What I Got Up To In Burma Part 1 – The Arrival

Note: Welcome to the story of how I traveled Burma in 2017. I hope you will enjoy it as some leisurely reading and perhaps even as inspiration to help you hold until travel is finally possible again.

Majestic views – coming soon!

I traveled to Burma in 2017. At the time, I had just finished three months of Dive Master Training in Koh Tao and I started to feel that traveling itch again. So, I took a boat to Chumpon, a night train to Bangkok and, after exploring the city for a few days, a night bus to Burma – one day later than intended.

The bus ride was nice. I always enjoy these long journeys by myself, without distractions and in blissful anonymity. They offer a lot of space to think, listen to an audiobook, or simply to stare out the window and watch the darkness roll by.

Obviously, I had neither planned nor researched anything before setting out. Granted, I had looked up the bus and pre-emptively booked the cheapest place in Mawlamyine available online (now useless since I left a day late), but that was about it. So when I arrived at the border post in Mae Sot, I was somewhat surprised to learn that this was where the bus ended.

Well, what can you do. Having taken the night bus I was the first person to cross into Burma via Mae Sot that day, at 4am in the morning. Behind the border post is a bridge, which leads into the Burmese city of Myawaddy. There, I found mostly empty streets, child monks in red robes leaving their monastery for their morning begging run, and a couple of people hanging around cars, apparently waiting for someone like me to arrive.

The bus to Burma: Neon feels

I immediately started talking with a younger fellow, who spoke good enough English to tell me a bit about local politics (he wasn’t entirely happy with it) and that this was the place where you could get transportation to Mawlamyine. I would just have to wait around for a bit. So, wait around I did. In time, more travelers appeared (mostly commuters, lots of Burmese work in Thailand) and the monks returned to their temple. I think I also took out money somewhere, at an exchange rate somewhere around 1 USD to 1,500 Burmese Kyat. After a while, a guy chatted me up for transportation.

Before the crossing, already tired

In broken English he assured me that he was the transport to Mawlamyine. Great, I thought, looking around for his bus or van, which I already knew from Thailand. Turns out we were going in his regular four-seater car, together with three other people he had picked up. Before we left, he got me a coffee, which I appreciated. He also bought some Kwun-ya and promptly offered me some.

Kwun-ya is the local name for betel nut leaves that are chewed with lime and sometimes tobacco. It is wildly popular in Burma and well-known throughout Asia. After trying it, I experienced an intense feeling of hyper-awareness, a bit like overdosing on coffee. Its health effects are easily comparable to smoking, though, and after seeing the outrageously black and bloody gums of users around me I never had some again.

Little monks, looking for food.

I spent the next few hours enjoying the landscape full of lush green jungle contrasting beautifully against the red, clay earth. During our one stop at a roadside settlement I opted to stay in the car, since it was brimming with trash and durian. Finally, we stopped in what I later found out was the city of Hpa-An. There, I parted ways with the guy and his car and joined some other travelers in the back of a truck, which then dropped me off at the outskirts of Mawlamyine. At long last, I found myself alone in the pouring rain, without any idea of where I was or where to go. It must have been around 10am. Little did I know at the time, but my day had only just begun.

29 thoughts on “What I Got Up To In Burma Part 1 – The Arrival

  1. Yaay… I wonder what comes next!!

    I am thrilled to see how much you two have dine in your young lives, seizing the opportunities you found and following your passions. I was pretty old by the time I figured out to stop watching the world go by, and still deeply entrenched in “how will I pay my way?” worries. I’ve done a lot, but prob only 1/10th what I dreamed of.

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    1. It’s only done when it’s done, no? And I definitely have my share of “how will I pay my way?” worries as well. One of the most important things traveling has taught me is to be OK with uncertainty and trust in my abilities. That is not to say I’m perfect at it, but ever since that time I’m trying to gradually live into the possibility of ditching the worries and valuing life without judging it this way. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “What an Adventure M&M! Good move being one and done with the Kwun-ya, that’s some potent stuff there. I have a acquaintance from the Laos region, hes now in the states. That stuff will just as well change the color to black on your insides as too…lol Great story!

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    1. Yeah, the way some people’s mouths looked was horrific. Black and bloody, pretty much. But I guess many cultures just have this strange, self-destructive thing they do. Kwun-ya reminds me of Swedish Snus (chewing tobacco). A friend from Sweden told me how especially blue-collar workers tend to have this “pocket” in their gums from always keeping a ball of Snus there. The stuff just eats away at the gums over time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, what an interesting story! How do you get the courage to travel so freely and alone? You are so brave to ride with complete strangers and take drinks and other items from them. I would be scared out of my mind. 😬🤣🤣

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    1. Ha, doesn’t mean it’s the smart thing to do – but it has worked out well for me in the past. Traveling has certainly helped me be a lot more confident in my ability to adapt and handle unexpected situations. At the time I eventually took it to the extreme and refused to even plan sensible things. I guess the bottom line is that most people really are nice people. And that even in a worst-case scenario (say, you’re stranded somewhere) you are really still fine – because you still have all your abilities and wits about you, and you are surrounded by people who are mostly nice and willing to help. Just important to exert judgement to stay away from the few not-so-nice ones. Glad you enjoyed the story so far, and thank you for commenting!

      Liked by 2 people

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