One day in Yangon
We arrived around 5 am in Yangon on the 11th of April. This is important because the Thingyan, the Buddhist new year commonly known as the Water festival starts on the 13th. From the beginning, we had one purpose in Yangon, and that was to change bus and go to Myawaddy to enter Thailand; we had no desire to spend any longer time in the city. The bus ride from Nyaung Shwe was pleasant, we had a VIP bus, meaning first class seats, snacks, dental kit and AC. So we didn’t sleep when we arrived at our hostel down town in Yangon, we just watched a movie and around 8 am we walked to the office of the GI group, which is a bus company. They basically laughed at us when we asked for a bus the next day. “Impossible, next bus on 19th” one of the women said, so you can imagine how happy we were to find a bus leaving already the same night, on the 11th for 36 000 kyats! The weather in Yangon this time of the year is terrible, it’s sooooo hot, 40 degrees and humid. You walk for 2 min and you are dripping in sweat. So we spent the rest of our day in Yangon in the hostel.
Around 4 pm we get a Grab (the local version of Uber) to Aung Minglar Highway station, which is the HUGE bus station to which we arrived earlier that morning. It’s so big, you have to pay 200 kyats entry fee, it’s so big it took our bus one good hour to leave the station. The bus was nice, a Scania one, and we slept almost all the way to the border town on Myawaddy.
First, a little about this Water festival:
Thingyan, or Songkran which is the name the festival has in Thailand, is a three day festival to celebrate the ending and beginning of the new year, according to the Hindu/Buddhist calender. Thingyan, as well as Songkran, are Sanskrit words, and means something like “transit” or “passing” or the full “the suns transit from Pisces to Aries”. The legend says that once, there was a very clever child. A God heard about this child and wanted to test him. The God gave the child a riddle, if he couldn’t answer the riddle, his head would be chopped off. But the boy answears the riddle on the seventh day and the God had to cut off his own head! But, if his head touches the cround there will be terrible fires; if it is thrown in the sea, it will dry out etc etc.. So they need to keep his head on a plate, and every year, around this time, the plate with the head changes hands, marking the new year. Another version of why the new year is celebrated at this time is because the sun transits from Pisces to Aries. The Buddhist calendar is based on the solar and astral movements, while the western is basted on the “tropical year” i.e the cycle of seasons, that’s why they differ. The more time that passes, the bigger the gap between the western and the buddhist calender, making the two drift apart, year by year (thanks wikipedia).
During the Thingyan it’s traditional to give alms to monks and nuns and to give out free food and drinks. But the main part of the Thingyan is all the water throwing. It used to be just a little symbolic sprinkle of water to cleanse the sins of the past year,but now it has evolved into buckets and hoses where only monks and nuns are off limits.
We get off the bus and exchange all our kyats to Thai baht; we get 1050 bhat for 50 000 kyat. We saw the bridge that acts as the border between Myanmar and Thailand coming in with the bus, so we head there. There is a small building in the middle of the street on the bridge which is the immigration office of Myanmar. We go to room nine to get our exist stamp. I open my bag, the bag I always keep close by, and I go cold. My passport is missing. FUCK! FUCK FUCK FUCK!!! I run back to the bus, and check everywhere around my seat, it’s not there. What do I do? I walk back to the border house where I left August
“Please tell me you have it,” I say. He shakes his head and I start to cry. We have to return to Yangon. The people working in the border office look helpless as there is nothing they can do. They understand what the matter is, but cannot communicate with us. A very nice man takes us out of the border office, and takes us around in Myawaddy to call the bus company and others that might have seen my passport. All I know is that the last time I used it was in Yangon, checking in at the hostel. It must have fallen out somewhere on the way. The nice man helps us get on the very last bus back to Yangon, sits with us for a while, before going back to his job as a translator at the border. The bus cost another 44 000 in total. We are extremely lucky to get on this bus back, I would much rather be in Yangon than in that shitty little border town of Myawaddy during the festival. I call the embassy in Thailand, because the one in Yangon doesn’t make passports, plus they are not answering. It feels comforting to speak to a Swedish person. It’s been so long since I’ve talked Swedish to someone I don’t know. He says that we must go back to Yangon, and wait out the water festival, since everything is closed until the 16th, at the earliest. Then we have to apply for a new passport with the consulate in Yangon, send it to Bangkok, wait for them to make me a new passport and then send it back to Yangon before we can cross over to Thailand. But our visa expires on the 18!
Just as we take our seats in the bus, I get an email from the hostel in Yangon:
“Dear miss Johansson, we have your passport! Plese contact us as soon as possible, your passport will be kept in the lost and found”.
Yangon part 2 and Thingyan
I can’t belive I forgot my passport. That is so unlike me, I am so paranoid over my passport and phone all the time, but this time, that I’m cool, I forget it. But it’s not gone! So some luck in the bad luck as we say in Sweden. Also, we later realise that it would have been very hard to even get a bus out of Mae Sot, the town on the Thai side, so perhaps this is for the best, going back to Yangon.
The bus back to Yangon does not have AC, so it’s terribly hot and we are sweating like crazy the whole journey. We are both tired, we haven’t slept in a bed for two nights! Apart from the heat, the bus ride runs smoothly and we are back at the hostel in Yangon around 10 pm. We meet a nice British couple on the bus- Melissa and Harry – with whom we share a taxi back down town when we reach Aung Minglar Highway bus station. The taxi costs 14 000 so we are all happy to share!
The next day we go back to where we got the bus tickets in the first place. We forgot about the water festival, and shortly after leaving the building we are attacked by roaming kids and adults with buckets of water, really taking the water festival to heart. The bus place is closed, and we hurry back to lose our bags, which at this point are very wet. We got a plastic zip bag to water proof our passports and phones and it worked well at first.
Nothing regular is open in Yangon at this time. The streets are buzzing with loud music and street vendors, selling lots of street food, substituting all the closed restaurants in the city. Everyone is happy, the whole city has become one, big party! And as I have mentioned in other posts, there is a huge meat culture in Myanmar. Now, with only street food, the only vegetarian food we can get, is either deep fried or vegetables ( read leaf vegetables, like spinach or lettuce) drenched in a sweet and sour sauce. No protein what so ever. And no fibers!
So, here we are, caught up in a war where anyone is a target, trying to navigate past kids with buckets of water and grown men who shoot you with a high pressure water pipe! It’s really hard to walk against one of those, cause you cannot see where you are going. And the first two days it was really fun! I even armed my self with a water gun, so we could retaliate a little. I said earlier that the weather here in Yangon is unbearably hot, but the water makes it quite pleasant. As soon as you start to get a little too hot, there is the next hut with water-throwing children.
So the second day we make our way up to Shwedagon Pagoda, which is huge, and one of the most important holy places in Myanmar. We walk, because is seems pointless to pay to sit in a taxi stuck in the crazy traffic. One big part of the Thingyan here, seems to be going around on the back of pick up trucks and stop at every place that shoots water at you. Whole stages have been built for this purpose, with rows of people armed with hoses! These places also play really loud party music, in fact, anyone with good speakers are blasting them through out this celebration. For me, it feels like graduation times in Sweden, when the high-school students celebrate graduation on the back of trucks, with loud music. In Stockholm they throw beer at each other. Every one is sooo happy!
When we reach Shwedagon, we realize that we cannot enter; we are too wet and we are both wearing shorts. In Buddhist culture, you have to cover shoulders and knees before entering holy sights. But there is a little park in front of the pagoda, where people sell food and there are some blow up slides and pools, filled with fully dressed people, Asia style.
After this short stop, we go to Bogyoke Park, I read online that there is a free party going on there. The party is cool, but shortly after we arrive, they take a 3 hour break. So we go back home.
When we come home, the second day, we sit down for a beer on the street outside the hostel, when I realise there is water in our water proof bag, with my phone in it!! My new Nokia, that I bought in India a month ago!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It doesn’t start. I do everything wrong, I blow in it, feeling water come out, I try to start it and I push all the buttons before putting it in a bag of uncooked rice. The party is over for me. I don’t want any more water on me.
So the saying goes “Trouble comes in threes”.
August has developed a weird skin condition on his hands and feet. After some googling we have come to the conclusion that he has some type of Milaria (not malaria) which has something to do with the sweat glands being unhappy. It’s many small papules covering his hands and feet. It can come after spending a long time in hot weather, and the images match. So basically, Yangon is sooo hot, August body couldn’t handle producing all that sweat 😛 It’s not dangerous, and can be treated with A/C and cortisone cream. The antihistamine works for a while. Don’t worry, if it gets worse, we will go and see a doctor when we come to Thailand, because, as I have said in previous posts, the hospitals here in Myanmar should be avoided. Yangon has defeated us.
After accepting our defeat, we could get back on our feet. We waited out the remaining days of the water festival in our hostel, making friends with some other internationals staying there, and enjoying the good wi-fi. I watched the entire X-Man series… We meet the British couple, Harry and Melissa on our last night in Yangon, they came with us and our hostel group to grab a beer on 19th street in China town (honestly, it’s the place to be if you like meat, beer or crowds… out of these I just like beer :P). Seeing them again makes me feel like we’ve gone full circle.
Our last day, the 18th, the celebration is over, it’s a new year and the city is returning to normal. I thought it was crowded during Thingyan, but now, in everyday life, the streets are even more crowded! We go to the place where we bought our last ticket to Myawaddy, and it’s like we are being guided, ‘cause we walk past the three first bus agencies, and in the last one, we ask for tickets. The woman has tickets! It’s the last ones, another woman had bought them earlier, but had to change her date, and leave Yangon tomorrow instead! So we get her tickets!! How amazing is that? Once again we get the last bus outta here.
Not the best of times, not the worst of times, I guess. Travelling isn’t all great, I tell you. I’ll make a separate post where we reflect a little on this country, now that we have put it in the past 😛
Lots of Love
August & Linnea