The night bus
I wanted to go back to Yangon to see my Filipino friends on a Saturday night, plus the next places I wanted to see were all to the south. I could have flown, but that would have cost close to $200 when you factored in taxis to and from airports plus the overpriced flight itself. I opted for the $15 “VIP bus” instead.
The way you ride a VIP bus is you get picked up at your hotel and squeezed into the back of an open-air truck, which takes a half an hour to go to a bus station where you stand around for another forty minutes waiting for your bus, while other buses come and go, and everyone surges forward waving a ticket to see if this is the right bus. When my bus did finally come, though, I was pleasantly surprised: I got a wide reclining seat, a blanket, and even a neck pillow.
I was also surprised when we stopped somewhere for dinner and the curry was edible. Burmese curry, as a rule, is oily and upsetting, and there were too many times when I walked past a restaurant and wasn’t sure if what I was smelling was the food or the toilet. I ate well in Shan State, while trekking and around Inle Lake, but the rest of the time, Myanmar’s food ranged from passing to terrible. The worst meal was on the road to Kalaw. The woman at the bus stop restaurant asked, “Chicken rice?” When we asked for a menu, she said, “No menu. Chicken rice?” So yes, chicken rice. What arrived was a plate of plain rice, a foul-smelling broth, and the saddest chicken legs we’d ever seen: the foot cut off but the nub still visible, and a drumstick and thigh that somehow had no meat on them. I peeled off some leathery strips before giving up on what we came to think of as the zombie chicken. Where these old chickens that were killed when they stopped laying eggs? Were they roosters? Whatever they were, they were horrible.
Yangon again: the Filipino bar party
As you travel, you sometimes make chains of friends. In Nyaungshwe, Myoungsun had introduced me to a Korean girl she’d met in her dorm; we met for dinner in Yangon, where she introduced me to a Vietnamese guy she’d met on her bus, who walked into the restaurant, spotted some women he knew — two Asian-Americans and a white girl, all doing NGO work in Southeast Asia — and we all ate together. Then the two Asian-Americans joined me for the Filipino party.
The party, thrown by my Filipino friend for a colleague’s birthday, was at Ice Bar in the posh Sedona Hotel, which is described on its website as:
Bespoke for the music and party enthusiasts. Features live band performances amidst white large-blocked walls, mysterious ice sculptures, transparent modern furniture and dim blue lighting for a cool igloo-like effect.
This may be overstating the case. But there were walls, and blocks, and furniture, and it was dim.And the igloo effect was amplified by the TV over the bar, which was tuned to CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the blizzard then engulfing the Eastern United States. By the time we arrived, there were several tables of drunk Filipinos, and a bar band was doing passable covers of classic rock songs. Now and then they’d break, and four girls in pleather would come out and do semi-coordinated dances to Top 40 and Kpop medleys.
The next day, I tried riding around on the circle line train, but I gave up after two stops. I was exhausted after a night on a bus and another night out at a bar party. What I really wanted to do was hide in my hotel room and eat KFC for dinner, and that’s pretty much what I did. I went out to watch the sunset from the Yangon River ferry, and then I had me some fried chicken and a sundae before getting up early to head to my last two destinations: Hpa An and Kyaiktiyo, the Golden Rock.