Well, welcome everyone to yet another blog, and for those who have missed the last couple, welcome back and great you have ya! Anyway so now we are in a rather remote area called Mawlamyine which is around a 10 hour train trip from a placed called Yangon, which is only a 90 minute flight from Bangkok (and is more than likely the first city name that you recognize.) Like the rest of Asia, Myanmar has been changing its name with each season, and so you may be more familiar with the terms Burma (the country) and Rangoon (The capital city - now Yangon). So how we got here is rather a story itself and funnily enough starts in Cambodia (as all obscure stories do haha).
Well in planning this trip we decided in Cambodia to try and start arranging exactly what we are doing here in the country and just where we wanted to go, and with only 5 days our time-line was rather restricted. SO we headed down to pretty much every travel agent in Phnom Penh to try and arrange some sort of train/bus to leave the city and basically found out that nothing could actually be done outside the country unless you are a tourist on an 'organized (anyone who has been to Asia will tell you this term is used rather loosely)' Long story short however, it was impossible for us, and we were told in no uncertain terms that we would have to wait until we got to the country (the 5 travel agents we spoke to in Bangkok repeated this rather annoyingly). SO with yet another nice and early 4am wake up call we packed our bags at the all seasons Huamark (if you can find it on a map your doing better that the 92% of taxi drivers who have no idea where that is, or where in fact the suburb Huamark is... ah the joys of not staying on Khao San Road (the backpacker central with its own "I survived Khao San Road" clothing line. But anyway we pile of the plane in Yangon.
But firstly its important to realise just how few people come here, only 700 per year from both Australia and New Zealand combined, and all the backpackers we have spoken to so far have basically said "wow, Myanmar...your rugged aren't you?" (both our families would disagree with these people, and with the stories we have all shared it's probably for the best that these two sides don't meet haha!) Immigration here is strangely, almost eerily non existent, so for all those people who this its this big gauntlet run, its surprisingly not, in fact you arrive in this massive air conditioned, carpeted building filled with glass, breeze through immigration throw your bags on a trolley and out you walk (yes all you kiwi's - no quarantine) so that basically means that unless we caught them on an off day, none of the whole having to declare mobile phones, or cameras to be heard of, and no FEC's needed to be exchanged!!! We organised a taxi for 6USD to get us to a hotel via the train station (and evidently via a currency exchange place) which was a pretty dang good price.
Now these taxis, well they are a character in their own right...remember that car you has as a teenager in the mid 70's that you thought was on its last legs? Well, good news is that its alive and well as a taxi in Myanmar, and you probably got duped for the price you sold it for, as taxi drivers here have to pay an eye-watering 20,000USD to buy one of these cars that start by half the vehicles occupants standing behind it and pushing in order to kick start the motor (once it starts tho, your usually good for around 5-6 sets of traffic lights, so pretty good value). So to start with we headed to a local place to get some kyat (pronounced chat) at a place that was cunningly disguised as a florist (the official rate is 4-1 USD, but black market is around 1000-1USD) this was great and all, except for the fact their largest note is 1000, and so for my 100USD I got a pile of 100, 1000 notes and made my money belt look like I had over indulged on Christmas day (which I hadnt grrr Lucky Burger).
Then we get to the train station and fortunately we happened to share this taxi with a tour guide who was heading home and he translated, got lost, translated again before finding out that if we wanted to book tickets in advance for the train we in fact couldn't book at the station but would need to head down the road to MTT (Myanmar Tours and Travel) the govt owned travel agent to book them, presenting our passports and all for the pleasure of buy a $16 ticket to this place in the middle of nowhere. Why here was chosen is basically because it wasn't a 14 hour train trip that arrived at 3am (a few years ago, the govt had to change the times of all the trains to go through a few specific areas before nightfall, because people 'getting lost' when going through insurgent territory just wasn't a great look the govt decided, and so most now arrive at 3am ish a their destination, except this one, which was only a 9 hour one, during the day, and arrived at 3pm.
For the moment we'll skip Yangon - watching Avatar in a Myanmar theatre complete with standing for the national anthem and being covered in sunflower seeds, and get down to Mawlmyine.
So to explain this train, a bit of history. When the British colonized this country, like any good Brit the first thing they did was install a 1m gauge railway line. For those like me who didn't know what this means is that the two tracks are 1m apart, very narrow, which means that the carriages prefer to wobble and snake their way along the line (its a 3m wide train so you can imagine the wobbling). Then throw a few carriages on, and you have the perfect circa 1901 train and for any worthy train enthusiast this is one to get as its pretty much the same train on the same line, almost 110 years later (insert deflated yay). One upside tho is that as tourists we are only able to buy the upper class seats ( a somewhat miserable attempt at business class) which meant we at least had seats that weren't wooden benches. Nonetheless we arrived 9 hours later, averaging around 20-30kph through most areas at the rather warm time of 330pm (it was around 34 degrees). Then phase two began which was finding accommodation in this city. 5 30 soon rolled around with the only places that had foreign rooms available (yes there are rules about which rooms foreigners can use) and the best offer we got was for a $10 dollar room in a place that lonely planet describes and windowless prison cells complete with grills. In fact this was smaller than many prison cells, as a twin room meant you could literally just walk in the door before standing on the two beds that were wedged to each other was your only option. Understandably, Breeze Guesthouse is not where we stayed.
Instead we managed to find another place with slightly better rooms for the same price (this was only after we went back to Breeze after walking for 2 hours in the heat with our packs on, ready to give in, only to be told they had now sold out) and then spent the night listening to a pretty much endless parade going through the streets, that no one was actually sure what it was for, but it was annoying as it meant we couldn't cross the street and get to the internet cafe.... We did manage to find dinner eventually at a rather scary place with what I'm pretty sure was dog meat (yum....not) and all in all brought us today with a nice cold shower and a similar parade starting nice and early at 7am (don't think they have invented roosters yet to wake people up...or in fact to eat haha!)
Ah well....will update you all in Bali!