An Uncomfortable, Miserable Ride: Hsipaw to Mandalay

Not everything goes as planned when traveling in a foreign country.
We planned to take the train back to Pyin Oo Lwin from Hsipaw but once again…no seats.  We even asked the hotel the day before to make sure it would go smoothly.   They assured us that we could buy tickets at the station an hour before the train leaves.

The morning of departure the story had changed.   We were informed that due to a Hindu festival,  all the seats had been purchased. No seats left. None.

We were bummed but that’s how it goes.  Our hotel arranged a share cab for 15,000 kyat each to bring us back to Mandalay.  The cheaper shared minivan didn’t leave until 2:30pm and we wanted to get a start on the trip.

Our cab showed up at 11:15am and didn’t look promising.  Dirty, with betel spit covering the outside of the driver door and the windows were all down, meaning they weren’t using the AC.   Two other passengers were in the car already.  Both very, very large people.  An middle aged Indian couple.  The wife sat up front with the seat extended so far back that we barely had room to squeeze our legs in. Her husband sat behind the driver, next to me and seemed to require a lot of the back seat for the ride.  He would end up dozing off and sleeping against me for a lot of the trip.

Shared Taxi from Hell
Shared Taxi from Hell

Traffic was very bad but our driver was skilled at passing all the huge trucks, weaving in and out of traffic.  I silently cheered him on, as the sooner we got to Mandalay the sooner we would be out of this car.  With the steering wheel on the right side paired with driving on the right lane, we had plenty of time to observe the absurdity of driving in Myanmar.   He would try to peer around the truck in front of us, craning his neck and drifting into oncoming traffic.  Only to barely miss a honking truck coming in the opposite direction.

Really, I could have handled all of this for the 6+ hour drive.  What did me in was the seat.  I’ve never felt such a hard seat in a car.  Every 5 minutes you would try to adjust yourself to ease the pain and discomfort.  Nowhere to stretch the legs.  Sweaty man pressed against me.  Traffic exhaust and honking constantly assaulting you through the open windows.  We thought the shared cab was the comfortable option.  But our minivan a few days before was superior in every way.

We stopped for lunch at a small roadside restaurant.  As we walked in, a small girl was finishing vomiting outside the door and we had to step over her pool of vomit.  Not a good sign but I figured she was just car sick.  The meal was the standard Burmese lunch and a nice lady helped us order.  Two meat dishes and two vegetable dishes with soup and rice was the deal.  We each pointed to whichever dish looked good and hoped for the best.

Bus Station in Pyin Oo Lin
Bus Station in Pyin Oo Lin

Back on the road.  We prayed that our fellow passengers would get out at Pyin Oo Lwin but they didn’t.  Stopping at the bus station we got to stretch and congratulate ourselves for making it this far.  Lena and I each had two cups of sweet chai tea.

Chai at Pyin Oo Lwin bus station
Chai at Pyin Oo Lwin bus station

On the last stretch of highway coming down the hills to Mandalay we had to stop so the driver could hose down the brakes and cool them off.  The sun was setting.

Sunset on the Mote, Mandalay
Sunset on the Mote, Mandalay

We finally arrived back in Mandalay.  The shower that night was one of the best I’ve ever had.  It was surprising how much dirt came off after that car ride.