I knew that there would be more tourist in Burma than our last visit two years ago, and we had seen a few in Mingun, and Ava, but nothing had prepared me for the hordes that I saw at U Bein bridge.
Hundreds of people arriving in their group buses or private cars, all with the same goal - to cross the bridge, photograph as many monks as possible and to take one of the many waiting boats back.
One group must have been running late on their schedule, I heard their guide call to them , "no not on the bridge take picture here and back in bus please."
Many Korean groups that tend to stay very much together directly behind their guide, crossing the bridge as a phalanx making it difficult for anyone not taking the boat but walking back in the opposite direction.
We spent an hour or so sitting under the bridge watching this spectacle unfold, for as it reached the golden hour and later sunset the scene reached its crescendo. All of the boats were hired and bobbed around on the lake vying to get the best and unobstructed view, (by other boats) of the setting sun behind the bridge.
Even after the sun had well set and darkness was falling, groups were still arriving, obviously they had stayed too long in another place enroute today.
It was time for us to move on..........
During our first trip to Burma we had travelled from Myitkyina in the north down the Irrawaddy river taking in Bhamo, Katha, Shwebo, Monywa, to Pakkoku. Our intention was to travel further to the delta but we were stopped by the police and army. No foreigners allowed. We had no idea why but as with so much of Burma it is and remains off limits. However, this is changing slowly and areas that were closed are opening. (There are also areas that were open that are now closed, but that's a different story.)
During 2013 we heard from reliable sources that our intended journey was now possible. Well rested after three days in Sagaing we hailed down a bus crossing the huge bridge and jumped aboard.
The following two weeks we travelled, by local bus, boat and train following the mighty Irrawaddy to the sea.
What a journey, - stopped by police on two occasions, we held our breath, oh no pleases don't turn us back, but we were fine, passports and visa were in order and of course they both were England football fans, 'Rooney good, good, go, go!'
The hotels and guest houses varied in quality, but done were what I would call bad. Hot water and a shower was a luxury, the norm was a bucket and dipper with cold water. One day after a particularly dusty bus journey - the bus had no windows- cold water and the dipper were not going to get my hair clean. I noticed by the bus stand a 'beauty salon' entering the blue net curtains that served as a door, after the stares and giggles from the three young girls working, I made myself understood with gestures, that I wanted my hair washed, I was led to a bed with my head in a sink and with cold water, my hair washed, conditioned, a head massage of at least 30 mins, followed by drying and styling, I emerged back through the blue net curtain with hair that Marilyn Monroe would have been proud of:) and kyat 1000 lighter ($1)
One hotel upon checking in wasn't sure if we could stay, not that they were full but they queried their license a phone call to the immigration office put their mind at ease, they smiled 'you are warmly welcome'. Breakfast is normally included in the hotel price, one young boy in a guesthouse apologized and tried to tell us something about the cook, he was sick or at least not there for one reason or another, we later found a banana on our pillow. So touching.
The people were not used to seeing westerners, (we only met one couple during our two weeks) and neither were the dogs. I left my favorite leather slippers outside our room one night, only to find next morning the dogs liked them also, completely chewed and eaten.
Buying a train ticket at a station one morning took over an hour, the station master telephoned his friends and family that he had two foreigners in his office and they all came to look - and wave us off. The station master taking my hand just before the train arrived and pointing me to the toilet - 'long journey madam please use' was my instruction. So caring.
Food was a problem and we went hungry in a couple of places, Burmese eat out in the morning, the tea-shops are full of snacks and rice and eggs and mohinga, but in the evening nothing, only a few fried snacks left over from the morning, they were not so appetizing in the morning - 12 hours later even less so. A tea shop owner where we had eaten a few times packed a bag of indescribable snacks for the journey, 'present and whenever you come back you can drink tea for free'. So generous.
Many of the places that we passed through and stayed in had no 'sights' just simple towns and villages, with friendly people, so generous, so caring, so touching.
The moral of this story is - yes Burma is changing, yes in some places the tourists are streaming in but there is so much of the country that is still out there to be discovered and to be enjoyed by travelers looking for the Pure Burma.
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