which we will be posting site guides about, including a reclining Buddha statue that no unmarried couples are allowed to see and a pagoda that had fortune telling sticks. Leckie’s told him to buy his partner a present (sweet) and mine to pour 29 cups of water at the worship place for Friday borns.
As I’ve developed quite a taste for died fish, Thane took us to the fishery of a friend of hers, Phyo Fishery. There were mountains of dried fish, small prawns, crabs, etc with dozens of people working to sort these. We were then taken onto a boat and taken down river towards the sea to where some fishing boats were stopped. The fisherman were sharing betel leaves, sorting out their catch and looking confused at these foreigners who had turned up to their boat. The end of the trip was a beautiful seafood lunch. We have been so spoiled yet again!
Coming back through Yangon there were many tourists, most doing the right thing. Two exceptions being an Aussie girl wearing hardly any clothing and a Dutch girl who refused to pay for a loo (the equivalent of 15p). It’s really not hard to do a little research before you go somewhere and not act like a complete douche. Disappointing.
Sitting waiting for the bus four Chinese dragons appeared and treated us to a dance. Never a dull moment!