I returned last night from a road trip within a road trip: a 3-day excursion to Mt. Popa, Bagan and points further beyond, from Mandalay and back again. On this trip I took 13 kids from the 90th Street neighborhood where I spend a lot of time when I’m in town, along with two of the fathers and a driver. I rented what they call a “Light Truck” here in Myanmar; a long flatbed vehicle with no seats in the back, but with a roof. There was enough room for all of us to squeeze on, but it was far from comfortable. I had to sit with my knees folded or tucked in because there wasn’t any room to stretch out. But the kids didn’t seem to find, resting or sleeping on one another, arms and legs akimbo, sometimes buried under another body. After 3 days of 10-12 hour driving, often on bumpy roads, my posterior is very, very sore. But my back held up surprisingly well, possibly because I used my backpack as support.
As I expected, some of the kids got car sick along the way. and many of them tired easily and slept away long stretches of the drives. But there was also lots of laughter, singing, horseplay, and an overall happy vibe. These kids have always been a joy to travel with, but this is the first time we’ve ever traveled for such a long distance or spent the night away from Mandalay. I shacked up at a hotel in New Bagan while the rest of the crew spent two nights at a Monastery near Old Bagan. I read an article recently that dubbed monasteries such as this one as “the new hotels of Myanmar” because of many travelers are taking advantage of the option, because of the recent boom in tourism and dearth of hotels. But any foreigner staying at a monastery, should be aware of the Buddhist protocol, not to mention the fact that there are not any beds (you’ll be sleeping on the floor, possibly with a thin bamboo mat as your “cushion”), and don’t even thing about showers and hot water.
I’ll have plenty of photos to post in the coming weeks. I’ll be in Mandalay another day and wind down the trip for two days in Yangon before returning to Bangkok. Once again, it’s been an exhausting trip, but filled with plenty of great experiences and lots of smiles. Just the tonic I need.