Lessons I Learnt While Getting Lost In Myanmar

A Pre-Amble On How We Got Lost In The First Place

Just 2 days before our flight to Myanmar, Bagan was struck by an earthquake and our plans (and perhaps our sole purpose to visit Myanmar) were ruined. The earthquake was so great that it knocked down a few hundred pagodas in the ancient city, leaving behind a crumbled, dusty mess – not quite what we planned to experience.

Not being able to go to Bagan was quite a bummer – we wasted US$17 on a sleeper bus (from Yangon to Bagan) that we didn’t get on in the end, and the bulk of our itinerary in Myanmar was pretty much in the trash. We didn’t really want to stay 5 days in Yangon partly because we’ve only booked a one night stay in the hostel, and besides, we didn’t know what we could do in Yangon for 5 days straight.

In these circumstances, my friend and I used the trusty search engine, Google, to look for a new place to go. We found a little town called Bago which seemed to have a few interesting pagodas around. And so, just a day before our flight, we haphazardly booked a 2 star motel in a town we’ve never heard of and hoped for the best. Finding a new place to go would be the best idea. Or so we thought.

Lesson I learnt: Do a little bit more research about the places you are travelling to.

A Confusing Trip To Bago

Finding a way to get to Bago was itself an arduous task. Trusty search engine Google told us that we could get there via train and so we decided to buy ourselves train tickets from the Yangon train station. The only problem was, no one spoke English at the station, making it an impossible task to buy train tickets.

Lesson I learnt: It’s great to be bold and adventurous, but never underestimate language barriers

Our Lucky Journey To Bago

You would think that this was where we gave up going to Bago. To be honest, that was what I expected myself to do too. However, youth has its way of injecting a good mix of naivety and bravery when you’re at the crossroads sometimes. “Since we’re here why not give it a shot?” thought the both of us when we found out that we could try to get to Bago by bus.

Mind you, we only heard from some of the locals that we could get there by bus. What time the bus would leave, where we can check the schedule, the approximate cost – all of this remained a mystery. Nonetheless, we decided to take a taxi to the bus station (no, we didn’t even know where this bus station was in the first place) and try our luck.

By chance and pure luck, the bus leaving for Bago was just about to leave from the bus station. If I recall correctly, the “bus” was really a little van and no where on the van did it say that it was bound for Bago. How the locals even know when to get on these vans still remains a mystery to me. Perhaps there was a bus schedule that they could refer to at the bus station (which by the way, looked nothing like a bus station. It looked more like a random spot at the side of the road) but since we didn’t understand Burmese, we would have missed it anyway.

Lesson I learnt: Again, never underestimate language barriers.

Also, always do a bit of research on how the public transport works in each country so you won’t have to rely on pure luck to get around. Below, you will understand why.

Our Not-So-Lucky Journey To Kyaikhto

Our time at Bago went quite well actually. The only thing, though, was that we finished touring the little town in just one afternoon and didn’t have much on the agenda for the next 2 days. Since many locals kept telling us to visit the Golden Rock in Mon state, my friend and I thought it might be worth the try. After all, what could go wrong?

From Bago, we needed to take a bus to Kyaikhto and then change to a truck to bring us up a mountain where we can see the famed Golden Rock. At least that was the plan. On the way there, things changed when our bus stopped half way and we were told to get down. The people on our bus were mostly locals and they soon got on their way or found a different means to get to wherever they had wanted to go. My friend and I on the other hand, just kept asking “golden rock?” and got directed to get on a lorry on the opposite side of the road.

Lesson I learnt: Local suggestions can lead you to less explored places – which is great! But do a quick google search on some of these places of interest, don’t just take their word for it.

At this point, a number of things were going through our minds:

Should we get on?
Is this even the lorry we were told to get on?
Where is this lorry going?
Wait. Did our bus just leave?

Seeing that we were in the middle of nowhere and we didn’t have much of a choice, we reluctantly (and quite fearfully) got on the lorry.

Lesson I learnt: It’s okay to be adventurous, however, be a little more cautious when you embark on a journey where 99% of the people around you are locals. You’re probably the only one who doesn’t know what to expect. 

After about 2 hours or so, we finally reached Golden Rock. We didn’t really hang around much, even though we were pretty drained from our journey. The last bus back to our motel was in 2 hours and Golden Rock was quite a distance away from the bus station.

An Equally Confusing Journey Back

Since our bus stopped half way, we didn’t know how to board the bus from the bus station back to our motel since we didn’t alight at the bus station on our way to Kyaikhto. We took a motorcycle to a rather remote part of the village and finally found out where the bus station was.

The trip back was long and bumpy because the bus took a different route back to Bago. Why? Well, beats me. By the time we finally returned back to our motel, we were hungry, tired, and our bladder was almost bursting. I really wanted to go to the toilet before heading back, but I was afraid that I’d miss the last bus back to Bago – not a scenario I would enjoy at that point in time.

Lesson I learnt: Always learn a few useful phrases (“hello”, “thank you”, “I want to go to the toilet”, “tell me when the bus arrives”, “I want to go to…”) when you’re heading to a place where communication is a challenge.

Getting lost in Myanmar on our third day there really spiced things up for our trip. Everything was pretty unexpected, but I wouldn’t say it spoiled our trip on the whole. Sure, on that particular day, I felt kind of homesick and tired by the end of it. But there’s a strange sense of achievement when you realised you survived something as drastic as that.

Myanmar wasn’t really a luxurious and comfortable holiday for me. Even so, it was a pretty eye-opening experience and I must say that if we joined a tour group instead of figuring things out ourselves, we would have missed out on so much on what we got to see on this trip. In a strange, uncomfortable way, it was all worth it in the end.

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