Lovely Loikaw is a remote place; it takes a long time to get there and go back. Therefore those with little time prefer flying in and out. Tourists keen to experience some of the most beautiful scenery of the country take a boat from Inle Lake and head south. But if you have plenty of time and prefer diesel over kerosene, an experience in one of Myanmar’s four wheeled living rooms may be just for you.
Forget the horror stories and complaints about Myanmar bus travel. This is part of the Lonely Planet legacy. It is backpacker code language for “I am cool cause I could stand that shit”, which helps you make friends in traveller dens. Although Myanmar bus travel (and roads) have improved over the past years, it will keep a charming adventurous edge. The charming part is the social experience; the greatest thing of traveling on local buses is getting to hang out (and sometimes for quite some time) in one of Myanmar’s four wheeled living rooms.
Myanmar’s long distance buses are excellent places to meet all kinds of local people from all over the country with different stories and backgrounds. When you are bussing on less-touristy routes, the sight of foreign travellers is a novelty to most of your fellow passengers. People are generally keen to meet up, take pictures, share snacks, chat (in sign language or using Google translate) to kill the time during a long journey.
I took the bus Loikaw to Yangon bus yesterday. It took 14.5 hours and was great fun! The scenery around dusk was amazing: rough, oddly shaped hill peaks covered with little golden pagodas formed the backdrop for villages and farmland on either side of the road. The quality of the road was generally good but the road itself was quite narrow. As a result the bus moved slowly and carefully, which offered a great opportunity to enjoy the colourful sight of different people returning home from the fields. The crew consisted of two drivers and Mr. Everything. Mr. Everything performed all tasks other than driving (getting toll road tickets, loading and offloading packages, announcing stops and counting passengers (to make sure that nobody misses the bus during a stop), playing videos, music, keeping the driver awake while on duty during the night, cooling down the engine and breaks with water during stops, cleaning the windshield, and checking where passengers want to get off along the road. Compared to this job, the workload of an airline steward(ess) is peanuts. Mr Everything did not sleep a minute over a period of 15 hours. Both drivers were calm guys who drove extremely considerate, and took turns at the wheel.
But the real attractions were inside. The bus seated five people per row (one folding chair in the corridor). Sharing a row with two monks, a young lady, and a trader, we started off with small talk and sharing snacks. Then Mr Everything turned the video system on we first jointly enjoyed a live concert of Iron Cross (Myanmar’s famous rock band, CHECK them out). Then, after the sun had set, we continued with a pretty good Myanmar drama (with English subtitles!) about a son who falls in love with the second (and far younger) wife of his father (all very intriguing). After the final stop (we had 3 in total) we closed the video night with the Myanmar equivalent of As the World Turns; A great strategic move of Mr Everything; as it helped everyone to fall asleep, and wake up reasonably fresh next morning at Yangon’s main bus terminal.