The next day we had a fairly leisurely drive back to Kunming for one more night before our flight to Myanmar the next day. The small time difference meant we took off at 1:30 and landed at 1:30 but driving through the streets in our Myanmar bus towards the northern town of Hsipaw (the H is silent) felt like we’d not just gone back 1.5 hours but possibly 50 years….
Myanmar has only started to open up to tourists in the last 10 years, and the original 7 day visa has been replaced by a 30 day visa allowing us foreigners to explore more of this country, one of the poorest in Asia. The difference between super modern China and it’s neighbour is really pronounced – everything is much more basic – closer to India with wooden open fronted houses selling wares onto the street, mopeds with multiple passengers and roads of basic tarmac…if you’re lucky.
This type of thing is everything we like in a country and it didn’t take long before we knew we were going to really like Myanmar.
Firstly, after driving for a couple of hours we stopped for food and water at a basic little market – a couple of ladies were sitting by the road were preparing a range of fried or deep-fried delights. The spicy vegetable pancake stall did particularly well from the group with the delicious crispy pancakes filled with chopped tomatoes and green chilli a big hit, and the deep fried corn balls a close second. The ladies were beaming with delight like lottery winners as 16 westerners queued for their wares and we were treated to tasty food for around 15 pence an item. Dripping with grease we grabbed some water and got back on the bus.
Further up the road we started to pass a huge procession which our guide Thura explained marked the initiation of the local young boys into the monastery. The families pay huge amounts of money to host a large party and the procession we came across was the walk along the streets to the event. Each family pays to put their family members either on a truck, a horse, a carriage pulled by Ox or for the richest, an elephant. Teams of ladies carried symbolic boxes on their heads to represent the student luggage and groups of dancing boys are paid to join the procession. It was stunning, colourful, and loud! The finally was a dance routine by a team of teenage boys to a song by the Body Rockers of all people… with load of kids all singing ” everyday I’m shuffling…” hilarious! We stood on the corner and watched while trucks and bikes squeezed past and small kids giggled at the “white weirdos” on the side of the road. Best traffic jam ever.
We then continued on as the sun went down for hours, up and down zig zag roads with switch backs that could only be navigated one vehicle at a time. Trucks are not allowed on the road before 7pm – so our journey involved negotiating not just the road, but inching paste huge trucks, buses, cars and of course mopeds. The hills were so steep that many lorries conked out and led to more delays. Our 5 hour journey took 8 hours so when we finally arrived in Hsipaw around 11pm we just hit the sack.