Getting form Chang Mai to Myanmar was one of the most epic journeys I have made so far. I took a tuk tuk then a bus then a motorbike, then another bus then another motorbike, then walked between the borders to then take a taxi! Crossing the border into Myanmar was a walk in the park, when I arrived I was literally the only person making my way across the border. A complete contrast to the endless queue of people I met when crossing the border from Cambodia to Thailand. On the other side I was met by a gang of Burmese guys asking where I was going and offering to take me there. My first port of call was going to be Mawlamyine and a guy was willing to take me in his taxi the 160 miles up and over the mountain to Mawlamyine. He asked for 10,000 kyat and being at the mercy of this guy as I had no idea how I was actually going to make my way there, I took him up on his offer. Normally at borders everyone knows you are fresh off the boat so to speak and have no idea how much things cost. I was definitely one of these people. Luckily I was close enough to the border that my Thai sim card still worked. I was able to check the conversion rate online and it turned out that 10,000 kyat was a measly £6.30! For the first time ever I had crossed a border and the people who greeted me were actually fair and honest. £6.30 to go 160 miles was a bloody bargain!
The road to Malwamein is a narrow and winding track that makes its way over the mountain and down into the expansive plateuo below. The road is incredibly busy and due to how narrow it is only allows traffic to travel in one direction, westward on even days and eastward on on odd days. Luckily I had arrived on an even day and was able to join the convoy of never endless trucks, buses and taxis making there way over the mountain. Unfortunatley the trucks did not cope so well with the demanding terrain of the mountain and several of them had disastrous breakdowns that blocked the roads turning the 3 hour journey into 10 hours! Normally this would of been a frustrating pain in the arse but the regular stops we made for the trucks to make their repairs were an opertunaty to stretch my legs and take in my first real and breath taking views of Myanmars epic landscape. This was the start of my journey into Myanmar and already I knew it was going to be an amazing one.
We eventually arrived in the district of Mawlamyine and picked up a mother and her 2 young children who instantly succumb to travel sickness and spent the whole journey with carrier bags held to their faces that they managed to fill repeatedly. The mother who was sat next to me handed the bulging bags of sick over to me to throw out the window. Several times! We made a stop so that the driver could give his car a wash. He was obviously proud of his Nissan deluxe and felt it needed a clean after being covered in red dust and child vomit. Here we took some time to have tea and talk to the local drunks that flocked to me like flies round shit. Now its hard enough to understand what the Burmese are saying in there broken english and when they are fucking legless its pretty much impossible! After a lot of nodding and laughing at the drunks attempts to converse with me our nervous looking driver finally signalled for us to go. He handed me a sealed wet wipe and said ‘to make yourself fresh.’ Once inside the car I gave the wet wipe to the woman next to me who was in much more of a need for it than I due to the fact she was covered in her offsprings dinner.
Once in Mawlamyine after dropping off the sickly children and their mother the taxi driver took me to my guest house. We arrived just as they were closing as it was now already 11 pm! I felt he deceived more than a measly 10,000 so tried to pay him 12,000 which he would not except. I literally had to force the extra 2000 into his shirt pocket!
The guest house was an old colonial building that thad been partitioned into small and grotty rooms that were simply furnished with a bed, fan and an array of dead insects. The walls were filthy and covered in squashed mosquitos but the bed linen appeared to be clean and I figured it would surfice as long as I stayed clear of the walls! I was pretty knackered after the mammoth journey from Thailand to Myanmar so I quickly got some street food and a can of beer then passed out on my bed.
Mawlamyine is a large town littered with monasteries and stupas it was once the capital of British Burma and George Orwell spent time here working as a police constable! The people here were incredibly friendly and I was saying hello and waving almost constantly. People were very interested in me as there were very few foreigners here. I made my way through the town and upto the temple on the hill as you can get a good view of the town from here. When I arrived I paid my respect to the buddha by kneeling down with my hands together and bowing three times much to the amazement of the observing monks. I had learned this after staying in a monastery in Thailand whilst studying vipasana meditation. The temple was beautiful with gold everywhere and beautiful ornate carvings. From the top I could see that there were many more of them with there golden stupas poking through the trees and buildings of the town.
I made my way down the long covered stairway from the temple in the direction of another only to find the cutest of kids playing football in the shelter from the sun on part of the covered walk way. I asked if I could take their photographs and they were more than happy for me to take their photo. They did not speak any english really but they managed to tell me that their dream was to be a footballer. When they realised I could do video on my camera that was it, they wanted me to film them playing football and they upped the game and started doing some pretty nasty tackles with the sounds of bodies hitting the hard concrete floor at great force. But unlike our premiere league footballers they instantly got up and carried on like nothing had happened. I would then play back the footage and they all sat round the small screen of camera to watch back the chaotic match pointing and laughing at each other.
By now I had been with these kids for well over an hour and when I got my flash set up on my tripod with a big soft box they were intrigued as to what the hell it was. I showed one of the kids where to stand and fired a shot off with the flash illuminating the soft box much to the amazement of the now very exited kids. They rushed over to see the screen of my camera all laughing and jumping around in excitement. They were now literally fighting to get their photograph taken. I never thought it would be this easy to get these kind of shots. I got the 3 shots I wanted in about 15 minutes but these kids were having such a good time striking silly poses and laughing at one another I carried on until the battery in my camera died. When the battery did eventually die with a look of slight disappointment they all shook my hand and danced off into the monastery waving me good bye. Somehow I think I am going to like it here in Myanmar.